Photographers' Blog

May Day, the same procedure every year

By Fabrizio Bensch

Every year I know how my Labour day will end in Berlin. May day concludes in Kreuzberg with riots between radical leftists, the so-called “Autonomen” (autonomists), masked and wearing mostly black clothes and the police.

Since 1987, May Day has become known for very violent riots in Berlin’s Kreuzberg or Prenzlauerberg districts. This annual ritual is repeated but with less violence in recent years. Three years before the Berlin wall came down, violent riots broke out in West Berlin by radical leftists during a demonstration in Kreuzberg, where protesters set cars on fire, built barricades and looted a supermarket.

After Germany’s reunification in 1990, the riots moved to the eastern district of Prenzlauerberg. Riots often broke out during Walpurgis night, on the eve of May Day. That’s the history of the 25-year-old bad tradition in Berlin.

To work in such an environment requires good planning and experience in how to cover riots. In the old days when we shot on film, one of the photographers left the scene as soon we had our first riot pictures, to develop the film, print or later scan the negatives and then send on the wire.

After we changed our technology in 1998 to digital, we were able to stay longer on the spot. One photographer collected the memory cards of his colleagues and would start editing and filing from one of the Turkish Kebab restaurants in Kreuzberg.

A glance into Germany’s dressing room

By Kai Pfaffenbach

Football, or “soccer” for our American friends, is the top sport in Europe. With the Euro 2012 tournament in Ukraine and Poland later this year we are expecting another sports highlight just before the Olympics in London. Sixteen teams will fight for the European title and after their good performance at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, Germany is amongst the favorites for this event. Title holder and World Champion Spain, Holland and France are on the bookmaker’s shortlists as well.

With the big tournament to come I had asked the team press spokesman a while back if I could get some behind the scenes access on Germany’s road to the final in Kiev. It was a big surprise when I finally got the opportunity granted to shoot the set up in the dressing room for an upcoming game. Almost 40,000 spectators in the newly renovated stadium of Bremen were expecting a great test match between Germany and France. By that time I was inside the catacombs of the stadium where even TV is usually banned from. You will never make it past all the security standing around without very special permission.

Entering the dressing room, or should I say “dressing hall”, was really different to any other sport venue I had seen before. Each and every player has his own personal space; one match dress on a hanger, a second one lying on his seat.

Carnival in Germany, when everything is upside down

By Kai Pfaffenbach

We Germans (at least most of us) seem to be well organized, diligent, reliable, politically correct and ready to help, even with our money. But there is one thing we Germans are prejudiced for – our lack of humor.

It looks like for that reason “Carnival” was invented.

Okay, that’s not true. About 600 years ago, people started big celebrations for the last days before Ash Wednesday and the end of the Christian period of fasting. To get better control of those festivities authorities “organized” Carnival. Over the years it became more and more popular to wear funny costumes.

As people behind masks cannot be easily recognized, the “Political Carnival” was invented and in the city of Mainz (the capital of Germany’s state of Rhineland Palatinate) the Rose Monday parade was used to disparage politicians since 1843.

Following a nuclear train

By Fabrizio Bensch

126 hours from La Hague to Gorleben; the longest ever nuclear waste transport from Germany to France

This is a retrospective on the past 10 years, during which I have covered the nuclear waste transportation from France to Germany many times. The German nuclear waste from power plants is transported in Castor (Cask for Storage and Transport of Radioactive material) containers by train to the northern German interim storage facility of Gorleben.

As the train came closer to its final destination, I would end up with only a few hours sleep, mile-long marches on foot through forests and fields and never-ending police checkpoints. But in the end each castor transport reached its intended destination.

Shooting heat without getting sweaty

By Kai Pfaffenbach

The use of photographs showing global climate change, industries’ increasing emissions and its effect on our environment is growing rapidly.

Looking for different images Eastern Europe Chief Photographer Pawel Kopczynski came across thermal imaging technology and bought one of these cameras that shows different temperature levels. The camera was sent to my Frankfurt office with a short and easy job description: “Kai, play around with the camera and make good use of it”. After getting familiar with the technology (the first time ever in my career I had to read a 200 page manual) and taking a few silly shots of houses in the neighborhood I made up my mind to start a tour through southern Germany, shooting the nuclear and coal power plants of the region.

The thermal imaging camera is not comparable to a “normal” camera we use day to day. It looks a lot more like the radar guns that police use to catch speeding car drivers. To make it look even more strange you can use a laser pointer for better targeting. No wonder power plant security was after me within a minute as I stood on a street about 500 yards away from the nuclear power plant in Phillipsburg near Karlsruhe to get my first shots. After a few minutes of negotiations they realized I was not coming up with some rocket launching laser system. After crosschecking my passport and press-pass details they took me off their personal list of “terrorist suspects”.

Covering the world’s biggest beer fest

By Michael Dalder and Kai Pfaffenbach

It’s 5am when my alarm clock rings and to be honest, my thoughts are more about coffee than beer.

However, I packed my gear and tried to get ready for the world’s biggest party, where tradition meets madness in Munich: The “Oktoberfest”.

It all started in 1810 when a rich banker hosted a horse race to honor the marriage of Crown Prince Ludwig and Princess Therese. Since then the fairground has been called “Theresienwiese”, where the Oktoberfest common name “Wies’n” stemmed from.

The fight over Berlin’s Tacheles

Over the last decade Berlin has been changing more rapidly than most of its inhabitants can stomach. Because of its history, the brunt of gentrification that changes everything (from social fabric to architecture) has hit the German capital more than other cities around the world.

Before the Wall came down, Berlin used to be a mecca for bohemians, artists, left-wing idealists and military service dodgers, mostly from West Germany. The collapse of East Germany resulted in an abundance of neglected buildings available in East Berlin. Punks and artists flocked in and the city became Europe’s capital of squats. A maelstrom of unfettered subculture productivity ensued, bestowing the city with an aura of the urban cool that feeds into its reputation to the present day.

But the Berlin of the wild nineties is long gone. Most of the squatters have been evicted or their housing projects legalized. Some of those whom back then ran underground clubs are well-off nightlife entrepreneurs today. Ordinary people who shared their neighborhood with the artists have had to move away, because rents have gone up manifold. And the influx of bohemians from abroad has turned into a stampede of party tourists, turning the last subculture enclaves into playgrounds for reckless twenty-somethings.

Looking ahead to England vs Germany

Photographers Dylan Martinez and Kai Pfaffenbach discuss what they expect from Sunday’s World Cup match between England and Germany.

Former Iron Curtain oddity now a tourist hotspot

Former Iron Curtain oddity now a tourist hotspot

By Caroline Copley

MOEDLAREUTH, Germany – A tiny village of 50 residents straddling the former border dividing East and West Germany and nicknamed “Little Berlin” has preserved its own 100-meter section of the Iron Curtain — for tourists.

For more than 38 years Moedlareuth belonged to two different countries and ideological systems. The 2.5 meter (eight foot) high Wall, similar to the famous Berlin Wall, remains a fixture in the village center even 20 years after Communism collapsed.

Nowadays the farming hamlet that lies some 300 km (186 miles) south of Berlin has become a prime destination for tourists searching for the remnants of the Communist era when East and West Germany were divided.

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