David Noton On Location
Grab your thermals and join David Noton as he walks around the imposing, but historically rich city of Berlin to photograph all of its cultural wonders
Grab your thermals and head out into the freezing city of Berlin with David
Limp flags are the bane of the travel photographer. A brightly coloured flag fluttering in the frame is always a handy stratagem, but this afternoon both the giant German tricolour and the stars of the European Union are hanging forlornly on their poles in front of the Reichstag. It’s raining, and despite it being only 3pm the gloom of a winter’s day that never really got going is fading. I’m at ISO3200 and will need to go higher soon. After three days pounding the pavements I’m foot sore in a way only a city can induce. Yet despite the drooping flags, dismal weather and weary bones I’m ecstatic. This trip couldn’t have gone better.
It’s my last shoot, early tomorrow I fly home after three intensive days. Why Berlin? Well, I often try and combine my two main interests; history and photography, and Berlin does have rather a lot of the former. What’s more I’d not been here for more than 27 years. At that point the Wall had only just come down and the country reunified…
On my first morning, as the early morning sunlight bathed the Berliner Dom, I briefly wished I had something wider than my 35mm prime, before sternly admonishing myself. No; the whole point of coming with just a body and two lenses was to engender a simpler approach. I composed, and waited. What for? Something, someone…
Two hours later I was traipsing around the historic heart of Berlin in a tour group dutifully following Kevin, our guide. I normally avoid being led by the hand like the plague, but a walking tour of Berlin’s historic landmarks seemed a handy way of location searching with a historic overview thrown in, and so it transpired.
The group was a multi-national one with Singaporeans, Aussies, Americans, Greeks, Irish and the inevitable Brits – all freezing to death as we stood in front of the Altes Museum listening to Kevin talking about the origins of Brandenburg in what was then part of the Holy Roman Empire. To plagiarize Voltaire; the empire was neither holy, Roman or an empire.
A lone man on his phone wandered through my frame and my shutter chattered. Roaming the city without a tripod and burly bag was liberating and fun! It’s tempting to bring more glass; the TS-ES would have been useful, but I stuck to my guns.
By early-afternoon our numbers were dwindling and Kevin’s explanations were getting briefer. We all dispersed at Gendarmenmarkt and I headed for the nearest café to rekindle my temperature. The tour had worked though; I even enjoyed it.
And so I end back at the Reichstag for the final session. The flags never do flutter, but I manage some captures of the imposing building the Nazis may or may not have burnt down that is now the seat of the Bundestag.
If you’re not into history, Berlin is just another European city with some imposing buildings and good bars. If you are, Berlin is endlessly fascinating. The city has certainly changed since 1991. There’s now an Espionage Museum, the Trabants have gone, and Checkpoint Charlie is a naff tourist attraction where the Russian hats on sale are fake. But the public transport system is so efficient, and cheap, the loos are clean and the welcome generally warm. I’ve shot numerous passing pedestrians, tourists, cyclists and I've partaken in the atmospheric Christmas markets which so enliven the squares. Atmosphere and joviality were not aspects I remember in the bleak East Berlin I last visited almost 27 years ago. But what makes it for me is the history; I’ve been literally stepping over it all week.
Sprachen wie englisch? "No one speaks German here," the barman tells me. He steers me towards two fundamentally important decisions; a tall pilsener, and a Brandenburg dinner of goose and dumplings. Sound advice indeed. I’m so glad I came.
David is an award-winning Canon photographer with more than 30 years’ professional experience. During his career David has travelled to just about every corner of the globe. In 2012, Canon invited David into its Ambassador Program by designating him an Official Canon Explorer. Info and photos at www.davidnoton.com