It’s hard to believe really. November 9th is the 25 year anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.
The wall for me was the monolithic divide between the forces of good and evil. I had spent my university career studying the politics of this world, and never in my dreams had I imagined it would end.
So, as a fresh off the boat photographer in London, I was gobsmacked watching the news to see my world change instantly, and I knew I had to witness this first hand.
By the time I had flown across, and made my way down to Brandenburg Gate, the party was in full swing.
It was pitch black walking in the woods along side the wall, and I had no real idea of where I was, or what was happening. There was a radio station OB unit blasting out Duran Duran’s Wild Boys, as I was bumping into people and stumbling in the dark, trying to make useable pictures.
I had my Nikkormat and my F3 and a dodgy flash… none of the hi-tech AF gear we have now, and had to guess at distances and exposures in the pitch black. Eventually I found myself at checkpoint Charlie, where the locals were spraying beer over the Trabants as they came across to the west.
As dawn came up the Berliners were already out with hammers and chisels tearing the wall down by hand.
The pictures somehow seem underwhelming now… and I can’t help but think how much better they could have been if I had been more experienced…
Compared to what we can do now, they seem pretty poor. But we forget that in the last 25 years the world has changed fundamentally. Somethings, like iphones and the internet, are for the good, a lot seems worse.
Paradoxically despite the childhood nightmares of nuclear Armageddon, we were probably safer then than we are now. The brave new world has brought with it a host of new fears.
I finally arrived back in London 3 days later, having slept on the street for the duration.
I shot a lot over that time, but it was that first night, with Wild Boys booming out, that I remember the most.
I was back a year later to photograph the reunification, and I made a point of standing on the mound that marked the entrance to Hitler’s bunker, in the middle of what had been no man’s land, as dawn broke on a new Germany, and the legacy of WW1 was finally laid to rest.
But by then the reality of the situation had set in, and it was not the same party that November the 9th 1989 had been.
PS…. I still have those two cameras…. they sit in my little camera museum…
I guess when things that you witnessed are ancient history, you’re all grown up.