Photographers' Blog

The German-French friendship

Near Weisskessel, Germany

By Fabrizio Bensch

Photos of significant gestures between two politicians often mirror the state of the relations between the two countries – and become part of our collective consciousness. As a photojournalist, I am often witness to politicians shaking hands or embracing as part of major engagements. Often it’s daily routine.


REUTERS/Bundesregierung/Guido Bergmann/Pool

However, these days if a German chancellor and a French president reach out for one another, this signifies an important development in international relations – and is a very significant symbol for a united Europe. Historically, relations were dominated by wars – for the generation of our grandfathers and grandmothers, seeing the other country as “the enemy” rather than a neighbor was a defining political and cultural force, which molded everyday actions and experiences.

At the borders where battles used to be fought, we can now pass through freely without immigration control and without having to switch currency. Rather than having francs and Deutsche Marks, French and Germans now both use the Euro. Trade is closely linked. When going shopping in a standard German supermarket, it’s possible to choose from baguettes, different French wines and a large selection of cheeses among other things. It is part of our normality; our everyday.

In the past, Germans and French have fought bitter wars with one another, and many German cities still bear witness to the numerous confrontations.

When Berlin was the state capital of Prussia in 1806, Napoleon led his troops through the Brandenburg Gate to demonstrate his power on his way to Moscow. He never reached Russia, and when his army retreated, it was crushed in the battle of Leipzig in 1813.

Skiing nostalgia

Neuastenberg, Germany

By Ina Fassbender

When I was a child and winters were really powerful dropping one or two meters of snow, my four sisters and I used to spend every afternoon after school at the snow-covered cow meadow with our wooden, candle-waxed skis, wearing black leather ski boots with shoelaces. Parallel turn was an unknown expression and if our skis were not waxed well with candles, it was impossible to ski down the hill – one could only walk with them.

Years later when I had my first ski holidays in the Alps with modern ski gear, I did not miss my old equipment. I learned to downhill ski with elegant parallel turns and carve up the snow faster and faster. What progress!

Last Tuesday I went with my family for a day of alpine skiing at the Sauerland ski area complete with 20 lifts and the longest track of about 1200 meters. When I saw a placard announcing a ‘Nostalgic Ski Race’ in the neighboring village, I remembered my own experience with old wooden skis and asked the Berlin pictures desk for permission to go there and cover the event, expecting to get some nice winter features.

Germany’s one man bank

Gammesfeld, Germany

By Lisi Niesner, editing by Victoria Bryan

Peter Breiter, 41, is not your typical bank manager. He wears jeans and a jumper to work, he writes everything out by hand, and he’s also not afraid to use a mop to clean the floor. But neither is this a standard bank, staffed by a row of anonymous employees behind glass screens. The Raiffeisen Gammesfeld eG cooperative bank in southern Germany is one of the smallest in Germany and a visit here is like stepping back in time.

From the waiting area with ladies sharing local gossip to the office, where Breiter still uses a typewriter and an adding machine, the surface enamel worn away by years of use, things do not seem to have changed much since the bank was founded in 1890. Even the price list is shown in deutschmarks, with the euro equivalent hand written on.

The bank nearly didn’t make it this far though. At the end of the 1980s, Germany’s bank supervisory authority withdrew Gammesfeld’s operating licence as it didn’t have the requisite number of staff to meet the ‘second pair of eyes’ principle to double check transactions.

Among wolves

Merzig, Germany

By Lisi Niesner

“You can join me and pick up the deer carcass”, German wolf researcher Werner Freund invited me as he climbed into his lorry. I quickly jumped in. A rotten smell of meat hit me. I thought I wouldn’t smell it after a while but this proved to be a very false assumption. We chatted while driving and he told me about his education as a gardener and his first botanical job at the Stuttgart zoo. Soon, his job turned into a predator zookeeper after the initial bear keeper was injured. “I have cataracts, but have heard it can be treated very well today”, he suddenly added. I started monitoring his driving suspiciously until we reached a house, not far from the French border. There it lay in the snow, directly on the driveway. He asked me to give him a hand, and in view of the fact that Werner Freund is almost 80 years old, it was just polite to help him load the animal’s cadaver. On the way back I told him I had never loaded or even touched a dead deer, which seemed to amuse him.

GALLERY: LIVING WITH WOLVES

Back at his home he changed clothes to confront the Mongolian wolves pack with a familiar odor. I was curious. Werner opened the door of the fence and entered the enclosure. First the alpha male wolf Heiko, came towards him and licked his mouth which is a sign of acknowledgment and a sign of membership of the pack. After this ritual Werner got the deer cadaver, put it on the snowy ground, lay down and held it in a manner as if it were his prey. As a child I was told, like most other children, the tale of little red riding hood making me wary of the big bad wolf with bared teeth on display. Unexpectedly the pack was shy and approached carefully. Werner took over his role and bit into the leg of the deer but spat out the raw meat. I was too busy trying to shoot pictures through the wire-netting fence, to wonder what was going on in front of me. None of the wolves competed with him for the food.

In the afternoon I met Werner at the enclosure of the Arctic wolves, he had changed his jacket again. It was terrific watching the beautiful white animals howling in anticipation. They recognize the sound of Werner’s car and were excited long before he arrived at the gate. “From the moment the wolf cubs taste meat and blood, they turn into predators and cannot be domesticated like dogs”, he said while entering the enclosure with a bucket of meat. From when the Arctic wolf Monty, named after the horse whisperer Monty Roberts, and the female wolf Deborah had a litter of cubs, Werner began feeding the cubs from the mouth. It was incredible that the whole pack adopted this behavior.

Any color, as long as it’s blue

Wiesbaden, Germany

By Ralph Orlowski

It was a cold and blustery winter morning when I arrived at the warm and cozy gallery rooms of the Hesse Nassau Art Club in Wiesbaden to take pictures of the exhibition “Bourquoi”. This was to be my third attempt to take photographs of viewers at the show. So far I had not been successful at finding any willing visitors. I wondered whether this could be because of the compulsory dress code. The title of the exhibition “Bourquoi” by Turkish-German artist Naneci Yurdaguel is a play on the two words ‘pourqui’ — the French word for ‘why’ – and “Burka”.

I took off my big awkward padded winter coat only to be handed an equally, if not more, awkward “Burka” by the gallery assistant. I was told the only way to photograph or view the exhibition was while wearing it. No exceptions – not for male visitors or even for journalists.

Finally two visitors arrived – a man and a woman who were also willing to pull over an original Kabul burka. The organizers of the exhibition had flown in about a dozen original blue Burkas from the Afghan capital. I expected the visitors to be giggling and laughing when they changed to fulfill the dress code. But everyone was surprisingly extremely quiet and respectful.

Prayers and cheers in Vettelheim

Heppenheim, southwestern Germany

By Kai Pfaffenbach

To watch a car race on television from a comfortable couch is fun, but to cover a Formula One Grand Prix as a photographer at the track is always thrilling. It is fast, exiting and produces nice pictures (most of the time). As I have covered quite a lot F1 races across Europe over the past 17 years with Reuters, I would never have imagined that my most exciting experience as a photographer in connection with F1 would be the public viewing of the last race of this season.

Germany’s Sebastian Vettel was leading the driver’s ranking 13 points ahead of his Spanish rival Fernando Alonso when the starting lights went green on the Interlagos circuit for the Grand Prix of Brazil in Sao Paulo. More than 2000 people were waiting for that moment in Heppenheim, the hometown of Red Bull driver Vettel, who has won the last two driver championships. The inhabitants of Heppenheim, also fondly known as Vettelheim, were in an easy mood when Vettel got ready in the fourth position on the starting grid, while Alonso started in eighth. Just a few seconds later emotions were turned upside down.

The German got off to a poor start and to make matters worse was in a collision with Brazilian Bruno Senna’s Williams that left him facing the wrong way with a damaged car. The cheering turned into praying…

The fisherman at Lake Koenigssee

Smoking like 400 years ago…

By Michael Dalder

After eighty-four successive days without catching a fish, the old man Santiago tells his young friend Manolin that he will go “far out” into the ocean. And there, a huge marlin takes his bait but Santiago is physically unable to reel him in. Nevertheless, Santiago refuses to let him go, so this leads to a three-day struggle between the fisherman and the fish.

This famous scene of Ernest Hemingway’s novella “The Old Man and the Sea” was in my mind when I first contacted the Bavarian fisherman Thomas Amort from Lake Koenigssee.

I heard about Amort – a third generation fisherman who lives in a fishing cottage on a remote peninsula, reachable only by boat, next to St. Bartholomae – from a tourist boat captain of the Lake Königsee fleet.

Cross-country protest

By Thomas Peter

“It feels good to walk in nature after so many months of boredom in the Immigration Holding Centre,” said Sallisou as we walked along a poplar-lined alley in the sleepy hinterland of Potsdam-Mittelmark, a rural county just outside the German capital of Berlin. Two weeks earlier, the smiling man from Niger had joined a 600 km (372 miles) foot march of refugees. With every county border they crossed, they were breaking a state order that restricts their movement to a territory around their camp. At present, Sallisou was eagerly filming the procession of refugees with a small video camera.

“Since I have been on this march, my days have a purpose again. There is so much to organize and we do it ourselves. We work as a team. Being on the move feels like I have a home again,” Salissou said.

For these people whose stories of displacement and rejection are as varied as the places they come from, ‘home’ means self-determination, the feeling of being needed and the knowledge that they are heading for some sort of reachable goal, all of which they have not had since they fled their countries.

A Bavarian migration

By Michael Dalder

On October 3rd, a day where most of my colleagues were covering the festivities to celebrate German unification, I had the opportunity to be an eyewitness to a Bavarian traditional event. The event was the so-called “Almabtrieb” on the lake Koenigssee, in one of the most beautiful regions of Southern Germany.

At the end of the summer season, farmers move their herds down from the Alps to the valley into winter pastures. The mountain pastures are often in remote areas only accessible by foot – or like the Koenigssee trail – by boat.

We met our guide before dusk to board an electric-powered boat to get to the far end of the lake where the farmer with his heard was supposed to arrive. The lake is known for its clear water and is advertised as the cleanest lake in Germany. For this reason, only electric-powered passenger ships, rowing and pedal boats are permitted on the lake. On this foggy, chilly dark morning I was happy that we didn’t have to row. The hot tea from our captain kept everybody warm and awake.

The Faces of Merkel

By Thomas Peter

The Bundestag in Berlin, session 188. The plenum below the grand glass dome of the Reichstag building is buzzing with the voices of lawmakers who are to vote today on the ratification of Europe’s permanent bailout mechanism.

News photographers pluck the occasional picture from among the crowd with a timid click of their cameras. But everyone is waiting for Chancellor Angela Merkel.

A summit of EU leaders in Brussels has finished only hours earlier. A summit that Ms Merkel left as the defeated, after Spain and Italy cornered her into budging to their demand to use EU rescue fund money for the direct recapitalisation of banks, something that thus far had been a red rag for Germany.

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