East Germany, up close and personal
April 20, 2009 8:04 AM   Subscribe

Photo essay of East Germany. Karlheinz Jardner traveled through East Germany to catch some things on film which he thought were on the verge of vanishing forever. (via)

"On the one hand, I was fascinated by the colors, the pinks, the grays, the greens, and the shimmering blue of the water contrasting with the luminous white chalkstone. On the other hand, I was convinced that although I could always see the painting, I would never be able to contemplate the same scenery in reality. I wondered whether the landscape on the island of Rügen truly resembled the painting. It was a mystery to me.

And then the Berlin Wall came down.
posted by jquinby (17 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
Meant to post Jardner's portfolio site as well, though it leaves a bit to be desired.
posted by jquinby at 8:05 AM on April 20, 2009

I loved his photos. Can you tell from his site whether he's on Flickr (or something similar)?
posted by orrnyereg at 8:26 AM on April 20, 2009

i was in East Germany a coupla times before the wall came down, doing gigs. Went through Checkpoint Charlie! You got paid in play money, that you had to spend before you crossed the border, otherwise you could wipe your ass with it in West Berlin. The air smelled of really crappy, incredibly-bad-for-your-lungs coal, used for heating the houses, which mingled with the noxious exhaust of the Trabants. The Worker's Paradise! Good times, good times.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 8:27 AM on April 20, 2009 [2 favorites]

great photos, great ost-charme.
posted by namagomi at 8:31 AM on April 20, 2009

Fascinating essay, thanks, jquimby.

If you'd like to experience this vanished life firsthand - at a generation's remove with a thick layer of ironic nostalgia smeared on top of it - consider Ostel for your next visit to Berlin.

Only nine euros a night to stay in the Pionierlager (Scout Camp rooms). Save your money for leaflet printing before heading off to denounce bourgeois recidivists publicly on the Alexanderplatz!
posted by gompa at 8:40 AM on April 20, 2009

You got paid in play money, that you had to spend before you crossed the border, otherwise you could wipe your ass with it in West Berlin.

On a lark, I took some German classes at a Goethe Institute a few years back, and the instructor told several stories of border crossings, including this one: on a return trip to West Berlin, one of the guards found a coin in the ashtray of his car - something he kept as a good luck piece. His sister had given it to him or something like that. Anyway, the guard mentioned it, and our teacher (who was not in a good mood) mouthed off to the guy. This was a mistake. They took his car (a VW bug) into a sideline location and proceeded to strip it down to the very last bolt, looking for contraband.

He was in the US finishing up some postdoc work when the wall came down, but kept in very close contact with friends and family over there and relayed several stories about those first few hours.

It was a good class.
posted by jquinby at 8:44 AM on April 20, 2009

Ahhh, Ostalgie.
posted by piratebowling at 8:46 AM on April 20, 2009

...our teacher (who was not in a good mood) mouthed off to the guy.

Mouthing off to cops, border guards, immigration officers... never a good idea. Never. Unless you want to be, y'know, a martyr, or something. Or a professor, a few years later, with an amusing anecdote to tell you students.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 8:56 AM on April 20, 2009

The Ghosts of East Berlin - Fortean Times peice with some nice photos.
posted by Artw at 8:58 AM on April 20, 2009

Gorgeous photos, thanks!
posted by grapefruitmoon at 9:10 AM on April 20, 2009

Interesting photos. I went through Rügen last summer, actually. Not a Trabant in sight. I try to keep in mind that the charms of run-down communist style towns are not so apparent when you actually have to live there. While in Rügen I saw the ultimate in abandoned buildings, Prora. A totally bizzarre experience.
posted by Harald74 at 10:58 AM on April 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

Wow, what a great post. Jardner is a great photographer - in most of the photos his subjects' warmth and cheeriness is really captured.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:03 AM on April 20, 2009

Zoo Station: Adventures in East and West Berlin by Ian Walker is one of the books I have kept with me since discovering it at a used bookstore (now long gone) on the Granville Mall in Vancouver more than 15 years ago.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:06 AM on April 20, 2009

Goodbye, Lenin!
posted by Pollomacho at 11:18 AM on April 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

I stayed at Ostel when I visited Berlin last year. The rooms all had the retro-kitschy early-1970s-looking wallpaper and melamine furniture that was a hallmark of East Germany until 1989 or so. My room had a portrait of Erich Honecker on the wall, which, I imagine, stared disapprovingly at me as I accessed the hotel's free WiFi with my bourgeois-decadent Californian-designed laptop.

The antique/retro shops of Berlin are still full of cheap and cheerful-looking plates, cups and telephones, made of lightweight, pastel-hued plastic, of the sort that they had in the DDR.
posted by acb at 2:54 PM on April 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

Children became more consumer oriented as Western products came onto the market.

I spent about a month in Poland and East Germany before the wall came down. I accompanied my Polish friend who had lots of relatives there, so I was very fortunate to see "behind the scenes". Two memories: we hired a cab to drive between cities, since cab fare was so cheap. During a brief rest-stop the driver showed us a paper cutout which showed a drawing of Jarulenski when folded one way, a pig when folded another. The driver told us he could get five years in prison for possessing that paper.

Upon returning from the East, we disembarked from the train in West Berlin. We walked out of the station and encountered an ordinary pharmacy. The window display absolutely flabbergasted us, so laden with goods it was. We had been a month in places where a stack of 3 jars of pickled pigs feet might make a window display. We stood mouths agape at the overwhelmingly rich-looking window display.
posted by telstar at 4:28 PM on April 20, 2009 [2 favorites]

I lived in Prague for a while, and a good childhood friend of mine moved to the eastern portion of Berlin -- went to visit him, and I have to say that with the exception of KaDeWe, you can keep western Berlin -- the eastern section is so much more interesting and vibrant to me!

Fun story: fast forward to 1999. I had to go to Germany on business. Someone in our Bonn office screwed something up and I had to go back a second time, 5 days later. It was right before New Years, and I said no way in hell am I stepping on a plane the 31st, 1st or 2nd, because who knows what might happen with the planes? So my company paid for me to go to my friend's house in Berlin and wait it out.

We ended up going to a party, and thence to the Wall for the actual midnight click-over. Me: towering high heels, bottle of champagne in either hand, woooo! Good times. Later, we start to hike back to his friend's house to continue the party. My feet are KILLING ME. It's cold. I'm wearing a short dress. We can't find a taxi. Ugh. I'm whinging. My friend makes a "well, I guess you shouldn't have worn those shoes" comment. Me: (semi-hammered, and I have a voice that carries) "Well, if I'd known we were going on a NAZI DEATH MARCH I wouldn't have worn them!"

You'd be amazed how fast one can find a cab once one realizes perhaps it is not a good idea to let the drunk girl talk.

Upon arriving back at the apartment, I rang the bell, and Torsten's girlfriend threw the keys out the window and yelled "Schnell! Get up here! THE ABBA MOVIE IS ON!!!"

Pretty much the best New Year's ever.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 8:38 AM on April 21, 2009 [3 favorites]

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