In the early 1990s, Germany’s capital city was war-torn, broken, and as beautiful as it was bizarre.
Taken just after the Berlin Wall came down in November 1989, these photographs from Berlin Wonderland: Wild Years Revisited, 1990–1996, capture the city’s center at a time of both great transition and great stillness, a dreamy inflection point between the demise of East Germany’s state–run communism and integration into market capitalism. “Empty buildings that had been quietly decaying were occupied by new inhabitants,” write the editors of the retrospective, published this year. “With a spirit of improvisation, imagination, and creativity, they laid claim to an intermediate zone whose open spaces became meeting points for the most diverse of people.” The photos juxtapose the excitement of the city’s new–found freedom — explosive, creative, edgy, sometimes violent — with a landscape bound up in history. Children play in ruins, young artists repurpose abandoned military equipment and walk past bullet–hole–riddled walls, vestiges of not only the GDR but also the Second World War and subsequent tug–of–war for Berlin. The images of the resulting “no man’s land” are both familiar and strange.
Demolition of Mulackstraße 1, 1994,/ Rolf Zöllner
“Obst & Gemüse,” 1992/ Ben de Biel
Outing, 1991/ Ben de Biel
“IM Eimer,“ 1993/ Ben de Biel
Border strip, 1990/Rolf Zöllner
Kleine Hamburger-Straße 5, 1990/ Ben de Biel
Street Performance “Kunsthaus KuLe,” Ursula Maria Berzborn, Oranienburger Straße, 1992/ Rolf Zöllner
Ernst-Thälmann-Park, 1993/ Rolf Zöllner
Grand tattoo, leave-taking from the Western allies, Brandenburger Tor, 1994/ Hendrik Rauch
Performance: “Mutoid Waste Company” & “DNTT,” 1992/ Philipp von Recklinghausen
Demonstration after eviction of trailer commune, 1993/ Hendrik Rauch
RA.M.M. Theater, “Stauforschung,” 1991/ Ben de Biel
All images from Berlin Wonderland, Copyright Gestalten 2014.