Coming of age: East Berlin today, 25 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall

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

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