Harald Hauswald's Photos Shaped Our Generation's Perception of East Germany


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Harald Hauswald's Photos Shaped Our Generation's Perception of East Germany

I spoke with him about state-sponsored hooligans and smuggling rolls of films from the West to the East of Germany.

All photos provided by Ostkreuz

Harald Hauswald is the co-founder of Ostkreuz, one of the most important and well-respected German photographic agencies. Hauswald is such a legend that his pictures would appeared in West German magazines in the 1980s, even though he lived in the East. Today he still lives in Berlin's Prenzlauer Berg, accompanied by a gigantic archive of over 10,000 rolls of film.

By capturing stories that put the lives of workers, farmers and hooligans into a bizarre new light, Harald has basically shaped my generation's perception of East Germany. I met up with him to discuss state-sponsored hooligans, smuggling rolls of films from the West to the East of Germany and his Stasi files.


VICE: Ostkreuz was founded in Paris not Berlin, right?
Harald Hauswald: In February, 1990, France's cultural minister, Jack Lang, invited 200 East German artists to Paris, including bands, performance artists and painters. There was a café in this huge exhibition hall. There were four or five photographers sitting there and we decided we needed an agency. So we started talking to about ten people. Three of them weren't interested and the rest of us founded the agency. The most difficult part was coming up with a name. We all really liked the name Ostkreuz (East-crossing) because there was so much in it: East, Berlin, crossroads, intersection, meeting point.

You were able to show your photos in the West even though you lived in East Germany. How did that work?
Berlin was a special case. There were about 15 journalists from the West with accreditation that had a workspace in the East or actually lived here. I knew a few of them. Primarily Peter Pragal, from Stern, who had an office on Leipziger Straße in the East and lived in the West. And Hans-Jürgen Röder from the Evangelischer Pressedienst actually lived here in East Berlin. Both of them had special border papers – kind of like a diplomatic status – which meant they could take material across the border without being checked.

​Of course we knew their offices were bugged so I would always prepare a hand-written letter, and include no return address. Then, as I would leave their place, I would pull the letter out, and if they nodded, then I knew that they were going back to the West that day and could bring my photos with them.


Did you publish the photos under your real name?
Not in the beginning. Not for years actually. In 1986, I did two reports for GEO, the Berlin special. 1987 was Berlin's 750th anniversary and I photographed the East Berlin scene and the city. I published that under my own name. They threw me out of the Berlin Verlag for that, which was the only place you could develop films from the West, because it had a different developing process. I had a user card for the laboratory there. GEO had sent me 100 rolls of Kodak film back then.

And that wasn't entirely legal, right?
No, it was actually forbidden. I was charged with breaking four laws: Passing on non-classified news (non-classified news was everything that didn't have to do with the military), acting as a foreign agent, subversive agitation and breach of exchange control regulations.

How did it play out?
They searched my house several times and put together about 5 kg of Stasi files, but I never went to jail. The fact that the journalists from the West were here was my protection. East Germany was very anxious about international recognition. And if it was mentioned in a French or Italian newspaper that a "photographer goes to jail for publishing pictures in neighbouring country," nobody would have understood why.

​So that was my luck. I thought that's what happened but I never knew. It was all in the files though. There was warrant for my arrest in there and the highest boss of that Stasi division had noted with a pen: "Not advisable at the moment for political reasons."


What did the lack of freedom in East Germany feel like?
Being young and knowing that you'll never go to a Led Zeppelin concert or see New York was pretty depressing. Photography was what liberated me. I also wanted to be provocative. And here in Berlin you clearly saw the discrepancy between pretence and reality. Like, Honecker would dedicate the millionth apartment in Marzahn, while stucco rained down from the buildings onto the sidewalk.

How do you feel in a re-unified Germany?
Money governs today, you have to be skeptical of that. There are still insider deals, and new insider deals. Apart from that, I feel good. I have my freedom. I can think and do what I want, and I don't do anything differently than I did back then. Nothing really bothers me, except for taxes. The taxmen are the new Stasi.

You work a lot with hooligans, even though you've never been into football, right?
I was never into football. In 1988, Monika Zimmermann came to East Germany for the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. She asked me if I'd photograph her every once in a while because otherwise she had to have a photographer flown in from Frankfurt. And our first date was a local derby between Union and BFC. She'd gotten the tickets. We were standing in a really stupid block where nothing was happening, but I saw some people walking around filming. I told the police that had blocked off the area that I was with the film team and they let me through. I knew the team through other people. They were making a documentary about Union fans. And during that filming we met a few hools.


It's actually pretty hard to imagine hooligans in East Germany.
What do you think was going on in the 70s? Huge brawls with almost 1,000 people on each side. When BFC was in Leipzig there would be 600, 700, 800 people on each side and it would go off. But none of it was official and it wasn't named anywhere. I got a contract to work on the film taking the stunt photos. A few of the hooligans asked if I could go around with them. That's how it all started. I accompanied them for five years and made a book out of it. Nowadays, I still go along with them sometimes.

And what are the people like?
One of the Union hooligans was a medical student at the time. These people are really all over the place. There are idiots here and there, sure, but there are also really intelligent people. You can only tell who they are at the games by their sneakers and that they aren't wearing any of the club's gear. No flags or scarves or stickers or patches or anything, so they can't be identified.

There was a rivalry between Union and BFC Dynamo that dates from back then in East Germany.
Yeah. Union was the workers' club and BFC was the Stasi.

Then why did hooligans want to go with the BFC?
The BFC had around 1,000 hooligans during their best times. Many people went to BFC because Berlin was hated in the rest of the East, because it got special treatment in terms of provisions. And the BFC was the Stasi club. So trouble was guaranteed in the rest of the country.

And the Stasi knew that?
Mielke was proud of his hooligans because they all went to work. These weren't anti-social people, they were proper Germans. When the club was playing in Karl-Marx-Stadt, and the cops pulled a few of them out, the Stasi would come and tell them to let their boys go. That happened a lot. They were friendly with the police and would sometimes break out a bottle of Schnapps with them.

Is there a theoretical superstructure to what you're doing?
When I do workshops or seminars, I always tell the kids, "You have to imagine that when you wake up early, your film starts rolling and it continues all day long. But when you take a photo, the film stops for a moment. But you guys see what happens before and after, so try to pack that in there too. Then an outsider has the chance to be able to understand your image, or to get their own film rolling. That's what it's about. If you achieve that, then you have a good photo. If other people get the film, then it works."

Ostkreuz has recently opened a new ​Fine Arts Store, where you can purchase the most impressive Ostkreuz photography in limited editions.