Dmitri Vrubel’s 1990 mural “My God, Help Me to Survive This Deadly Love.” (Calogero Russo/LUZ/Redux)
“Time never dies. The circle is never round.” This sentence, taken from the film “Before the Rain’’ by Milcho Manchevski (Golden Lion Award in Venice, 1994), refers to history happening again and again through different facts and people. It is this concept that permeates the narrative of photojournalist Calogero Russo‘s photographs of East Berlin 25 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall and its reunification with West Germany.
A city can choose to weave its past into its new future, understanding that this new tapestry only strengthens its history and culture relevance. Or it can bury that past quietly under newly-erected buildings, roads and cafes to blot out its past transgressions. But it can never fully be erased. And East Berlin in the past 25 years, according to Russo, “is a city that doesn’t run away from its past in the “Deutsche Demokratische Republik” (DDR). On the contrary, it lives with it.”
“OST: Berlin” the title of Russo’s photo series, is a play on the word “Ostalgie,” a term referring to nostalgia for parts of German culture and life. All across the city of Berlin today, one can find old portraits of Erich Honecker, the former first general secretary of East Germany’s Social Unity Party who led the country from 1971 until the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, in hotel rooms or painted on the sides of buildings. Food products that were once popular are now being sold once again in the new supermarkets. The most requested rental cars by tourists today? The old Lada and Trabant, which was created in East Berlin in the 1950s and which many East Berliners later drove over the Berlin wall when it fell. People like to go to the Soviet Memorial in Treptower Park for a walk, or to the abandoned fun fair for a weekend picnic. Cafès and restaurants furnished in pure DDR style, and the former Stasi headquarters, have now become touristic attractions. The lure of this nostalgia could be advantageous toward driving tourism as East Germany continues to build its economy as West Germany has. And newer landmarks, cars and cafes also bump against the Lenin-era architecture.
Calogero has been documenting East Berlin’s transformation since April 2014, and is producing a fanzine that will be published on the anniversary of the fall in November.
All photos by Calogero Russo/LUZ/Redux
New housing in East Berlin. (Calogero Russo/LUZ/Redux) Kulturpark Plänterwald (during the DDR); Spreepark now after the fall of the wall. Spreepark is an abandoned amusement park in the Treptow-Köpenick district of Berlin. (Calogero Russo/LUZ/Redux/Calogero Russo / LUZ) Locals and native Berliners gather for drinks at Claerchen’s Ballhaus, an old East Berlin ballroom. (Calogero Russo/LUZ/Redux) Inside Ost West Cafe. It is on one of the former boundary lines of the Berlin wall. (Calogero Russo/LUZ/Redux) “Molecule Man” is a sculpture of aluminum, designed by American artist Jonathan Borofsky, installed on the Spree river. (Calogero Russo/LUZ/Redux) Actors during the filming of a television series next to the Weltzeituhr (Worldtime Clock) in Alexander Platz. (Calogero Russo/LUZ/Redux) A senior Polish officer in uniform to commemorate the victory over Nazism in Treptower Park, site of the Soviet War Memorial. (Calogero Russo/LUZ/Redux) An old Lada car near Treptower park. (Calogero Russo/LUZ/Redux) The Soviet War Memorial is a vast war memorial and military cemetery in Berlin’s Treptower Park. It was built to the design of the Soviet architect Yakov Belopolsky to commemorate 5,000 of the 80,000 Soviet soldiers who fell in the Battle of Berlin in April-May 1945. The memorial served as the central war memorial of East Germany. (Calogero Russo/LUZ/Redux) A bedroom inside the DDR hostel. (Calogero Russo/LUZ/Redux) A photo of Erich Honecker, former head of the German Democratic Republic (East Germany), sits on a bedroom dresser in the DDR Hostel. (Calogero Russo/LUZ/Redux) Inside the Berlin-hohenschönhausen Memorial is a former site of the main political prison of the East German Communist Ministry of State Security, the Stasi. (Calogero Russo/LUZ/Redux) Murals of Vladimir Lenin and soldiers inside the Soviet War Memorial. (Calogero Russo/LUZ/Redux) Near Bernauer Strasse, a cross commemorates the victims of the Berlin wall, people who tried to escape or innocent parties killed. In the background, tourists take pictures. (Calogero Russo/LUZ/Redux)
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