In the 20th century, Berlin survived the destruction wrought by two world wars, post-war occupations, floods, fires, and a 44-year partition between East and West – the German Democratic Republic (GDR) and Federal Republic of Germany (FRG). It was the front line of the Cold War, the world capital of espionage, and Berlin is still famous for the Wall that once divided it, one that no longer exists except in short memorial stretches.
After the Wall fell at the end of 1989, after the reunification of Berlin and Germany in 1990, even after Berlin became the capital of Germany again after a 45-year hiatus, the city continued to feel poor and divided. A construction boom was not followed by an economic boom. Many infrastructure projects languished for decades in semi-completion, and many former majestic buildings lacked the funding to be properly maintained. So Berlin saw more than its fair share of decaying sites – former airports and railway stations, factories and power plants, schools and hospitals – that fell into disuse and began to crumble and collapse from neglect.
The ruins, mostly in the former East, are all fenced off as a safety precaution, but a cluster of artists and explorers has found ways to circumnavigate the barriers. This is where graffiti artists hone their craft before hitting the European streets. This is where fugitives and runaways occasionally find shelter. This is where underground parties sometimes rage, hidden from the authorities, even though the dangers from collapsing ceilings and walls, from broken glass and rusty nails, are very real. The heights in some of the crumbling former factories are veritably vertigo-inducing.
For a photographer, these abandoned sites are mysterious and compelling, a glimpse into a post-civilisation future largely devoid of humans, a backdrop for dystopian horror clips and fantasies. They are worth visually preserving before they are eventually consumed by development and gentrification as Berlin continues to reclaim its former grandeur.