History in Berlin is like misery in the famous lines by Philip Larkin: it deepens like a coastal shelf. This is where the second world war ended, the cold war peaked and communism capitulated. Brian Harris was there in 1989, when history was a live event, unfolding before his eyes and his camera. He watched as the Berlin wall cracked and a human river ran joyously through it. Harris was chief photographer for the Independent, which in those days was like being first violin for the Berlin Philharmonic: few newspapers had ever used pictures so well. His calm, considered black-and-white images lodged in the mind and ended up winning awards.
So how did he feel when we sent him back, 20 years later, to capture the new Berlin? “I felt like an archaeologist,” he says, “using my camera to dig. I wanted to strip a couple of layers off and capture the change that had happened. Underneath your feet is something really important, something that was quite different only 20 years ago. You need that understanding of what has been there before.”
He found Berlin easier to shoot in 1989. “It was theatre. Trying to photograph the space where the wall used to be is like trying to photograph nothing.” The people who surged out of the East were dreaming of freedom. Had the dream come true? “I think the eastern side has become the new West. That’s where the government money has been spent, bringing it up to scratch. The western side is a bit down-at-heel now. But they’ve got one of the most dynamic cities in Europe. I love Paris and I’m fond of Rome but Berlin, once you scratch the surface, is fascinating.” ~ TIM DE LISLE