It was early 2007 when, trawling eBay for old postcards to use in a lecture, I came across a collection of assorted postcards and photographs which had belonged to the seller's father. She had included some example images in the description, but added that there were an awful lot more. How could I not be intrigued? It was like an archival lucky dip...
The seller told me that, along with being a professional portrait photographer in Strausberg, her father, Günter Bittner, had taken these photographs of Berlin as part of his hobby. She said she hoped I'd not be disappointed with them.
Far from it. I found myself with a guide around the city, someone whose footsteps to follow, beating a winding path through the layers of history, the destinations spaced out not just in physical space but in time as well.
This photograph of the Marienkirche, according to the date pencilled on the back of the print, was taken in 1949. It was taken on quarter-plate sized black and white negative film - the scan is from the original negative and has a level of detail that would send many modern digital cameras running with their tails between their legs.
You can see just how much clearing work was done in the 1960s reworking of the area. Some buildings, like the one just coming into the left of the frame, were clearly in quite a bad state of repair, but others seem to have survived rather better.
You might find it interesting to compare this view with my pictures from December 14th 2009 - the picture showing the ice rink around the Neptunbrunnen is taken from a very similar position.
The perfectly parallel vertical lines in the picture indicate that he was using a view camera to take this - that is, one with a bellows body which allows the front of the camera to be moved independently from the back, allowing perspective control like this, amongst other things. Normally, tilting the camera upwards to photograph a tall building results in the lines of the building getting closer together as they get further from the camera - photographers call this converging verticals and many consider it a flaw (though I think high degrees of perspective control can sometimes look equally - if not more - unnatural).
This view shows particularly clearly just how much has changed. The Fernsehturm would dominate this view now, the presence of its grey base behind the church begging the inclusion of the whole tower in the picture, right to the top of its striped red and white antenna.
The Martin Luther monument - the statue in the foreground here - has been moved since this picture was taken. It was removed from the area after the war and only returned in October 1989. The ornamentation on the western side of the gable end of the church roof has also changed very slightly - here, ornaments stick up above the roof line, which have since been removed.
Stay tuned for more of Günter Bittner's pictures!