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We went twice to Berlin in 2010. It was one of our most memorable Shooting Days events of the year.
Berlin was the city of The wall, the separation between the East and the West. The East-German "democracy" (DDR) collapsed in 1989, and with it the wall, that separated families and friends for a very long period.
Berlin was a divided place, a western enclave in DDR. High rise buildings, neon signs were surrounded by miradors and a very dull countryside. Berlin was the home of RIAS (Rundfunk im amerikanischen Sektor) the free broadcast in West Berlin.
Vienna, the capital of Austria was also segregated after the war (remember the film "The Third Man”), but the situation was different here: the blockade lasted only 10 years and was lifted in 1955. Like Berlin, Vienna was situated in Soviet-controlled territory.
Another leftover from the cold war era is the Checkpoint Charlie, nowadays you have to pay to be able to take pictures at the place.
We left Belgium in the evening and we drove overnight. We arrived in the early morning, slept until midday and began with our shooting routine. The first day was mostly a city tour to see the historic city centre and at night we went back for a shooting session near the Brandenburg Gate, using only natural light.
Before the discovery of antibiotics (during world war II) there was no cure for the illness and the patient were isolated to prevent contamination of the whole population. Like all sanatoriums, Beelitz-Heilstätten was build in a very isolated region. The place had his own power plant and used the excess heat to heat the differents buildings. The hot air is circulated in underground tunnels, from the power plant to the different buildings. When you visit the center, you are surprised by the lack of heating systems: indeed, the hot air is provided by a separated building and there is no need to install heating equipment in the different buildings. These tunnels are still on the site and are very dangerous now that some roofs of the tunnels are collapsing.
The site was used by the army during and after world war I and one of the most known patients was Adolf Hitler, who recovered here from shrapnel.
Antibiotics were discovered at the end of world war II and there was no need for sanatoriums anymore. Most of the centres were used for sick children or elderly people, but Beelitz-Heilstätten was used by the Soviet army as a military hospital (which makes the centre quite special indeed). The site will be used by the Russians until 1994 (the wall had already collapsed some years ago). One of the most famous residents was Erich Honecker who resided here before being fled to the USSR.
The Soviets left in 1994 and there were some attempts to restaure the centre, but it's sheer area made the operation too expensive. Only part of the centre was used, the rest was left behind. It was possible to visit what's left of the sanatorium. On the other side of the road, there is still a functionning clinic (they use only part of the buildings).
On our second visit some months later, the site was completely closed and the police arrived when we did our photoshoot. It was not possible anymore to enter the buildings.
On saturday, we went to the city centre. We had a German photographer who would serve as a guide, but he didn't know anything about his town and its history. We went to a factory, the only place the photographer knew, but it was a desolate and empty place.
In the evening, we bring the models to the city centre, and they are free for the evening and night. We ask them to be back at 3 in the morning (there are no shootings planned on sunday).
At three in the morning, we get a message from them, stating the street where the models are waiting. We drive to the place (actually to 4 or 5 different places, since there are mote than one "main street", each having its own postal code. Without the correct postal code, you have to drive to all the "main streets" to try to find your models.
We didn't find the models at any "main street". It looked like the models who were quite drunk at that time had used the address in a street billboard instead of the actual street name. In the early morning, they came to the appartment with a taxi.
Driving back to Belgium on the sunday took us 15 hours (instead of 8 hours) due to traffic congestion on nearly all the roads. It's was the last day of the vacation and everybody was driving back home. It was quite a nice Shooting Days experience, and we planned the same event in september with the best models of Mister Belgium Personality. However, there was not much left of the Cold War era and there are better locations for a photoshoot in Brussels than in Berlin. The Cinquantenaire looks much better than the Brandenburg Gate. We went to Berlin for the history of the city and to do some sightseeing, not for the location, witch is quite boring now. Berlin is just another western city.
Next: Shooting Days Berlin II.
Another shooting in a sanatorium: Joseph Lemaire (Tombeek).
Berlin I 2010
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