Exposure № 033: Walls

I lived in Berlin for a year. Walking the streets of that huge city, you come to realise that you can’t piece it together, you can’t build from individual images a cohesive panorama, and that any definitive statement about the place amounts to little more than a truism.

It is a place of division, of course, and of dichotomies. Saying that Berlin is not a coherent, complete city is, however, as much as truism as anything else. Metres from the shining glass and metal beams of the Sony Center are 19th Century buildings housing offices and cheaply rented apartments full of expatriates. Between the new and the old at Potsdamer Platz, wide streets and plazas of space signify what is now missing: for nearly 30 years, the Wall ploughed through the city.

Bornholmer Str. station, from Norweger Str.

The East is gentrified and gentrifying. EEJ wrote about one part of East Berlin on Monday. At the end of that year, I lived in Prenzlauer Berg, another part of the former East which exists so that the artistic waifs and former punks can marry (or not), have children, and move to a nicer area of the city with cheap living costs.

Leaving my apartment in Prenzlauer Berg, I turned left and then right onto Norweger Straße to walk to the train. To my right, short, blocky houses, refurbished but old. On the left, a three-foot wall obscured the train tracks and Bornholmer Straße station. The street that I walked on had also been the path of the former Berlin Wall. But in 2008, you could peer through a hole in the wall, see the platform staring back, and snap a photo of the West.

Slow exposure of Rosenthaler Platz

Rosenthaler Platz, though not on the path of the infamous Wall, was once home to the walls that surrounded Berlin. A series of gates, including one at Rosenthaler Platz, admitted traders and visitors into the city, and over the course of centuries, this square became heavily built up, housing large department stores and small businesses alike. On a slow exposure, the camera traces car headlights, the laylines of post-Unification Berlin, and the 20th Century facades that survive. Ubiquitous language schools, shops and cafes, and residential buildings still surround the square.

Camera: Canon EOS 300. Film: Ilford HP5