Wednesday, March 21, 2007

I am a camera in East Berlin


"I am a camera with its shutter open, quite passive, recording, not thinking. Recording the man shaving at the window opposite and the woman in the kimono washing her hair. Some day, all this will have to be developed, carefully printed, fixed." (from Goodbye to Berlin by Christopher Isherwood, 1939)

The remarkable photo above was developed, carefully printed, and fixed in the 1970s, but has never before been published. It shows two of the feared East German Vopos (Volkspolizei) whose job it was to guard the Berlin Wall. The photograph was taken across death-strip from the West side of the Wall using a powerful telephoto lens. The original print was passed to me recently, and I scanned it to create the image above. The photographer tells me it has never been seen in public before.


For long periods both sides in the Cold War stand-off exchanged nothing more than shots from cameras across the Wall. But for short periods the shots came from guns. Estimates vary as to how many died trying to cross the Berlin Wall between 1961 and 1989. The official figure from the German Federal Prosecutor's office is 86 dead at the hands of the Vopos and others. The German Government supported website Chronik der Mauer puts the figure at 125. An even higher figure of 227 is given by Arbeitsgemeinschaft 13, an organisation linked to the Haus am Checkpoint Charlie museum, and known for its strongly anti-communist stance.

Fortunately Berlin is no longer divided, and for pictures of the city today see I am a camera - Berlin re-unified. A united Germany, including the former East Germany, is now one of the member states of the fast-growing European Union. This weekend the EU is marking its 50th anniversary with a celebration of its many achievements. These include creating the political climate that allows democracy to flourish in 27 member countries. Among these are Spain, Portugal, Greece and ten former Communist countries, none of which were truly free in the decades following the Second World War.

In 2005 the European Union and its member states paid out more than €43bn in 2005 in aid to developing countries. This is 0.32 per cent of GNP of the 25 member states, and is approaching double the per capita aid level paid out by the United States, which currently spends 0.2 per cent of GNP. The expanded EU is developing common foreign and defence policies, and these are starting to provide a much needed counter-weight to the global power of the US and China.

Europe loves a party, and we also love music. Centrepiece of the EU anniversary celebrations are an all-night bash in a rejuvenated Berlin,and a birthday party in Brussels where Zucchero, Axelle Red, Simply Red, Hooverphonic, Carla Bruni, The Scorpions, Helmut Lotti, Kim Wilde, Las Ketchup, Nadiya (left), Lou Bega and many others come together for an evening of rock at the Atomium. Across town, the Luxembourg Philharmonic Orchestra will be performing Beethoven’s 9th Symphony at the Palais des Beaux-Arts, while some of Europe's best jazzmen will be dotted around the city performing at ‘Jazz in Europe now!’. The Jacky Terrasson Trio, Aka Moon, the 18-year-old sensation Gabor Bolla and his quartet are just some of the top bands in Brussels.


In Portugal, more than 220 'bandas' will open their concerts throughout the country by playing the Europe Anthem all at the same time. In Germany, musicians from all 27 EU countries take to the road to play in 50 German cities. Were you born on 25 March? If so, you are invited to a special concert of the Chamber Orchestra of Europe in Luxembourg. The EU is not new to supporting musical events. The Brxl Bravo Festival (Brussels, 2-4 March) and the European Border Breakers Award (EBBA) are just two recent examples. Most of the financial support comes from Culture 2007.

* I Am a Camera is the title of the play by Christopher Isherwood that became the hugely successful musical and film Cabaret (right). The play was based on Isherwood's Berlin novels, Mr Norris Changes Trains (1935) and Goodbye to Berlin (1939). During his time in Berlin in the 1930s Isherwood lived in a tenement block in Schöneberg, which after the war was in the American Sector to the south of the Wall.

Now read about contemporary music from 1930s Berlin in Furtwängler and the forgotten new music.

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