Theme : Places – Snapshots from Occupied Europe

Let us briefly remind ourselves of Leslie Poles Hartley’s words, ‘The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there’. 

All images: The Author

The country photographed is now in the past, the Deutsche Demokratische Rebublik, a failed state which ceased to exist in 1990, and they really did do things differently there. When I took these photos nine years before the fall of the Berlin Wall, the DDR was dysfunctional, but very much extant, and didn’t look as if it would be brought down any time soon.

The East Berlin carscape was surprisingly diverse. As befits the Russian Sector in the Quadripartite occupied city, there were plenty of Lada’s and Moskviches to dilute the heady aroma of the domestic products’ favoured cocktail of gasoline and lubricating oil.

The large white car behind the blue Trabant is an EMW 340, a re-worked BMW 326, built in Eisenach until 1953. There’s a Dacia in the picture too, but I can’t explain the Vauxhall Viva HB. Although I don’t have photographic evidence, I was surprised by the number of Citroën GSA’s in East Berlin, only much later working out that they were probably assembled by Cimos in Slovenia.


The near empty streets, red flags, and lone red Moskvich lend a splendidly sinister air to Karl Friedrich Schinkel’s Neue Wache.


Elsewhere, a pleasing IFA F9, originally built in Zwickau, then transferred to Eisenach where it formed the basis of the Wartburg 311, an example of which is parked beside it.

Apologies for the less than sharp photographs.  At the time when I took them – I was in my early twenties – I had only a limited awareness of the work of Douglas Land-Windermere, but the ‘effect’ is mainly down to the not wholly successful transfer from badly-kept transparencies to digital images.

6 thoughts on “Theme : Places – Snapshots from Occupied Europe”

  1. Robertas. Thank you for a view of Berlin that I should have had, but never did. I too visited around that time and, naturally, the other day remembered standing looking down at Breitscheidplatz.

    Even West Berlin was ‘another country’ back then but I never got to see the East. When trying to enter at Friedrichstrasse, I ended up being ignominiously escorted by armed guards back into the West. A long and by no means heroic tale which I will spare you for the present.

  2. The GSAs you have seen might actually have been French ones. Just as Honnecker liked to be driven in a (stretched) CX Prestige, people a few steps down the hierarchic ladder were entitled to its smaller brother. I believe Citroën delivered these cars to the DDR as a compensation for driveshafts they ordered there. Given the time of day I can’t be bothered to look up details about that deal. Happy new year to everyone!

    1. Simon – that makes sense. There were numerous barter deals which went on between Comecon nations and the west. I remember reading about 500 Allegros being sent to Czechoslovakia in exchange for something or other; certainly not hard currency.

      And… Gutes neues!

  3. In New Zealand, we got Ladas in exchange for butter during a mercifully short period in the 1980s.

    1. I’ll have a look. As noted, most of the photos I took were transparencies, and it was long before the age of digital photography, when anything and everything can be recorded for posterity, just by rumbling a few million electrons.

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