East Berlin Shopping Behind the Iron Curtain

A new exhibition offers a unique glimpse into one of Berlin's most popular, gentrified neighborhoods back when it was still part of the communist East.
Wild und Geflügel butcher shop, 1986.

The district of Prenzlauer Berg in former East Berlin had always been something of an anomaly. Known as a haven for bohemian and literary types during the German Democratic Republic, squatters and artists quickly moved in after the Wall came down in 1989. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the area today is something of a byword for gentrification, populated with young, affluent families and organic cafes on almost every corner.

A new exhibition at the C/O Berlin photography gallery on display until July 2, 2017 offers a fascinating peek into one small corner of the neighborhood prior to reunification.


Hufelandstraße, January 1987.

Dubbed the “Ku’damm of the East” after West Berlin’s famous shopping strip, the 600-meter street was home to an unusual variety of businesses – two bakeries, a grocer, flower sellers, repair shops, a butcher, pet shop and no less than three hairdressers.

Photographer Harf Zimmerman lived in Hufelandstraße in the mid-eighties, where he methodically documented the street and his neighbors with a large plate camera. The photos were first exhibited during Mr. Zimmerman’s final project at the Academy of Visual Arts in Leipzig, two months before the Wall fell, and haven't been displayed since.

Ms. Baehr, with her daughter, partner and their child, October 7", 1987.

Mr. Zimmerman’s black-and-white images show proud shopkeepers and residents posing in front of buildings still riddled with bullet holes from World War II.

Indoors images were taken in color, creating a more intimate atmosphere.

Rocky the bull terrier, 1986.

Mr. Zimmer's pictures recall a bygone age.

When he moved into his Hufelandstrasse apartment in the early eighties, it had been deserted and cost nothing to occupy. A ground-floor flat around the corner recently went on the market for €4,000 ($4,411) per square meter. There were 1,300 applicants.


This article was originally published in Handelsblatt's sister publication Tagesspiegel. To contact the author: [email protected]