Exhibition with 57 works: Berlin Museum of Technology shows photos of everyday railway life in the GDR – Berlin
As a ten-year-old, he went to see trains and locomotives with his grandfather. That was 62 years ago. Burkhard Wollny has been taking photos ever since. As a child at home in Stuttgart, later in the GDR and in Berlin. In over six centuries, 100,000 black and white photos and 96,000 slides were created. They are printed in countless railway books.
From Friday, the German Museum of Technology in Berlin is showing 57 of his photographs in the special exhibition “Everyday life on rails. Photographs from the GDR”. Although this is not entirely precise, Wollny also took photographs in West Berlin, for example the young woman squatting in the main train station at Zoo Station studying a map in 1976. Or steam locomotives that are on the move on the Ring.
The GDR Reichsbahn also ran in West Berlin – and the Stuttgart native was impressed by it. In 1977, the Bundesbahn stopped using steam, and from then on real fans headed east. There was steam there until 1988. In order to get into the GDR more easily, Wollny organized a “makeshift identity card” for West Berliners as early as 1975, when he was 25.
After the Berlin Agreement of 1971, he received a day visa to enter the GDR. The amateur photographer was regularly drawn to the Ore Mountains, the Thuringian mountains and Lusatia.
“Wollny’s pictures oscillate between nostalgic railway romance and the everyday normality of a country that is trying to keep up with modernity, but has often had to remain in the past due to scarcity of resources and economic deficiencies,” says the text accompanying the exhibition.
The east had remained in the railway country
In addition to the steam locomotives, the East had another advantage: Germany (West) had become a car nation, Germany (East) remained a railway country.
Even if Wollny took pictures as a young man with a “Praktika” SLR camera from GDR production, of course. Namely the State Security, who shadowed him and prepared more than 900 closely written pages of files. The man from the west had ruled out steam locomotives and not military transport.
Wollny made a book out of this aspect, the title says it all: “Reichsbahndampf: Secret Matter: The Stasi File ‘Photographer'”. It was not until 1980 that the Stasi noticed that Wollny really only photographed locomotives, “direct evidence of enemy activity could not be provided,” they said.
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In 2018, Wollny also published a thick book with the Berlin SPD MP (and self-confessed rail fan) Sven Heinemann about the “Myth of Ostkreuz. The Story of the Legendary Railway Junction”. Wollny has an archive with over a thousand slides and photos from Ostkreuz alone.
Of course, Heinemann came to the Technology Museum on Thursday for the opening of the exhibition and praised the photos. According to the museum, the show is a “contribution to the anniversary of 30 years of peaceful revolution and reunification”. The 57 photos can be viewed until February 19, 2023.