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berlin redux.

11 Nov 2010

Design Oberver has a great post & slideshow today on the recent work by Frank Schirrmeister, a Berlin-based photographer.  Schirrmeister took his large format out on the streets of Berlin in the early morning hours, before much of the city was out and about, and photographed the city the way he sees it — as less of an intersection of picturesque and monumental, or something immediately or conventionally “historical,” but rather with the following in mind:

As someone who was born in Berlin, I find it difficult to keep pace emotionally as the city reinvents itself with dizzying speed. I often have the feeling that my own city doesn’t belong to me anymore, but to the forces of the global economy. When photographing Berlin, I am constantly trying to scrutinize and to challenge the popular image of the city. I explore the town beyond the facade, delve into the deeper layers of the metropolis.

I took the above photo when I visited Berlin in February 2009, and even though it was my first (and only) visit there, I found the sense of transformation and revision incredibly palpable.  It was, and is, a city trying to maintain its sense of history while at certain times and in particular spaces, wanting very much to move away from its past and reinvent itself as a sort of urban palimpsest for new national and global capital.   Schirrmeister captures this post-1989 reality in really subtle, nearly imperceptible, ways (slideshow here): empty lots; the dull glow of a Burger King’s neon lights against the side of what can only be described as a pisspoor attempt as postmodern architecture; graffiti against the side of drab housing.  It’s a remarkable representation of how an everyday Berlin collides with, and in many ways becomes, a more global Berlin — but also how that foray into early 21st century life is still incredibly banal, and surely never as monumental as how it often looks in photographs, or to non-native eyes.

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