East Berlin photographer Harald Hauswald, whose documentation of GDR life led to him being closely monitored by the Stasi, will be talking about his experiences on November 7 at Fall of the Wall event Surveillance & Control at the Stasi Museum. We caught him before to chat about his life as a dissident artist.
“The moment the Wall came down was the most liberating moment of my life,” says Harald Hauswald. For the then-35-year-old photographer, it meant an end to 12 years of daily Stasi monitoring, and the chance to finally live off his work. Hauswald was never able to attract the “socialist press” to his freestyle, independent photography: some 250,000 shots that documented everyday life in East Berlin, from decrepit Prenzlauer Berg buildings, to street scenes and alternative artist circles. His first published work actually appeared in the West Berlin literary magazine Litfass – thanks to the help of dissident writers like Hauswald’s friend Lutz Rathenow – effectively making him a GDR public enemy and the target of constant harassment by the state. Yet, the photographer felt protected, firstly through his continuous engagement with West Berlin journalists who were closely reporting on the government’s treatment of dissident artists, and secondly through his work for the evangelical organisation Stefanus Stiftung, “it was like having a double-layered safety blanket”. At the time of the Mauerfall, Hauswald’s Stasi record totaled 1500 documents under code name Radfahrer (cyclist). Today Hauswald spends his time sharing his experience under socialist Big Brother at schools and public events organized by the likes of the Goethe Institute. One of his current projects is working as a movie set photographer for German director Leander Haußmann (Sonnenallee), whose upcoming “Stasi comedy” is in production. Hauswald remembers the GDR as fertile ground for street photography – and also for solidarity between citizens. His main focus has always been to capture people and regular life, which is why he doesn’t himself use the term “Wende“, because of its implication that the lives of East Germans were turned upside down by the Fall of the Wall. Hauswald disagrees, “the Wall fell, but nothing really changed in people’s lives”. His body of work and his role as a historical witness now offers a realistic, candid glimpse into GDR life. “The State was shit but the people were great,” he sums up with a grin.
For more 30 years Peaceful Revolution – Fall of the Wall celebrations, check out our 7 days, 7 tips.