There is something almost science-fiction-like to East Berlin – an entire society that shared our same streets, and yet today has almost completely vanished. These photos allow a window into that world of division even if, for the most part, they show a city that is eerily quiet and empty.
K. Krause was a photographer interested in capturing the city’s atmosphere. Starting in the early 1970s, Krause began showing East Berlin through a new lens by documenting not just its history, but everyday life. Here are 12 of photos from 1971 to 1990.
Wallstraße and Fischerinsel
It might be hard to tell, but this photo shows two iconic symbols of East Berlin, one in front of the other. First, there’s a classic Plattenbau tower block. Behind that, you can glimpse the building site of the iconic Ahornblatt restaurant which served the DDR’s Ministry of Construction after its completion in 1973. This was a popular spot both during the DDR and afterwards: following reunification it was the site for some legendary techno parties. But despite passionate protests from the arts and culture scene, it was eventually demolished in 2000.
K. Krause had an ability to find the extraordinary in the everyday. Here, a young mother walks her child in a pram down the emptied-out streets of Leipziger Straße. Behind her, we can glimpse the (now completed) Ahornblatt building.
In this photo, we see a group of workers demolishing a residential building smack in the middle of the now-famous Invalidenstraße in Mitte, clearing the way for the new modernist architectural style of the DDR to flourish.
Today, these shabby patched-up houses sit on one of the most desirable streets in Berlin, but in the early 80s, many such buildings had been damaged and unused since the end of the war. Compared to near-derelict houses such as these, the Plattenbau of Marzahn could represent a significant upgrade, coming with working bathrooms, central heating and other modern amenities.
Between 1824 and 1930, five museum buildings were built on the plot of land on the Spree that we know today as Museum Island. It all started in 1828 with the Classical design of Karl Friedrich Schinkel’s Altes Museum: Prussia’s first public museum. This was followed by the Bode Museum (then the Kaiser Friedrich Museum), the Neues Museum (then the Royal Prussian Museum), the Alte Nationalgalerie and, in 1930, the Pergamon Museum.
Berlin’s Scheunenviertel has a layered history, originally named for the hay barns constructed outside the medieval city centre. For centuries, this working class district near Hackescher Markt was home to a large Jewish population. The stillness in these pictures serves as a counterpoint both to that earlier history, and to the bustling capitalist district the Scheunenviertel would eventually become.
Berlin is a young city compared to London or Paris, but Spittelmarkt has some of the oldest buildings you can find in the centre. In this picture, however, the old and the new are right next to each other: to the right, we can see the Ahornblatt restaurant and a large Plattenbau tower block, while on the left, the more traditional buildings of old Berlin still remain.
Before 1950, this train station was known as Stettiner Bahnhof, named because it linked Berlin with what was once the Prussian city of Stettin (since 1945, Szczecin lies in Poland). After 1950, the station was given the more neutral name of Nordbahnhof. In this wintry scene from 1985, K. Krause has captured the building in an intermediate state.
Even today, the area between the Spree and Boxhagener Platz feels like a liminal space, as if it’s stuck in the margins between two separate zones, not quite belonging to either one. Strangely, in this photo taken by Krause in the 1980s, you don’t get this feeling: settled residential buildings, Trabi cars lining the roads – you wouldn’t know this society would disappear in less than a decade.
One of the strengths of the photography of K. Krause is his ability to capture the strange stillness and understated wonders of everyday scenes. It’s hard to say what about the above picture would have captured his eye: whether the imposing building at the end of the road, the scaffolding and industrial structure opposite, the gentle mist or the motorbike cruising down the cobblestone street. The interplay of these ordinary elements creates an enduring document of the time.
The Brandenburg Gate has stood through countless historical events. Napoleon marched through it (taking the quadriga on his way out) and it was badly damaged during the Second World War, but nevertheless its sturdy columns endured. During the Cold War, it became the site of yet more history, marking a border crossing between two separate states and forming part of the infamous death strip. In this photo taken in 1987 from the Eastern Side, Berliners can gaze through the iconic gate into Tiergarten, but remain unable to cross it.
Even after the wall came down, Krause didn’t stop capturing the essence of the city with his camera. This picture was taken during the chaotic period between November 9, 1989 and reunification in October, 1990. In this picture, taken on the Western part of the wall looking towards the TV Tower and Alexanderplatz in the East, we get a final glimpse of what life was like in the shadow of the Berlin wall before it disappeared forever.