These interesting pictures, taken by photographer Harf Zimmermann, revolve around Hufelandstraße, a bustling neighborhood street in the heart of communist East Germany. The neighborhood was an anomaly in the increasingly drab Soviet-administered city. Buildings boasted proud facades and balconies, linden trees lined the broad sidewalks, and an unusual number of privately-owned shops remained in business. But in 1985 the crumbling balconies were stripped away, and in 1987, with the soil poisoned by leaking gas lines, the last of the linden trees were felled. Feeling like the “final witness” to something that would soon be gone forever, Zimmermann went out onto the street with a large-format view camera.
The images by Harf Zimmermann evoke memories of coal smoke and bare masonry. On the crumbling facades, bullet holes from the Second World War are still visible. The endless, monotone gray penetrates everything and rules the communist East Germany from north to south. By contrast, the residents offer a far more colorful presence than the architectural conditions of socialism: Craftsmen, artists, musicians, party officials, actors and piano makers.
While the SED (Socialist Unity Party of Germany) conjured new city districts in Marzahn and Hellersdorf out of thin air with their housing projects, it seemed unable to cope with the historic house of the Hufelandstraße. They remained a legacy of capitalism. Family-run businesses, which had long been dispossessed in other places, continued to flourish here without spoon-feeding from the public offices or trade organizations. Everyone here seemed to feel connected to the street and responsible for it—constantly striving to maintain this small habitat for as long as possible.
The Hufelandstraße, often called the “Kurfürstendamm of the East” behind closed doors, is not only an example of unedited biographies in the defunct German Democratic Republic, but from today’s perspective a case study in the rapid gentrification and structural change in the inner-city following 1989 as well. Only a handful of the original residents from the time of Harf Zimmermann’s images continue to live there. Hardly any other neighborhood in East Germany has experienced such a complete and total swap out of its residents over the last 25 years. Almost all buildings have been renovated, the traces of their history painted over, and the rental prices driven sky high.
(Photo credit: Harf Zimmermann).