I was there

Steve Ea­son on the fall of the Ber­lin Wall

The Daily Telegraph - Telegraph Magazine - - Contents - — In­ter­view by He­len Chan­dler-wilde

What a lot peo­ple don’t think about with the fall of the Ber­lin Wall is that it didn’t hap­pen all at once. It be­gan in Novem­ber 1989, but by De­cem­ber, when I ar­rived, I saw plenty of chil­dren with chis­els, tak­ing it down piece by piece.

I was 25 when I took this pic­ture. I grew up in Mid­dles­brough and stud­ied pho­tog­ra­phy. I thought eastern Europe would be a good place to take pic­tures and record a mo­ment in his­tory.

I started in Cze­choslo­vakia, where the mood was rel­a­tively calm and the protests felt like a well-or­gan­ised bid for democ­racy. But the prob­lems were clear: it was dif­fi­cult to find food, so peo­ple flocked to street stalls sell­ing home­made (and hor­ren­dously sweet) liqueurs, which made you for­get your hunger for a while.

From there I got the train to Ber­lin, the most tense part of my trip. It was an old-fash­ioned one, like some­thing from the 1940s. I sat in an empty com­part­ment, which to my dis­may filled with Rus­sian sol­diers. I turned my Walk­man on and tried not to make eye con­tact with them. Luck­ily they got off at the next stop.

I spent two weeks in Ber­lin, walk­ing around look­ing for things to pho­to­graph. There were fresh food short­ages in East Ger­many. Al­though there were al­ways sausages, there was no bread, so you got your hot dog in a piece of folded-up card­board in­stead of a bun.

I was there at Christ­mas, but you couldn’t tell on the eastern side as there were few dec­o­ra­tions. I shot pho­to­graphs in black and white, which suited East Ber­lin, a very grey place.

I re­mem­ber wak­ing up on Christ­mas morn­ing and find­ing the ho­tel staff had left me some cho­co­late. Later I went out and walked by the Wall. A long line of East Ber­lin­ers were go­ing through a check­point for a glimpse of the dec­o­ra­tions in the West, be­fore im­me­di­ately re­turn­ing through the next gate, never leav­ing the queue. This pic­ture shows two eastern bor­der guards help­ing a child skip the queue a few days af­ter Christ­mas:

they lifted up lit­tle ones to see the lights on the other side, be­fore low­er­ing them down again. I shot it on a small Olym­pus cam­era, which helped me to blend in with the crowd.

The au­thor­i­ties were los­ing or­der by this point. I saw a group of chil­dren climb­ing on a po­lice car as the po­lice looked on with no idea of what to do.

It be­came slightly more fes­tive on New Year’s Eve, when there were fire­work dis­plays in both parts of Ber­lin. Peo­ple climbed on the Wall to get the best views, bring­ing East Ger­man flags with them – the ham­mer and sickle cut out.

As the night wore on it be­came a free-for-all and the guards to­tally lost con­trol of the bor­der. I think a few peo­ple woke up on the wrong side of the Wall on New Year’s Day.

When I got home, I started work­ing as a dark room tech­ni­cian for a com­pany that be­came Getty Images, where I’ve been ever since. Wit­ness­ing the fall of the Wall in­spired me to take more pho­to­graphs of protests and I went shortly af­ter to shoot the poll tax riots.

I have fond mem­o­ries of that time, in part be­cause I was so young, en­er­getic and reck­less. It was ex­cit­ing – you could feel that change was com­ing. I feel very nos­tal­gic about it all. My only regret? I wish I still had that lit­tle cam­era.

‘Guards were lift­ing up chil­dren so they could see the Christ­mas lights’ Pho­tog­ra­pher Steve Ea­son re­mem­bers tak­ing this pic­ture at the fall of the Ber­lin Wall Be­gan 30 years ago to­day

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