Oberbaumbrücke

by jonnywhitlam

My exhibition is coming up this Friday – the 24th of June. I’d have loved to have put all my pictures from Berlin in the show, but of course I’m limited by space (not to mention funds!). So, with the help of the guys that own the space my work will be shown in I have taken my collection of over 100 photos from my ‘Berlin‘ set on Flickr, and taken them down to the 24 that speak most about the time I have spent here so far.

I have also decided that every day for the next 24 days I will post one of the pictures on here and explain what makes it relevant to the city, to me, and hopefully to its residents as well. I will start the series off with ‘Oberbaumbrücke’ below.

The bridge from East to West.

This is the Oberbaumbrücke, it has been a strange-looking yet important part of the city of Berlin since it was first built in the late-1700s. The Eastern side of the bridge, formerly Stralauer Tor, used to mark the edge of the city until it was officially enlarged to include ‘Greater Berlin’ in the year 1920.

So the bridge had gone from signing the edge of Berlin to being in the centre. Following the division of the city after the second world war the bridge no longer did this, but in fact signed the edge of two Berlins. The Western side (rightwards on the above photo) leads to the district of Kreuzberg, formerly in the American sector and thus West Berlin. Were you to head Eastwards over the bridge you would be entering the East Berlin district of Friedrichshain.

Following reunification the bridge took on even more significance, as the districts of Kreuzberg and Friedrichshain were officially merged (to create the unimaginatively named Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg) the bridge was suddenly no longer a symbol of the clash between east and west, but the struggle towards reunification.

This is symbolised in a few ways , some more exciting than others. Firstly, running along the top of the photo, the 3 lines of yellow and white show the Berlin U-Bahn, the U-1 line extended back over the river to a new station (Warschauer Str.) in the former-East. Secondly, and fairly mundanely, we have the constant traffic going both ways. Boring, I know, but the fact that only 21 years ago this was not only impossible but unimaginable still amazes me even though I cross ‘The Wall’ almost every day. Thirdly you may be able to see the two neon signs on either side of the arch. This is an officially sanctioned street art installation.

All night and every night these two hands play ‘rock, paper, scissors’. A neon tongue in cheek display that shows us not only the battle between ‘East and West’, Capitalism and Communism throughout the 20th Century, but also that many Germans today talk about ‘die mauer im kopf‘; ‘the wall in your head’. This the idea that although the Berlin Wall, the division of the city (and Germany) is gone, the identities of ‘Ossi’ and ‘Wessi’ (Easterner and Westerner) still exist in very real terms for many Germans.

The reason that this place is so important for me is that it was shown to me by a good friend when I was starting my job as a tour guide back in December. I used to take tour groups over this bridge about 3 times per week, and it was always a highlight for me seeing these 2 neon signs battling it out. Whilst I was new in Berlin (or at least newer than I am now) I felt that this was a way that people today are still involved in the dark, rich and tumultuous history of this odd (and fun) place.

If you would like to visit the exhibition it will be on at Speakeasy Sprachzeug  language school, 116 Boxhagener Str. Berlin (Nearest U-Bahn is Frankfurter Tor.) from June 24 until August 24. If you would like to buy a print of this or any other photo please feel free to send me an email (see contact).

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