Before the Wall:
“Situation Berlin”

Arno Fischer (1927 – 2011)

Photograph by Arno Fischer, silver gelatin paper, 23,1 x 35,2 cm
© Erbengemeinschaft Arno Fischer

The black-and-white photograph shows four people in front of a bomb site in 1950s Berlin. Access to the terrain is barred by two crossed planks. An elderly man in a suit sits on them while further right an elegant young woman leans against one. On the left and right, higher up, two young men sit on fence posts looking at each other.

Arno Fischer (1927–2011) had wanted to be a sculptor, but then he discovered photography. In 1953 he dropped out of his course and started exploring Berlin, his home town, with a camera. For seven years he took photographs of things that seemed casual and ordinary in both the East and West of the city – a unique, intense stock-taking exercise in both political systems just after the war.

This picture was taken in East Berlin in 1957. Four Berliners are waiting by a fence, and the hole between the buildings is a vestige of the war. They are bored or larking about, behind them the ruins of the desolate city. We must read the title to grasp what major official event is about to occur: a visit by Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchev, secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, to the fraternal GDR.

In 1961 Fischer’s photographs were nearly published in Leipzig. The book was to be called “Situation Berlin”. The way the pictures had been selected and the addition of polemical texts would have simplified his multi-layered work and reduced it to anti-Western propaganda. But publication stopped when the Berlin Wall went up.

from the series: Situation Berlin 1953–1960
Acquired from the GDR culture fonds, 1991

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