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5 frames on a day trip to Berlin with an Olympus OM-2N – By Robert Mangelmann

February 1, 2021

Berlin – capital of Germany and front line during the cold war – underwent a fundamental change during the last thirty years. Being there for the first time in 1990 right after the wall had came down, I was overwhelmed by the sheer size of the city and the very different urban layouts and appearances in the Eastern and the Western part, they even smelled differently.

Today, 30 years later, I travel four to five times a year to Berlin, visiting friends or for business reasons. This is normally not the occasion to spend a lot of time with photography, although there are gazillions of opportunities to get out your phone and capture moments of street life or these very typical motifs telling stories about the “poor but sexy” city, as the former mayor Klaus Wowereit described the uniqueness of the metropolis.

One Saturday some time ago I decided to pack my gear and made a day trip to Berlin only for visiting an exhibition, letting myself drift through the city and taking pictures. The equipment was very light-weighted: my Olympus OM-2N with the Olympus Zuiko 35/2.8 lens attached, slightly upgraded with modern attachments like the Peak Design slide strap, a red shutter button and an UV lens filter. I opted for the Kodak Ektar 100 film which is not only my favourite colour film but also from my point of view the best option for this little project. For me the emergence of the colours reminds me very much of pictures taken in the 1960s or 1970s, a perfect match to image the iconic buildings representing symbols of each divided part during the cold war era.

My trip started in the former Western part next to Berlin Zoo station at the Amerika-Haus where I visited the exhibition at C/O Berlin, a museum for photography and visual media.

Amerika Haus, built in 1957, and typically for the post-war architecture of the 1950s in Germany

Amerika Haus, built in 1957, and typically for the post-war architecture of the 1950s in Germany

A few minutes of walk away is the Gedächtniskirche at Breitscheidplatz and Kurfürstendamm, somewhat to me like the heart of the former West-Berlin, surrounded with the Zoo Palast and the Bikini mall, both re-built and build in 1956/57.

Zoo Palast, Bikini-Haus and Gedächtniskirche at Breitscheidplatz

Zoo Palast, Bikini-Haus and Gedächtniskirche at Breitscheidplatz

Continuing my walk for further six kilometres through the entire city along the axis of “Strasse des 17. Juni“, which is named “Unter den Linden” in the former Eastern part I made it to the Alexanderplatz, where the Fernsehturm (TV tower) is probably the most iconic monument of Eastern German architecture, along with the Urania Weltzeituhr (Urania world clock), both built in 1969.

TV Tower, a showcase of the power of the GDR at that time. When completed, it was the second highest TV tower in the world.

TV Tower, a showcase of the power of the GDR at that time. When completed, it was the second highest TV tower in the world.

Urania Weltzeituhr (Urania world clock)

Urania Weltzeituhr (Urania world clock)

Not far away from Alexanderplatz I finished my trip in the bustling district of Mitte, the melting pot of hip people on the streets but also home of far older buildings that overcame not only the times of communist regime but the dark ages of German fascism.

Volksbühne Berlin built in 1913/14

Volksbühne Berlin built in 1913/14

Tired but satisfied I left the time tunnel in Berlin and made my way back home.

See more of my work on my website rm.photography, on Instagram here and here.

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16 Comments

  • Reply
    5 frames on a day-trip to Berlin with an Olympus OM-2N – rm.photography
    February 1, 2021 at 6:14 pm

    […] post 5 frames on a day-trip to Berlin with an Olympus OM-2N appeared first on […]

  • Reply
    Ralph Turner
    February 1, 2021 at 7:06 pm

    Thanks for an interesting article and great pics of the City’s urban landscape. We visited Berlin back in 2004 for a Duran Duran gig at the Columbiahalle. Whilst there we got to see a few famous landmarks, such as the Brandenburg Gate, a section of the Wall left where it stood on a street corner and Checkpoint Charlie. Sadly we were there for such a short time, but we were left with the impression of a vibrant, friendly city, somewhere we’d like to see again some day 🙂

    • Reply
      Robert Mangelmann
      February 1, 2021 at 7:20 pm

      Thank you Ralph for the nice comment. On my first visits in Berlin I had to get used to the city and especially the special kind the people in Berlin have. 🙂 But today I’m always happy when I have the chance to go there. I can definitely recommend it once the time for traveling is back – hopefully soon.

  • Reply
    Peter
    February 1, 2021 at 7:38 pm

    I went to Berlin for my first time in 2017. It is a terrific city for photography. If one looks closely, and is aware of the city’s history, it is full of little gems that speak to its tumultuous 20th century past. As a student of history I loved it. Your photos brought back fond memories of that trip; from streets just off Kurfürstendamm to the Volksbühne. Thank you!

    • Reply
      Robert Mangelmann
      February 1, 2021 at 7:54 pm

      My pleasure, Peter and thanks for sharing your thoughts on Berlin!

  • Reply
    Alex Vye
    February 1, 2021 at 8:01 pm

    Thanks for the article, I love travel-style articles like this. I’ve never been to Berlin, or Germany, or anywhere East of France. You pictures show Berlin in a way I never imagined it…..light colours, open areas. Not sure what I was expecting, but this opened my eyes.

    • Reply
      Robert Mangelmann
      February 1, 2021 at 8:34 pm

      Thank you Alex for the lovely comment. Give it a try and make a visit to Germany and Berlin – once it is possible again. There are a lot of great places to explore and for photography. If you need recommendations, just let me know. I traveled to France probably a dozen times and it’s always great there. I love the different experiences you can make within the wide range of opportunities – from brutalism architecture in Paris to the wonderful landscape and coast in the south of France. “Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer.” 🙂

  • Reply
    Castelli Daniel
    February 1, 2021 at 11:56 pm

    Dear Robert,
    You picked a great, lightweight kit for a day in a city.
    I like the tones of color the film produced.
    Rather pastel-like. Could you please explain what the Amerika Haus is? I’m intrigued and curious as a citizen of the US.
    -Dan

    • Reply
      Robert Mangelmann
      February 2, 2021 at 6:29 am

      Thank you Daniel for your comment. Regarding your question: There are several institutions and organizations that take care of the friendship between the US and Germany. The Amerika Haus was a contact point for German citizens to inform themselves about US history and culture but also apply for scholarships. Today, after given back to the Berlin Senate in 2006, the Amerika Haus is host of CO Berlin, one of my favorite museums in Germany focussing on photography and contemporary art. Find more information about it here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amerika_Haus_Berlin

  • Reply
    davesurrey
    February 2, 2021 at 1:06 am

    “Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer.”  I love that comment. So true.

    I think Berlin is my favourite German city. There always seems to be a dynamism about the place.
    And the Olymous OM system is my favourite SLR system. Compact, great ergonomics and with a super set of lenses to choose from,

    • Reply
      Robert Mangelmann
      February 2, 2021 at 6:24 am

      Thank you Dave, couldn’t agree more on the Olympus topic. And yes, Berlin is definitely an experience.

  • Reply
    AlistairH
    February 2, 2021 at 2:33 pm

    A world-renowned OM expert advises against the use of add-on shutter buttons on OM cameras because they can cause damage!

    http://zuiko.com/web_5__20150924_029.htm

  • Reply
    Clive W
    February 2, 2021 at 3:06 pm

    In these stuck-at-home times it’s (mostly!) a pleasure to read a piece like this – even if it does stimulate the itch that can’t be scratched. It’s nice to know that Berlin is still there and as photogenic as ever.

    I’m a little surprised at the low saturation you seem to have achieved with Ektar – not a film I’ve tried in its modern form but one I associate with stronger colours than we see here. I realise it’s an intentional effect – presumably done by being generous with the exposures – and you’re right that it evokes an earlier era of colour photography, one that works especially well in the Amerika Haus picture. Schön!

    • Reply
      Robert Mangelmann
      February 2, 2021 at 3:35 pm

      Hi Clive, thank you for your feedback. A very good observation concerning the low saturation. Looking to resources like flickr I see Kodak Ektar 100 pictures either with very high or very low saturation. Very interesting point.

      As I do not develop them by myself I don’t know if the development process affects the saturation in a way. I found this interesting source of information concerning the film: https://imaging.kodakalaris.com/sites/prod/files/files/products/e4046_ektar_100.pdf

      I was wondering if the low saturation is probably the result of shooting mostly with F8 in harsh light situations and let the OM-2N do the exposure work in auto-mode. But I am not a technical expert but only a user. And all of my developed Kodak Ektar 100 were pretty low in saturation before, so this is why I chose that film.

    • Reply
      Clive W
      February 3, 2021 at 7:39 am

      That data sheet makes a useful point on the much-misquoted ‘Sunny Sixteen Rule’, which I’ve never found to work with any combination of film, camera or digital sensor. I used to wonder if it might be the difference between bright light in American latitudes and what we get in Northern Europe, but no, it’s this:

      Bright or Hazy Sun on Light Sand or Snow:
      1/125 f/16

      Bright or Hazy Sun (Distinct Shadows):
      1/125 f/11

      So it should be ‘Glary Sixteen’ or, less gratingly, ‘Sunny Eleven’. 🤓

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