Tina Bara Berlin
Berlin, 3 March 09
I had at first turned down the enquiry of a photographer colleague who asked many photographers, mostly of our GDR generation, for their most important personal key pictures from autumn 1989. Firstly I do not make any key pictures, much less of events, and secondly I did not take any pictures at that time worthy of being exhibited. After conversations with an old artist friend about the aesthetic appearance of the old black-white baryta blow-up technique – he had just got himself roped into this project and was blowing up in his BW darkroom tracked down traces of negatives about a paddle tour on the dirty Saale in the ‘hot’ days – I could not resist the temptation to look in my old, never again opened ORWO box full of contacts during a sleepless night:
August – December 1989. In doing so, a slip of paper got into my hands amongst a few more or less uninteresting contact prints. The words on the slip were: As of January 1990 resumption of own work …
I wasted away the autumn of 1989 from a photographic and artistic viewpoint aside from the fact that I never wanted to document events, and when I tried it for whatever reasons, I failed grandiosely. Just because of that I got stuck with two of these contact prints of yours in bed. I did not have any memory of them because I obviously did not think any photo was worthy of being blown up. This is probably because they neither pursued an idea nor a commission. In a loose sequence a few snapshots are rolling out over the silver bromide gelatine. Mostly I shot several times insofar your familiar counterpart interested me, a familiar sentiment – less will for design – just for the heck of it. Among all the unaccustomed perhaps also to feel the familiarity of the photographer and to follow a familiar impulse.
My memories turned out to be weak in spite of certain moments finding a place the blurred memory cosmos via detours and alienation of photos. What I surely believe to feel is just this moment of familiarity which through your appearance bores itself into the photographic layer.
I have to research everything concrete, I cannot recall the moment but I still recall a lot. I know that we both received permission to leave the country shortly before the fall of the wall. I got it a few days before you did. I find our two arrival dates in the west part of the city in our 1989 Greenpeace calendar which has been lying in a black Bisley drawer since 1990. I was glad that you had also come to West Berlin. This is shown by an emotionally scribbled entry. We had both staged our departure marriage as great Prenzlauer Berg festival with a celebration in a gay pub. We were both full of anticipation…
It is possible that you are sitting in bed in the residence of Hans. You first found accommoda-tion with Hans, a friend of my then husband Peter, didn’t you? For what occasion, however, did I take pictures of you in bed at daytime, it is daylight? It could not have been early, since we are outside on the previous photos. Or, did I sleep at your place and they are photos of two days? Or did I possibly even lure you to bed in order to transfer my own mood of wanting to crawl away? Your portrait in a monitor seems to me the most enigmatic. In it I huddle myself beside you while taking pictures with both of us pretty much slipping away. According to the sequence we first meet in this monitor and later you lie in bed. Do you have any idea or memory about this photographic situation or respectively what do you at all remember spontaneously when you see these contact prints?
I still almost feel the great excitation physically when I recall the first time in West Berlin and the huge bewilderment in view of the unforeseeable developments in the country which we had just left. From a historical viewpoint in the meantime it is somewhat embarrassing to me that I was not really present at this great event of history – particularly if I think of the politically active ones that stayed in the East. We had just left the East and the friends holding out and now are sitting in bed??
I look forward to your reaction. Perhaps I still participate in the project for autumn 1989, because of the intimacy and because of the embarrassment.
I greet you, sitting in bed of course.
Crazy indeed, now I am writing you a letter on one hand as girl-friend and long-time subject of your photographic curiosity and on the other hand as part of an art project. A letter – I can hardly recall the last time I wrote a non-email letter – it basically is an intimate medium and yet it is now meant for the public. I will still try to be honest. Looking at the photos, the suitcase catches my eyes first. I came over in July 89 and I am already staying at my second accommodation, actually with Hans. I was very fortunate that I did not have to live like many others in the transitional camp Marienfelde. I had enough of camps.
When seeing this arrangement of pictures, tags of memories being disturbed in their long sleep whirl up immediately in my remembrance: the first weeks in the West I experienced like in ecstacy, breathless and at the same time with a blatantly obvious, even seismographic look for all and everything. I still remember the very first impression when the smell of the cars struck me like ‘perfumed’ in comparison to the Trabi-smelliness I had grown up with. Then the beggar-woman was there who approached me but wanted none of my East money. I still remember the weak knees I got when I for the first time saw the Ku’damm, a type of culture shock (not at all comprehensible today anymore). I still see myself in Kreuzberg in a toilet of a pub. Slightly canned I stare at the many slips and statements, carved into the door: ‘Castrate them all!’, one of the slogans read. On the streets one ran past each other without taking a look. Whereas in the East one had always looked up and down everyone questioning where this and that one belongs to. I missed the flirting. Instead I heard in the bars, which you visited not before 2 o’clock in the morning, who just had brought what therapy behind himself. For me the step from the Prenzlauer Berg into the West was like one from the province into the metropolis. For a long time I avoided the bus trips because it was too embarrassing for me to inquire about the payment system. Also at greetings I took care not to give hands because this was considered uncool and would have exposed me immediately as coming from the East.
In my head I was committed to the permanent balancing of my fantasy conception about the West with reality. I virtually only knew the West from television or from stories, substantiated with the gloomy apologies from the Marxism/Leninism lessons.
It quickly became clear: West-Berlin was not like the rest of the world and much less like the FRG. It was rather a melting pot of people somehow run aground, supposedly creative ones and tireless self-seekers. I was 27 and for myself had sounded the bell for hour zero and felt in best company among all the aimless.
It is the more irritating to see a situation on the photos which seems so untypical for that time. A short breather? A moment of self-assurance? I have a terrible suspicion. There is still something totally suppressed, something not having been expressed in words for very long. Still from the last days in East Berlin an involuntary pregnancy accompanied me which appeared to me as if invisible strings wanted to pull me back to where I came from – and, where I, as I know now, will always belong to. With these pictures I would belatedly like to set a memorial to this unborn being from those days – if I may? It does not help either that I am trying to steal myself out of the picture with the monitor. It was a turbulent time but deep inside life still made its own harangue.
Your girl-friend C.
Dear Conny, Berlin, 9 March 09
Thanks for your open letter. Your private ‘revelation’ touched me very much, and I believe now to even remember where you wrote it – that you had to lie down because you were weak. This side by side of external and internal events is indeed unbelievable. There the world comes apart at the seams. And basic but even individual questions about birth and death, now taking the biggest place in privacy, are superimposed by the dynamics of daily political events which back then whirled up the daily routine like a landslide.
Now I am sending you another contact print which is dated a little later – October 89. Again you lie in bed and respectively I took pictures of you in bed.
Here I can recall some more. I met you and the man at your side in Wroclaw. The West Germans mostly say Breslau. So one of our first trips abroad during the ‘West-’ and ‘Post-Wende-Period’ went into the East. We were not allowed to travel to Poland for a long time. We had been there for several reasons in October. I do not know whether we had an appointment there or whether we just met by chance and what you were planning to do there.
I found a form and many forgotten slips of paper with addresses, which I collected back then – even further contact prints with colleagues. We were invited to a European exchange – the first East-West Photo Conference – in order to present our achievements and we drank a lot I believe. Whether there was a second conference, I do not know. In this time – 22 October 89, however, there was beautiful autumn weather, a multi-drunken atmosphere over and over.
This time I obviously woke you up with my camera, we drove around, sat in a wonderful coffee house and looked important – totally in a Vienna style in Polish. The pictures invoke a road movie atmosphere with me and respectively a yearning for that. I believe the wish to just drive into nothingness was so strong that I was always a little mad at the sudden wall opening having interfered with all of my romantic plans to start out into the distance. My man from the West just happened to be more in the East and had written his fingers to the bones, and I suddenly was also pulled back to this revolutionary atmosphere – at least physically. But I dreamed about something different which I missed out on. I really was not on the road but I had worked a lot and tried to orient myself and to learn. For years I have lived with this East-West history and often tried to hide my uncertainties. Is self-assertion possible without adaptation?
We have lived a part of our biography so far in a parallel way, of course with great differences – but there is a naturalness which cannot be learned anew, don’t you feel that way too? Friendship is
something precious: for acting out emotions. It is like a lightning conductor that is indispensable to life in the societal thunder.
What do you think, when you see yourself on the 20 year old contact prints in Wroclaw? What was it with U., who looks like he would make an important movie with you? Would you show him the photos please? I hope he does not mind playing along in this movie in which he is the ‘stranger’. We have not found a paradise. Where did we drive back to?
Would you tell me a little story?
Love – again with night-time greetings
It is indeed embarrassing that I am to be seen in bed again. And yet October 89 was anyway one of the most turbulent month in my life. You said Wroclaw, I could have sworn it was Krakow. I visited a film festival there but I do not recall whether I had shown something there or just had something to do there. As much as I like Poland, which always very much impressed me with its resistant people, but why wasn’t I in New York or Paris? O.K., Wroclaw or Krakow. At any rate I remember many happy people, plenty of alcohol and an evening with a kind of ‘blood soup’, during which I thought how good it is that this is over now. While I preferred to walk through the city for hours during travels, Ulrich loved to sit in the coffee houses, smoking in the process by all means and watching the hustling and bustling life passing by from a safe perspective. Poland was exotic for him as West Berliner and resembled a time journey. We were a couple for quite a while but the last photo in the row seemed like a film still revealing more separators than linking factors.
It got really exciting then with the trip home. Do you still remember? It was a mess. For that I have to briefly lunge back: Unlike you I was not permitted to enter the GDR again. The visa office Jebensstraße at Bahnhof Zoo handed out entry visas to one part of the emigrants, according to a principle not obvious to me, and not to others. The certainty, that I was perhaps not allowed to see my parents, relatives and friends for years now, was very bitter for me. I cried on the street and was consoled by a tramp who asked me in a broad Saxon accent what my problem was. I bought him a coffee.
Back to Poland. Having flown there, for the journey home by car the bold idea occurred to us to try the direct way to Berlin through the GDR. But I was really mistaken as far as the networking of the authorities was concerned. Even at this Poland-GDR border crossing point somewhere in the seclusion I was registered as ‘unacceptable’ and we had to take the whole detour via the Czech Republic to Hof on the transit motorway. It was an endless odyssey …
Back in West Berlin I received a few days later a surprising piece of news. On 31 October my father celebrated his birthday and my parents through obstinate ‘petitioning’ to Erich Honecker (at times the only way one could make one’s voice heard) managed that I was allowed to come ‘over’ for three days. Now all circumstances had perverted themselves: in East-Berlin the hell had broken loose. Friends showed me their injuries from fights with the police at the Gethsemanekirche. I came along to a panel discussion to which responsible people of GDR television were invited who had to justify themselves publicly for the first time for all the defrauding of themes in the programme, propaganda and censorship. I experienced agitated people, finally speaking almost explosively and seething with rage. The mood in the city was feverish. On “Aktuelle Kamera” there were strikingly many pieces of news from China, a blatant link that a ‘solution’ like on the Tiananmen Square was indeed at hand.
What kind of strange feeling to return after three days in my new home Moabit. You are right Tina, in the sequence of events quite a few things with regard to interpersonal heed, for which we in the East used to have time, dwindled away. Now time was beating differently…
Now, 2009: Like almost everyone who I know, I am living in the eastern part of the city again, in the totally westernized Prenzlauer Berg. I have not been in Poland for a long time but in return in Paris and New York.
I wish we would write letters to each other more so in the future. That brings us and oneself closer together again, that’s what it is all about actually.
Vive la différence! Your girl-friend C.