Stones Have Memories

The Stones Have Memories

 

This photographic exploration of the landmarks of the Cold War in Berlin, Germany is the result of several years of research and collaboration with historians in Berlin and the United States. Berlin was the epicenter of the Cold War after the end of World War II and home to tragic tales of families separated, oppression and persecution by the East German State and their Soviet allies.

I was compelled to tackle this project after I viewed a news item about relics of history being lost due to the rebuilding efforts in Berlin since reunification began in 1990. As a photographer I was fascinated by the architecture in Berlin and a s a journalist and child of the Cold War era I was interested in the idea that history can be so closely tied to a physical place. My personal interest in Berlin began even earlier, as a child. The evening news was frequently filled with reports of escape attempts to the West and every good spy thriller featured Berlin as a backdrop. My father would also tell me stories about Germany from his time serving in the armed forces in Europe in the early 1960's and this became a major influence on my interest in the topic.

I have seen many beautiful artistic endeavors about the Wall but never a broader documentation of the many sites relevant to the Cold War in Berlin. My intention for this project is to compile and share a bit of history and pay respect to the generations of Germans who experience the Cold War first-hand. This online gallery is an excerpt from a much larger collection of photos I created in 2008. The exhibit was comprised of eight, 30"x40" silver prints that showed in galleries in New York, Berlin and my hometown in Montana. The prints are now part of the permanent collection of the Cold War Museum in Vint Hill, Virginia outside of Washington, D.C.


Bridge of Spies The Glienicke Bridge spans the Havel River in the city of Potsdam just southwest of Berlin. In 1952 the East German state closed the bridge, allowing only vehicles from the four occupying powers to cross, making it one of the few links between East and West Germany. In a 1986 article in the New York Times, author James M. Markham dubbed it the “Bridge of Spies.” From 1962 to 1986 three prisoner exchanges were made on the bridge. The most notable of these was the first exchange in 1962, when U.S. pilot Gary Powers was exchanged under the cover of darkness for Soviet colonel Rudolf Abel. Powers had spent nearly two years in a Soviet prison as punishment when his U2 spy plane was shot down over the Soviet Union. 

Bridge of Spies

The Glienicke Bridge spans the Havel River in the city of Potsdam just southwest of Berlin. In 1952 the East German state closed the bridge, allowing only vehicles from the four occupying powers to cross, making it one of the few links between East and West Germany. In a 1986 article in the New York Times, author James M. Markham dubbed it the “Bridge of Spies.”

From 1962 to 1986 three prisoner exchanges were made on the bridge. The most notable of these was the first exchange in 1962, when U.S. pilot Gary Powers was exchanged under the cover of darkness for Soviet colonel Rudolf Abel. Powers had spent nearly two years in a Soviet prison as punishment when his U2 spy plane was shot down over the Soviet Union. 

FERNSEHTURM The television tower, or Fernsehturm, stands 1,198 feet above Alexanderplatz in Berlin. Construction was completed in 1969 by the East German government that frequently sought opportunities to display its power. As a result, the tower stands more than twice the height of the Funkturm radio tower in West Berlin. The Communist leader in East Berlin, Walter Ulbricht, chose to construct the Fernsehturm near the Palace of the Republic to create an axis of East German power in Alexanderplatz. Due to the geometric shape of the metal ball that sits atop the tower, when the sun shines just right, a glowing cross appears. This phenomenon became known as the “Pope’s Revenge” as a comment to the atheistic nature of the Communist rulers and their propensity to destroy churches.

FERNSEHTURM

The television tower, or Fernsehturm, stands 1,198 feet above Alexanderplatz in Berlin. Construction was completed in 1969 by the East German government that frequently sought opportunities to display its power. As a result, the tower stands more than twice the height of the Funkturm radio tower in West Berlin. The Communist leader in East Berlin, Walter Ulbricht, chose to construct the Fernsehturm near the Palace of the Republic to create an axis of East German power in Alexanderplatz. Due to the geometric shape of the metal ball that sits atop the tower, when the sun shines just right, a glowing cross appears. This phenomenon became known as the “Pope’s Revenge” as a comment to the atheistic nature of the Communist rulers and their propensity to destroy churches.

CULTURAL REALISM A mural of happy communists graces the side of the current home of the Federal Ministry of Finance in the former East Berlin. The building was built in 1935 as the Reich Ministry of Aviation. During the Cold War it became home to the House of Ministries. The House of Ministries was also part of the demonstrations that took place in June 1953, when the protesters gathered there to demand social reforms and free elections. Hundreds of demonstrators were killed and thousands more were jailed. Several Soviet soldiers were reported to have been executed for their refusal to shoot unarmed demonstrators. Today a monument in front of the ministry commemorates the June uprising.

CULTURAL REALISM

A mural of happy communists graces the side of the current home of the Federal Ministry of Finance in the former East Berlin. The building was built in 1935 as the Reich Ministry of Aviation. During the Cold War it became home to the House of Ministries. The House of Ministries was also part of the demonstrations that took place in June 1953, when the protesters gathered there to demand social reforms and free elections. Hundreds of demonstrators were killed and thousands more were jailed. Several Soviet soldiers were reported to have been executed for their refusal to shoot unarmed demonstrators. Today a monument in front of the ministry commemorates the June uprising.

ESCAPE After a year and a half of planning, East German Heinz Holzapfel and his wife and nine-year-old son made their escape in July 1965 to the West over the Berlin Wall from the roof of the House of Ministries. Considered one of the more daring escape attempts over the Wall, Holzapfel used a device constructed from a hammer, nylon cord and bicycle wheel to slide his family to safety.

ESCAPE

After a year and a half of planning, East German Heinz Holzapfel and his wife and nine-year-old son made their escape in July 1965 to the West over the Berlin Wall from the roof of the House of Ministries. Considered one of the more daring escape attempts over the Wall, Holzapfel used a device constructed from a hammer, nylon cord and bicycle wheel to slide his family to safety.

PETER FECHTER A cobblestone path marks the former location of the wall along Zimmerstrasse, where on August 17, 1962, a teenager from East Germany, Peter Fechter, was shot in the back as he attempted to escape over the Wall with his friend Helmut Kulbeik. He laid tangled in barbed-wire and bled to death an hour later in plain view of Western and East German onlookers. Despite his screams for help, he received no medical attention.  In March 1997, two former East German guards, Rolf Friedrich and Erich Schreiber, faced manslaughter charges for Fechter's death.  They admitted to his shooting and both were convicted and sentenced.

PETER FECHTER

A cobblestone path marks the former location of the wall along Zimmerstrasse, where on August 17, 1962, a teenager from East Germany, Peter Fechter, was shot in the back as he attempted to escape over the Wall with his friend Helmut Kulbeik. He laid tangled in barbed-wire and bled to death an hour later in plain view of Western and East German onlookers. Despite his screams for help, he received no medical attention.  In March 1997, two former East German guards, Rolf Friedrich and Erich Schreiber, faced manslaughter charges for Fechter's death.  They admitted to his shooting and both were convicted and sentenced.

INTERROGATION A lone chair sits in an interrogation room in the Stasi prison. More than 200 cells and interrogation rooms existed in the interrogation wing of the prison. Prisoners were isolated from the outside world, and expert interrogators subjected them to months of questioning.  The interrogators would coerce victims into making incriminating statements.

INTERROGATION

A lone chair sits in an interrogation room in the Stasi prison. More than 200 cells and interrogation rooms existed in the interrogation wing of the prison. Prisoners were isolated from the outside world, and expert interrogators subjected them to months of questioning.  The interrogators would coerce victims into making incriminating statements.

DIE MAUER Ultimately, the Wall was built to stem the flow of refugees to the West and protect the economy of East Germany. This was the fourth wall in Berlin’s history. The first two were built to protect the city from invasion. The third helped enforce levies and taxes.

DIE MAUER

Ultimately, the Wall was built to stem the flow of refugees to the West and protect the economy of East Germany. This was the fourth wall in Berlin’s history. The first two were built to protect the city from invasion. The third helped enforce levies and taxes.

STASI LEADER Telephones sit bathed in afternoon sunlight on the former desk of Stasi minister Erich Mielke. It was from this office the man, considered to be the most powerful in East Germany, ordered the arrests, kidnappings, tortures and murders of thousands of German citizens.

STASI LEADER

Telephones sit bathed in afternoon sunlight on the former desk of Stasi minister Erich Mielke. It was from this office the man, considered to be the most powerful in East Germany, ordered the arrests, kidnappings, tortures and murders of thousands of German citizens.

TACHELES The Kunsthaus Tacheles building on the former east side of Berlin dates back to the early 1900s and has allegedly been home to Nazi SS offices, prisoners of war and a communist army barracks. The graffiti-scarred building was set to be demolished in 1990, but it was spared after artists took residence. Tacheles is considered part of the Greenwich Village of Berlin, housing several artists’ studios inside and outside in a courtyard strewn with shacks and sculptures.

TACHELES

The Kunsthaus Tacheles building on the former east side of Berlin dates back to the early 1900s and has allegedly been home to Nazi SS offices, prisoners of war and a communist army barracks. The graffiti-scarred building was set to be demolished in 1990, but it was spared after artists took residence. Tacheles is considered part of the Greenwich Village of Berlin, housing several artists’ studios inside and outside in a courtyard strewn with shacks and sculptures.

POTSDAMER PLATZ A section of the Berlin Wall stands below modern office buildings in Potsdamer Platz. The area was completely leveled during WWII and left desolate during the Cold War after it was divided by the Wall. Potsdamer Platz was a curiosity to Westerners, and several notable figures visited the area, including presidents John F. Kennedy, Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush.  On November 9, 1989, the Wall was breached at Potsdamer Platz among several other locations. Potsdamer Platz is now one of the most modern centers for business and commerce in Europe and has had millions of dollars poured into its reconstruction.  The crossed-out portrait on the wall is of Rosa Luxemborg, a Marxist and revolutionary for the Communist Party in Germany in the early 1900’s. 

POTSDAMER PLATZ

A section of the Berlin Wall stands below modern office buildings in Potsdamer Platz. The area was completely leveled during WWII and left desolate during the Cold War after it was divided by the Wall. Potsdamer Platz was a curiosity to Westerners, and several notable figures visited the area, including presidents John F. Kennedy, Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush.  On November 9, 1989, the Wall was breached at Potsdamer Platz among several other locations. Potsdamer Platz is now one of the most modern centers for business and commerce in Europe and has had millions of dollars poured into its reconstruction.  The crossed-out portrait on the wall is of Rosa Luxemborg, a Marxist and revolutionary for the Communist Party in Germany in the early 1900’s.