Photoessay: Cliches and observations

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During the time I was in Berlin, I found it difficult to escape the history and cliches of the war – though nearly 80 years ago, the memory seems to be still raw in the collective mind of the city, if not really surfacing when actually talking to the locals. I can’t help but think the aftermath and societal guilt is something that has become so deeply rooted now that it will forever become part of the city. I suppose in a way this is rightly so, but I couldn’t help shake the feeling that the Berliners took everything just a little too seriously as a result – and any fun was very much hidden underground (there’s probably something in that, and bunkers, too). I don’t pretend to understand or appreciate any of this beyond the most superficial level afforded to a visitor, nor do I honestly ant to care the baggage. All in all, a very curious-feeling and not easy to visually capture experience, to say the least. MT

This series was shot with a Nikon Z7, 24-70/4 S and 85/1.8 S lenses, using my custom SOOC JPEG picture controls.

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Prints from this series are available on request here


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Images and content copyright Ming Thein | 2012 onwards unless otherwise stated. All rights reserved


  1. Michael says:

    I have to resist the knee-jerk reaction – despair over the idea that all the pain and anguish of life on the other side of the wall should be processed by time and emerge as a gray, generic fast food meat patty rejuvenated in a microwave. Maybe it’s victory that anyone with the requisite pocket change can stroll freely into McDonald’s or KFC and encounter no ghost of higher rank than that of Colonel Sanders.

    • Also, weird consequences of globalisation and lasting ‘victory’…fortunately there are a lot of really good independent restaurants in Berlin, too…

  2. Michael Hanson says:

    Berlin has left the greatest impression on me of all the cities I’ve visited in Europe. It’s such a powerful, culturally and historically significant place, yet there is a persistent feeling of gloom that seems to run through it. It’s like an old boxer with scars on his face. But in my few days there I did meet several warm and friendly folks in the most unlikely of places (and this was in the dead of winter). In fact, I think every German I’ve met (both in and outside Germany) has always shown a mild yet genuine friendliness. Nobody has ever seemed overwhelming, or polite for politeness’ sake, or giving for the sake of getting something back. They’re kind and very comfortable to be around (at least for me).

  3. I did not see it mentioned, so apologies if I overlooked. Do not forget that the history of Berlin and Eastern Europe is different than just the end of WWII. The Soviet occupation did not end until 1989 and there were still 250,000 thousand allied troops in West Berlin/Germany until 1990. This memory is still recent to that wonderful city of Berlin, and other places I have lived such as Poland. There I met friends my age (49) that bitterly remember the Soviet occupation and the conditions that created a certain air of distrust that still exists today with strangers. BTW, East Berlin has a great micro brew scene happening there if you like beer.

    • That’s a very good point.
      Next time I’m there, I’ll try some of those beers.

    • That makes a lot more sense in context, actually. Not sure about the beer scene (I don’t drink) but the culinary scene there was fantastic – very very creative.

  4. Hi
    My experience has been that locals everywhere are always allergic to opiniated foreigners. Dont jump anyone with questions and views and rather have an attitude of openenness, listening and learning. You will have friends in no time if you dont overestimate your own importance.

  5. Are you still doing your curated flickr like this post says?

    • No, it just took too much time. However, the gallery is still there – it was a huge amount of work to curate; something like 1.5 million images over several years to get 40,000+ selected ones.

  6. My wife and I have spent some time in Berlin on three occasions, (we are international house-sitters), and I found much the same thing you did. Yes, it’s a sad history, and not to be forgotten, but there’s a difference between not forgetting something and keeping it front and centre.
    I love the city and it’s people, but I agree, the constant reminders of WWII seem to put a drag on the them. As hideous as it was, the past is the past.
    Reminders? Yes.
    Borderline obsession? I don’t think it’s necessary.
    I always enjoy your photos and writing very much.

  7. Excellent photographs – “as usual”, I almost feel tempted to say.

    What your pics do not reveal is the wit, the sense of humour and the open heart of the citizens of Berlin. I could well imagine when speaking English they feel frozen in “German correctness”, which may be a little “too correct” for travelers from many parts of the world. Being Swiss myself with German mother tongue I manage to understand only a small fraction of what they are saying when they are rattling along in their usual highspeed dialect . . .

    Anyway, well done, Ming!

    • Thanks – not having a lot of interaction with them (curiously, the city was quite empty even pre-Covid in December last year) – I didn’t really form much of an impression…

      • Try to go back in the summer at some point. In most of northern Europe I think you’ll find that the warm weather causes a remarkable difference in people’s demeanour 🙂

        • Didn’t seem to help much when I lived in England! 😛

          • Rats, I’d forgotten about England! Can we say “northern mainland Europe” then? 😉

          • There are light-years of differences between the British and people from Berlin . . .

            • True, even in winter!

              • Am I sensing anti-British sentiments in these comments? Not the place in your otherwise excellent blog, Ming. Strangely, what these comments don’t actually say, is what their authors really mean by them. Are the responses negative or positive towards the British? Come clean and say.

                • I lived in the UK for six years. It wasn’t the most friendly of places, by far. If anything – often quite the opposite. Happy? Nope. Always got the feeling there was something underlying they were very much not happy about, and this would always translate to some undercurrent of jealousy or resentment towards anybody who might be doing better or even happier…

                  • Thanks for your honesty. So why stay six years? It must have been hell for you. But I would ask, exactly how much of the UK and its people did you really get to see and understand in the time you spent here? Interestingly, a completely opposite experience is that of Henning Wehn, a German stand-up comedian, who has appeared on many TV and radio programmes here. He’s lived here, based in London, since 2003, and when asked why on programme a few months back, he replied, genuinely, that he liked it here. Interesting that a German should provide a counter point of view.

                    • Had to finish my degree, and professional qualification – no choice. I left as soon as I could (and had to for visa reasons, anyway). It’s entirely possible my impressions were heavily biased because a) I spent a huge amount of that time working, and b) nobody likes auditors, even other auditors. Might have been very different if I was a footballer, and not Asian…

                    • Aha, auditors! That says a lot, Ming, sorry. The large organisation I worked for before retiring engaged a major firm of auditors for the Annual accounts but we also had our own internal auditors. The external auditors always sent British Asians to do the auditing and their professionalism was impeccable it was almost a pleasure to be audited by them. The impression with the internal audits could different. It was all down to personality. Some genuinely had an interest in seeing if methodologies could be improved, others seemed more interested in finding fault. Such is life!

                    • I was in the financial sector. The clients were…defensive. As it turned out in 2008, with reason…

                • I have lived in England for a few years, and I have worked for an English company for two decades. I love the country and its people. Is it anti-British so say they are different to others? There are differences between the Swiss (myself), the Germans, American and Japanese, this does not mean any of them are better or worse . . .

                  • Felix, I entirely agree – differences exist and should be celebrated. But referring to your comment “There are light-years of differences between the British and people from Berlin.” this followed a strain of what a born and bred Brit could (would) perceive as a negative stream, and compounded by the use of “light years” for emphasis . Actually taken by itself, your comment is ambiguous in that it could mean a positive view of the Brits when comparing them to Berliners (which you clearly have) or it could be comparing us unfavourably to the Berliners or, thirdly, it could just be saying people are different. Such is the perverse nature of language, especially English. It’s not just what is said, but the context in which it is said and without context, misunderstandings occur, as here. And here, we’re reading. Think of what nuances of interpretation could be introduced by the spoken language. The mind boggles.

                  • No, I suppose it hugely varies depending on who you interact with. Different industries seem to attract very different people…

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