Berlin wall at Christmas 1963 – Ian Berry/Magnum Photos
It is now 60 years since the Berlin Wall was built. Perhaps the most infamous symbol of the Cold War, the tearing down of the wall in 1989 was one of the defining events of the 20th Century – images of euphoric crowds chipping holes in its concrete or dancing along it in celebration have become part of our collective memories. However, it was at Christmas 1963, during the early days of the wall, that Ian Berry was on hand to record an earlier, much less-publicised event – the first time the East German government conceded to open the wall to allow relatives to meet.
Ian, who had already made a reputation in South Africa with Drum magazine and who had been the only photographer to witness the 1960 Sharpeville massacre in South Africa, had decided to travel to Berlin without a commission, on a hunch about a good story. As soon as he arrived in the city Ian travelled into the eastern sector, with a couple of Leicas and his Nikon F. There he found a strange atmosphere, with a suspicious, edgy populace watched over by the Volkspolizei (VoPos) from guardhouses incongruously decorated with mini Christmas trees.