imago/F. Berger

German Unity Day Through IMAGO Photographers’ Lenses

This German Unity Day, The Game Magazine takes you on a visual trip back to a turning point in German history when the country was united again. Explore the abandoned and reborn locations that were formerly defined by divisive symbols and delve into the haunting stories documented by IMAGO photographers and their feelings in those historical moments.

IMAGO/Stephan Schraps
IMAGO / Stephan Schraps | Willy Brandt, former Chancellor of Germany, stands with the jubilant crowd on the Strasse des 17 Juni at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, celebrating the opening of the border by the GDR government. Captured on November 11, 1989, in Berlin, Germany.

German Unity Day: A Time for Celebration

Every year on October 3rd, Germany celebrates Unity Day or Tag der Deutschen Einheit. This day marks the moment in 1990 when East and West Germany reunited after being divided for 45 years. Beginning in 1945, after World War II, many families and friends began living separately.  The Berlin Wall, a physical symbol of this division, stood from 1961 until its fall in 1989. Besides the Wall, other elements, such as border checkpoints, the Brandenburg Gate, and the flag, divided the people. In the East, the government shaped and promoted a new, different identity visible in various forms, from architecture to lifestyle and symbols.

After reunification, some of these places were destroyed, forgotten, or converted to museums. This article will take you back to that era, showing buildings that no longer exist, like the Palast der Republik, or those transformed into tourist attractions, like Checkpoint Charlie, or abandoned places, like what the Kulturpark Plänterwald is now.

But more than that, we explore how IMAGO photographers navigated one of the most important days in German history: the fall of the Berlin Wall.


Forgotten Places

Before the East and West united to form one Germany again, several places seemed to be left behind, as if they weren’t a part of the new era’s society.

imago/Future Image
IMAGO / Future Image / T. Bartilla | Abandoned Spreepark in Plänterwald, district of Treptow-Köpenick, Berlin. Captured on September 22, 2013.
Bildnummer: 52082687 Datum: 01.06.1970 Copyright: imago/Gerhard Leber Ostberlin - Buntes Treiben, Landschaft , Personen; 1970, Berlin, DDR, Osten, , , , , Rummel, Kirmes, , , ; , quer, Kbdia, Totale, Deutsche Demokratische Republik, , Reisen, Europa o0 Treptow, Kulturpark Berlin, Plänterwald, Vergnügungspark; Aufnahmedatum geschätzt
IMAGO / Gerhard Leber
imago/Future Image
IMAGO / Future Image / T. Bartilla

Kulturpark Plänterwald: One of these forgotten places is Kulturpark Plänterwald. Located in Plänterwald and opened in 1969, it is famously known as the only amusement park in the GDR era. After Germany’s reunification in 1990, the park was renamed Spreepark Berlin and continued operation until 2001, when it closed due to financial issues. The park’s dilapidated rides, including a ferris wheel and roller coasters, have since become a magnet for urban explorers, photographers, and tourists seeking a unique and new experience.

Teufelsberg Radio Station: Berlin’s Teufelsberg Hill is home to the abandoned Teufelsberg Radio Station, a symbol from the Cold War era. Transformed from a Nazi military-technical institution into a US NSA listening station after World War II, the place served as a critical espionage hub until the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Despite the station’s abandonment post-German reunification in 1990, today, its graffiti-covered structures and panoramic hilltop views attract tourists, artists, and photographers.

Bildnummer: 50581159 Datum: 01.09.1999 Copyright: imago/Gueffroy Stillgelegte amerikanische Abhöranlage Field-Station-Berlin hinter Stacheldraht auf dem Berliner Teufelsberg, Objekte , Gebäude, außen, Außenansicht; 1999, Berlin, Teufelsberg, Fieldstation, Abhöranlagen, Abhörstation, Abhörstationen, Abhören, Radaranlage, Radaranlagen, Radar, Spionage, stillgelegt, Zaun, Zäune, Stacheldrahtzaun, Stacheldrahtzäune; , quer, Kbneg, Einzelbild, Deutschland, , amerikanisch; Aufnahmedatum geschätzt
IMAGO / Gueffroy

History Erased: Places Once Excited 

imago images/Günter Schneider
IMAGO / Günter Schneider | 11th Party Congress of the SED – Delegates at the Palace of the Republic. May 18, 1986.

Palast der Republik: 1976 – 1990

imago images/Rolf Zöllner
IMAGO / Rolf Zöllner | Demonstration in East Berlin on November 4, 1989. Citizens protest against violence and advocate for constitutional, press, opinion, and assembly rights, decrying police and Stasi attacks on demonstrators on October 7.

In the heart of East Berlin during the era of the German Democratic Republic (DDR), the Palast der Republik stood as a proud symbol of socialist achievement. Completed in 1976, this unique building was built on the site of the former Berlin Palace. After the reunification, despite public outcry and attempts to preserve it, the Palast der Republik was ultimately dismantled between 2006 and 2008. Today, the site holds the newly completed Humboldt Forum, a cultural complex.

From Barriers to Bridges: The Tale of Germany’s Checkpoints

Checkpoints served as symbolic gateways between East and West Germany during the country’s division. Barriers and watchtowers along these passageways once witnessed daring escape attempts and the daily realities of a country torn in two. After the country united, the tense crossings and stern guards disappeared. In their absence, museums and monuments were built to honor the past, and visitors are now entertained by tales of yesteryear. Three famous checkpoints were Checkpoint Charlie, Checkpoint Bravo, and Checkpoint Alpha.

imago images/Seeliger
IMAGO / Seeliger | Demolition of the allied border control point, Checkpoint Charlie. June 22, 1990, Berlin.

Checkpoint Charlie: 1961-1990

Location: Friedrichstraße in Berlin

Why was it important? It was the best-known Berlin Wall crossing point between East Berlin and West Berlin during the Cold War. It became a symbol of the Cold War, representing the separation of East and West.

imago/Sabine Gudath
IMAGO / Sabine Gudath
IMAGO/Jürgen Ritter
IMAGO / Jürgen Ritter

Checkpoint Bravo (Dreilinden-Drewitz border crossing):  1949-1990 

Location: Autobahn connecting Western Europe and West Berlin, passing through East Germany

Why was it important? It was a key checkpoint for individuals and goods traveling to and from West Berlin, serving as a crucial transit point.

imago images / bonn-sequenz
IMAGO / bonn-sequenz
Bildnummer: 50275725 Datum: 22.07.1993 Copyright: imago/Dieter Matthes Zerstörte Fensterscheiben auf dem Gelände der ehemaligen Grenzübergangsstelle Drewitz/Dreilinden, Objekte; 1993, DDR, Grenze, Grenzen, innerdeutsche, deutsch-deutsche, Grenzübergang, Grenzübergänge, Grenzübergangsstelle, Grenzübergangsstellen, GÜST, Checkpoint Bravo, Zerstörung, zerstört, zerstörte, verfallen, Verfall, Scherbe, Scherben, Glasscherbe, Glasscherben, Scheibe, Scheiben, Fensterscheibe, Fensterscheiben; , quer, Kbdia, Deutschland / Totale; Aufnahmedatum geschätzt
IMAGO / Dieter Matthes

Checkpoint Alpha (Helmstedt-Marienborn border crossing): 1945–1990 

Location: On the border between the Federal Republic of Germany and the German Democratic Republic (between Helmstedt and Marienborn).

Why was it important? It was one of the largest and most important border crossings on the Inner German border during the Cold War.

IMAGO / Rust
IMAGO / Rust
imago stock&people
IMAGO / Gueffroy

The Berlin Wall: 1961 – 1989

www.imago-images.de
IMAGO / Rolf Zöllner | The Berlin Wall is being opened at the Brandenburg Gate, marking a significant moment of reunification. December 1989, Berlin.

In the heart of East Berlin during the era of the German Democratic Republic (DDR), the Palast der Republik stood as a proud symbol of socialist achievement. Completed in 1976, this unique building was built on the site of the former Berlin Palace. After the reunification, despite public outcry and attempts to preserve it, the Palast der Republik was ultimately dismantled between 2006 and 2008. Today, the site holds the newly completed Humboldt Forum, a cultural complex.


How IMAGO Photographers Captured the Era of Change?

imago images/photothek
IMAGO / photothek / Thomas Imo | East German border soldiers attempt to hold back a surging crowd as a photographer fights his way through the soldiers. Captured on November 9, 1989, in Berlin, Germany.

Rolf Zöllner: I Did Almost Nothing But Take Photographs

What do you remember from when the Berlin Wall came down? Where were you, what did it feel like in the city?

The night the wall fell, a couple of friends picked me and my girlfriend at the time up in Wartburg. We drove to the Bornholmer Straße border crossing and “crossed over” at around 11:00. We didn’t really need a stamp on our passports anymore – but we had one given to us at the post – 10 years later, during an interview for the Wochenpost, I heard from the “border opener” Lieutenant Colonel Jäger that anyone with a stamp in their passport should not be left behind.

We then went to the Ku’damm and celebrated there – some not very good photos were taken – I was too affected. I perceived the night as unreal, as if in a fog. If someone had told me the next day that you were dreaming, I would have believed it.

In the next few days, I did almost nothing but take photographs – I wanted to capture everything because the events were coming thick and fast.

imago images/Rolf Zöllner
IMAGO / Rolf Zöllner | The Berlin Wall is being opened at the Brandenburg Gate, marking a significant moment of reunification. December 1989, Berlin.

See Rolf Zöllner’s photos of the Berlin Wall’s fall here.


Jürgen Ritter: A Border Guard Came to Meet Me and Said, “Mr. Ritter, You Are Not Wanted in the GDR Capital Today”

What do you remember from when the Berlin Wall came down? What did you see, hear, experience?

The subject of the fall of the Wall: as already mentioned, I was often active in the East.

In April 1989, I met up with some colleagues from the East at a well-known photographer in Lehnitz. We drank a little, had a good time and talked a bit. It was before 1 May 1989, and someone asked me: how would you present 1 May on the cover of Springer?

I thought about it for a moment, then, In capital letters: “40 YEARS GDR, small underneath: are enough.”

Laughter and silence balanced each other out. After that, I had a file (greetings to IM Michael)

7 October 1989 = 40th anniversary of the GDR. I drove to the Bornholmer Straße border crossing as I often do. A border guard came to meet me: “Mr. Ritter, you are not wanted in the GDR capital today.” Return to West Berlin.

4 November 1989: Large demonstration on the Alex. I was there again without any problems. Many much-publicized photos were taken. Shitty weather, photojournalist Ritter returns with a cold, lab work, and dispatch. Exhausted.

On 8 November 1989, I was sick in bed with a fever of 40 and heard on RIAS 2 in the evening that the Wall was open. I wasn’t there, but the next day at noon, I went to take photos, still sick.

imago/Jürgen Ritter
IMAGO / Jürgen Ritter | Demolition of the Berlin Wall on August 15, 1990, in Berlin.

See Jürgen Ritter‘s photos of the Berlin Wall’s fall here.


Michael Hughes: It Was Clear That It Was the End of an Era

imago/Michael Hughes
IMAGO / Michael Hughes | A woman is seen at Niederkirchnerstrasse, Berlin, participating in the dismantling of the Berlin Wall. December 15, 1989.

1990 was a unique time for Berlin, and as a photographer, you have to closely observe your surroundings. Can you paint us a picture of what your experience in Berlin was during this transition period?

In Kreuzberg, the Wall was permanently in front of your eyes. You staggered from pub to pub along the Wall, knowing that unfriendly people with Kalashnikovs were on the other side. Berlin was empty at the time. A sort of desert formed along the Wall, just tumbleweeds and tourists. Older people and perma-students populated the city, where the students driving taxis would bring the elderly to medical appointments. I was reporting for Stern on the evening of November 9, 1989, and was photographing the accommodations for refugees from East Germany in Messe Berlin as the news came [of the Wall]. It was clear that it was the end of an era.

imago/F. Berger
IMAGO / F. Berger | Wall Walk – Excited Berliners stand atop the Berlin Wall at the Brandenburg Gate. April 15, 1990, Germany.

 


See IMAGO’s curated archive collection on German Unity Day.