January 2020
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Photographs from the eastern side….

Aus Anderer Sicht: Die frühe Berliner MauerLast night I met up with Snooker in Berlin and saw Aus Anderer Sicht: Die frühe Berliner Mauer – or The Other View: The Early Berlin Wall.

Honestly this is one of the best exhibitions I’ve seen in a long time – it’s the kind of exhibition where I lost track of time. I literally had no idea how much time we’d spent after we finished viewing all 300 photographs of the wall, never mind the photographs of “crime scenes” (evidence from people who either were caught or were not caught while crossing the wall), photos of commended border guards, or the watch towers.

What makes these photographs of the wall so compelling is that the wall is not the wall that we’ve come to know—that graffiti covered wall that was so famous. Rather these are pictures of the early wall and pictures from the eastern side of the wall – where there was never any graffiti – from what was rapidly becoming the no-man’s land.

It’s a stunning collection from 1965 and 1966. It turns out that thousands of photographs were taken by Easter Germany’s border patrol – and these found photographs were stitched together to form the long panoramas of the wall – with, in many places, glimpses of what was over on the other side of the wall in West Berlin.

Further, for amusement’s sake, the curators have included snippets of reports from the border guards – details of what people shouted, threw, or did from the West to the east – including, for example, a sixteen year old girl standing in her apartment window, facing the wall, and exposing her breasts to the border guards until 09:20, when she put her shirt back on.

The part of the exhibit that was, in many respects, the most compelling, was the big book of escape attempts. Whenever an attempt was made, guards had to file a report and in this book are the stories, along with the maps of the escape attempts – showing how and where the escapee traveled, and how the guards did (or did not) intercept the escapee.

For example, there’s the story of a woman whose fiancé moved-in. She woke up one morning and he was no longer there. It was only then that she realized he’d moved in because her apartment overlooked the wall: overnight he’d abseiled into the west.

Like so many things related to the Wall, it raises so many more questions than it answered – like how could they find guards to guard the wall? What kind of person would willingly shoot at fellow citizens who were trying to get to the West?

I might note that there were examples of praise and censure of East German border guards. One guard’s record was marred with the note that, “Er beging Selbstmord durch Erhängen.” — “He committed suicide by hanging himself.”

Obviously not a very good border guard.

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