At the height of the Cold War, the world felt
compelled to look to Berlin thanks to the defiant speeches of generations
of mayors. The citizens of the divided city had to find some way to
show opposition to their isolation. It was language that offered a unique
way out of the feelings of isolation arising from being crushed between
two power blocks. This linguistic development was, however, dismissed
simply as humour in other places. Let’s just call it what it really
is: a big heart combined with a big gob.
The closed city of Berlin could take comfort at the fact that it was
blessed with a zoo, which had always been a popular place to go for
outings. The captives stared at the captives and were pleased by the
many different types of animals there (this was something the Berlin
Zoo excelled at), as well as their amusing appearance and behaviour.
The names of the public’s favourites back thus consisted of various
plays on words: Knautschke (Creased). Knorke (Terrific).
As a young photographer, I was often interested in trying to capture
the cute side of the animals in the zoo: yawning hippos, dozing polar
bears, monkeys scratching their heads. What was it that made the animals
seem so human?
One day, Alexander von Reiswitz appeared in my studio and showed me
his animal portraits. I was absolutely delighted with the results, which
contradicted the typical experience of glamour in classic star portraits.
For the record: a star is someone who generates their own celebrity
through a combination of distance and carefully guarded air of mystery.
It is only the media who are granted appointments with them - simply
visiting them is inevitably difficult. A typical media encounter has
to be artificial and lavish however - styling and make up also need
to be considered. That the individual is working on a very tight schedule
is positively a prerequisite here.
Or at least that’s what I thought…
Now I’m staring with astonishment at a collection of photos that shows the real protagonists of those difficult times and establish one important fact. They can be visited by anyone, and the way in which the elephants look combines reserve and calm in a way that is doesn’t seem so dozy to me. I would use the words careful, curious, attentive, and diligent; dare I say it – visionary?
And they also remind you of an old joke: two excited researchers sit
in front of a cage of monkeys and scribble notes, while one monkey says
to the other, “A really interesting experiment. Every time I peel
a banana, the human writes something down.”