Harald Hauswald and the GDR

24 Nov

Photographer: Harald Hauswald

Location: East Berlin, GDR

 

”A photo in colors is mostly finished. A black and white photograph always leaves some room for interpretation. I use photography as medium to keep the story going in the viewer’s mind”.

Harald Hauswald was born in 1954 in Radebeul, a small town near Dresden. He is the founding member of the well-know photo agency ‘Ostkreuz’ and one of the best photographers to depict the reality of the former DDR.

Before 1989 his work had a lot of political meaning. It showed life on the East side of the wall as grey and deserted and its people as lonely and exhausted.

 His father was a professional photographer and Hauswald learned a lot from him, but after a year and a half in the  photo lab he still did not possess his own camera and gave up. Then he used to work on construction sites and as a technician for a rock band in Leipzig. Subsequently, he went to the army and when he came back the rock band was forbidden. “I loved rock music.” says Hauswald “Try to imagine what means as a young person to know you will never see a single rock concert in your life”.

 

When he was young in school Harald Hauswald was shown a picture of soldiers with Kalashinkov standing at the Brandenburger Tor. He asked the teacher why they have turned their backs to the West and point to the East when they were actually supposed to protect them from the ‘class enemy’. He was 15 when he realized that there was something wrong with the GDR.

Later on he wanted to flee through Hungary, but he was barely out of the town (Szombathely, Hungary) when he was caught. “In Budapest you could think you were already in Paris” says he.

In 1978 he moved to East Berlin overnight because of a woman and took a job as a telegram messenger in Prenzlauer Berg. This was the point when he came back to photography and started crossing Berlin with his camera.

 

 

“It was at night in East Berlin where you could really feel the discrepancy between the government’s claims and social reality. For the official press everything was lovely and progressing, while on the streets of Berlin you could feel tension, see misery, punks and hooligans. These issues never made it to the official media. I felt attracted by the pictures you could NOT find in the press. That was my goal actually. Such photos helped me to clear my mind from the feeling of confinement.”

 

 

 

“And these here are my official secret service files. About 35-40 agents were secretly reporting on me…”

“Berlin was really fun at the time. In 1978 I met Lutz Rathenow. With his help I managed to publish in West Berlin as well. That turned me into a criminal and public enemy. My first house search was in 1983. In the morning they called me for interrogation and at noon I saw them carrying my belongings through the interrogation room.”

In Lutz’s words:

“We hated the government, but we loved the people.”

“I tried to follow this creed in my photos.” continues Hauswald “Lutz did the same with his lyrics and prose.”

 

 

“Our book on East Berlin was launched in 1988 in the Gethsemane Church in Berlin. There were no press releases or advertisements at all. Despite of it as many as 800 guests turned up at the opening and it was all done by the word of mouth.

In the morning before the opening a party official came along and ordered us to take the pictures off the wall. Lutz Rathenow turned up just in time to thank him for his great ‘advertisement’. He told the official that a camera team from the West German TV ARD was just on their way to the opening and that they would love to film how the pictures are being taken down. And so, they left us alone.”

“When the GDR disappeared I wasn’t forced to change. Dog-eat-dog society brought many problems for many people with GDR mentality. I have had to take care of myself all my life. Most people were very happy with the government’s approach of directing people through life. These are exactly the people who complain today simply because they don’t know how to lead their lives on their own. People take the streets and I’m in the thick of it.”

 

 

 

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