Your journey is approved (Ihre Ausreise ist möglich …)

That’s a famous balcony.

The balcony on the second floor facing the back gardens doesn’t look particularly special. But here in the Czech capital city of Prague there’s an important connection between that building’s balcony and events leading to the fall of the Wall. This building is also the German Embassy, and it’s where Hans-Dietrich Genscher looked over the crowds from the balcony and made a famous speech in 1989.

Palais Lobkowicz, German Embassy, Prague, fotoeins.com

Palais Lobkowicz, German Embassy, Prague, fotoeins.com

Escaping East Germany: 30 September 1989

All over eastern Europe, decades-old communism was beginning to collapse.

In May, Hungary had begun removing parts of the their wall, but under the pretense of a “Pan-European Picnic” near the town of Sopron in August, the country opened its border with Austria for three hours, allowing hundreds of east Germans free passage into western Europe. Hungary would eventually open their borders for good in mid-September.

The Czechoslovak Socialist Republic (Czechoslovakia) was the “bridge” connecting East Germany with West Germany’s Bavaria, and Czechoslovakia’s capital city of Prague was also home to the West German Embassy.

Eventually, thousands of East Germans crossed the East German-Czechoslovak border, arrived in Prague, and streamed into the gardens of the West German Embassy. An estimated 4000 East Germans occupied the cramped gardens, and living conditions deteriorated quickly. For all, the goal was one and the same: they all wanted to head west and they needed permission to leave.

Negotiations ensued between the two German states, including also the United Nations. Hans-Dietrich Genscher, Foreign Minister and Vice Chancellor of West Germany, arrived at the West German Embassy in Prague to deal with the growing crisis and address the crowds of East German refugees. Murmurs from those camped on the grounds grew louder in excited anticipation. In the evening, Genscher stepped out onto the upper balcony; calls for silence gave him an opportunity to speak.

Wir sind zu Ihnen gekommen, um Ihnen mitzuteilen, dass heute Ihre Ausreise in die Bundesrepublik Deutschland möglich geworden ist. (We’ve come here today to tell you your departure to West Germany has been approved.)

Genscher never made it past the word “Ausreise“.

That word was the only one the crowd needed to hear. Genscher’s remaining words were immediately drowned out to deafening shouts of joy, disbelief, relief, and applause. In the following days, special trains were brought in to bring East German refugees from Prague directly to West Germany.

East German leader Erich Honecker said: “Wir weinen niemandem eine Träne nach, der das Land verlassen will” (We won’t shed a tear for anyone who leaves the country.) which was also quoted in the East German state paper “Neues Deutschland”. Later that November, the Berlin Wall fell.


Present day: no need to escape

I’m standing against a tall metal security fence on the muddy track separating the city’s public green space at the bottom of Petřín hill from the land belonging to the German Embassy. I’m lurking at the back of the embassy, pointing my camera through the fence.

It’s hard to believe I’m the only one here, at least for the time being. I’m surprised I haven’t already been flanked by guards, wondering what the hell I’m doing here. If I tried to make a run for it, I’d be trapped between a hill and a hard fence.

No matter, the expected guards don’t come. The only people who arrive are additional curious visitors from other parts of the world.

Palais Lobkowicz, German Embassy, Prague, fotoeins.com

Palais Lobkowicz, German Embassy, Prague, fotoeins.com

Czech artist David Černý created the sculpture “Quo Vadis?” (Where are you going?) to pay tribute to the thousands of East German who sought refuge in Prague. The sculpture is a Trabant car on four legs. Once a ubiquitous symbol of industrial productivity in East Germany, hundreds of Trabants were left behind in Prague as East Germans made their way to the West.

2014 marks the 25th anniversary of Genscher’s famous speech in Prague, and the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Wall.


Palais Lobkowicz, German Embassy, Prague, fotoeins.com

My approximate translation

The Lobkowicz Palace – a place of German, Czech, & European history.

“Wir sind zu Ihnen gekommen, um Ihnen mitzuteilen, dass heute Ihre Ausreise in die Bundesrepublik Deutschland möglich geworden ist.”

On 30 September 1989, West Germany’s Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher stood on the balcony of the Lobkowicz Palace, and with these words, announced to almost 4000 refugees permission to travel into West Germany. Three months later communism was no more in Czechoslovakia, and former dissident Václav Havel would be elected as the new president.

The Trabant sculpture “Quo Vadis” by David Černý is a reminder of the events in the autumn of 1989. The original sculpture is in the collection of the Zeitgeschichtliches Forum (of Contemporary History) in Leipzig, Germany.

Built Baroque style in 1702, the palace was owned by the bohemian aristocratic Lobkowicz family since 1753. Ludwig van Beethoven and Carl Maria von Weber once performed concerts under the palace’s domed hall. The palace was sold by the Lobkowicz family to the Czechoslovakian state in 1927, and has been the site of the German Embassy since 1974.

CZ: Velvyslanectví Spolkové Republiky Německo
DE: Botschaft der Bundesrepublik Deutschland
EN: Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany

Directions to Cerny’s Trabi sculpture “Quo Vadis?”

Walk uphill on Vlašská street in Prague’s Malá Strana. When a hospital (Nemocnice Milosrdných Sester sv. Karla Boromejského v Praze) appears on the right and an open portal to a children’s park is on the left, make a left turn from Vlašská onto the path to walk past the park. At the end of the path, turn left again. The high metal fence of the German Embassy will be on your left, and the foot of Petřín hill is on the right. After walking halfway along the fence, you’ll see the sculpture “parked” in the back garden with accompanying signage in Czech and German.

More from 30 September 1989

•   A personal account from Christian Seebode (in English). I’m grateful to his son, Georg, for the link and reference.
•   4-minute summary of events at the West German Embassy in Prague, video in German.
•   Tagesschau nightly West German news broadcast, on 30 Sept. 1989, video in German.
•   The aftermath, train(s) to freedom (Zug in die Freiheit): on MDR, in German.
•   Genscher returns to the German Embassy in Prague in 2014 for 25th anniversary, on ARD’s Tagesschau, video in German.

I made the five photos above on 17 March 2010. This post appears on Fotoeins Fotopress at fotoeins.com.

Fotoeins Friday: “Quo Vadis?” (Where are you going?)

Of bovines and alpine meadows, in Oberbayern’s Hausberg

It’s a bright autumn afternoon in Oberbayern (Upper Bavaria), and the cogwheel railway is on the descent from Zugspitze, returning to the valley base in Garmisch-Partenkirchen.

The train slows on approach to station “Garmisch-Partenkirchen Hausberg”, a short one- to two-kilometres southwest from the twin towns.

Loisach valley, east to Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Bayerische Zugspitzbahn, fotoeins.com
Loisach valley, east to Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Bayerische Zugspitzbahn, fotoeins.com

Loisach valley, east to Garmisch-Partenkirchen

Train station, Garmisch-Partenkirchen Hausberg, fotoeins.com

Train stop “Hausberg”

Stepping out at Hausberg

Doors to the stuffy train compartment open out to the breeze riding down the Loisach river valley. Deep breaths expand and fill my lungs with the slightest hints of hay, fresh cut grass, cow dung, and woodsmoke. Brightly illuminated pastures beckon me forward, one foot in front of the other. Blank looks from the “bayerische Kühe” sprawled out on the grass suggest a possible course of action. Except for the part about the blank faces …

I’ve already seen a number of people in the valley as the train weaved its way down from the summit. Couples are out on their walks. Their slow gait is not representative of age or condition; their easy stroll reflects years- and decades-long familiarity with the area.

With a smile, I’ll greet passersby with “Grüss Gott”. I’m in small conversation, proceeding typically in one-way flow: “where are you from?”, “how did you learn German?”, “how long are you here?”, and “do you like the area?” My final answer often surprises them most: “ich würde hier lange bleiben, wenn ich könnte.” (I’d stay here longer, if I could.)

Standing in an illuminated river valley surrounded by the Alps on a queit afternoon, idyll has another name. Hausberg belongs right here in the now.

Loisach valley, near Garmisch-Partenkirchen Hausberg, fotoeins.com
Loisach valley, near Garmisch-Partenkirchen Hausberg, fotoeins.com
Loisach valley at Hausberg, fotoeins.com

Loisach valley, at Hausberg, near Garmisch-Partenkirchen

Ausserfernbahn DB train, to Reutte in Tirol, fotoeins.com

Deutsche Bahn “Ausserfernbahn” train, to Austria’s Reutte in Tirol

Tracks shared by Bayerische Zugspitzbahn and Ausserfernbahn, Hausberg, fotoeins.com

Tracks shared by Bayerische Zugspitzbahn and Deutsche Bahn

Bovine residents at Hausberg, fotoeins.com
Bovines, meadows, Alps: Hausberg, Garmisch-Partenkirchen, fotoeins.com

Simple things in Bavaria: cows, meadows, and Alps

Reaching Hausberg

Visitors staying in Garmisch-Partenkirchen can easily walk the short distance from either of the twin towns; hop on the regional “Ausserfernbahn” train from Garmisch-Partenkirchen to Reutte (in Tirol) and request to disembark at Hausberg; or disembarking from the Bayerische Zugspitzbahn cog railway on the way back from the Zugspitze summit. The flat stretch of Loisach river valley is easily walkable on the paved pedestrian path from Garmisch-Partenkirchen on the way to Grainau, Eibsee lake, and beyond.

I made all of the photos above on 9 October 2011. This post appears on Fotoeins Fotopress at fotoeins.com.

Fotoeins Friday: early snow over Eibsee lake in Oberbayern

My progress with Canon, from 450D to 6D

I seemed to have skipped a step, as I’ve moved from a triple-digit camera model to a single-digit model.

For over five years, I owned an entry-level Canon DSLR (digital single lens reflex) camera. Carrying the EOS 450D (XSi) along for the ride, I traveled over one million miles in the air and I made over 75000 exposures.

Canon EOS450D (XSi), by Dr.K on Wikimedia

Canon EOS450D (XSi), by Dr.K on Wikimedia

The shutter finally failed to close properly about a year ago as I stood in front of the television tower in Prague’s Zizkov. I made do with an aging iPod Touch for another five months. When the calendar flipped over to 2014, I’d been missing photography with a camera by a very large mile.

Leaping up to the 6D

I picked up the Canon EOS6D in mid-January under the banner of post-Christmas post-New Year’s sales. I already have the EF 50-prime and EF 70-300 lenses, and I wanted to take advantage of these great lenses with a full-frame camera body; I had the idea of purchasing only the camera body. The bundle with the preferred 24-70mm L-series lens was too far, but the package deal with the more affordable 24-105mm L-glass including an additional padded camera strap, a padded camera carrying case, and an extra battery was a decent compromise.

Canon EOS6D, by Dave Dugdale for Wikimedia

Happily, I’m no longer concerned with the 1.6 crop factor; that is, a shot with the 450D at 50mm focal length has the same imaging area as a shot with the 6D at 80mm focal length. I’m enjoying the camera and I’m a big fan; here is a shortlist of ‘pros’ and ‘cons’ with the camera.

    Pros:

  • GPS, for automatic geotagging of my photographs
  • WiFi, for direct upload onto my iPod Touch (or future smartphone)
  • Much better low-light performance; higher ISO range
  • Large range of RAW and JPG sizes
  • Video capability, though I haven’t used video much at this stage
    Cons:

  • Body heavier and more cumbersome; already knew this for full-frame camera
  • Internal GPS can be slow to connect with satellites
  • Battery drains quickly with GPS and WiFi usage
  • Could use an extra card slot
  • Still no focal length displayed with aperture, exposure time, ISO

At the Digital Photography Review website, you can compare side-by-side an entry-level Canon DSLR with a full-frame Canon DSLR. For example, select and compare the 500D (T1i) against the 6D; the 450D is so ‘old’ it’s unavailable in the listing. You can do your own intrabrand or interbrand comparison(s) here.


8 with the 6D

With this post, I’ve already made in eight months over 9000 exposures with the 6D, edging ever closer to turning over the four-digit image-number counter for the first time. Below are photographs over the first eight months of the year.

(F)Light of the Columbidae, Vancouver City Centre, Skytrain station, Vancouver, BC, Canada, fotoeins.com

“(F)light of the Columbidae”, Vancouver City Centre – 17 January 2014

Chinatown Plaza, Vancouver, BC, Canada, fotoeins.com

“C is for Chinatown”, Chinatown Plaza – 23 February 2014

Caught in a web of TED, Vancouver Convention Centre, BC, Canada, fotoeins.com

“Caught in a web of TED” (by Janet Echelman), Vancouver Convention Centre – 20 March 2014

Parking lot in English Bay, Vancouver, BC, Canada, fotoeins.com

“Parking lot in English Bay”, West Vancouver – 13 April 2014

Drive by, Harbour Green Park, Vancouver, BC, Canada, fotoeins.com

“driveby”, Harbour Green Park – 6 May 2014

Mother and daughter, sister and niece, Vancouver, BC, Canada, fotoeins.com

“Mother & daughter, sister & niece” – 12 June 2014

Holiday sunrise over Burrard Inlet, Canada Day, Vancouver, BC, Canada, fotoeins.com

“Holiday sunrise”, Burrard Inlet – 1 July 2014

Downtown Vancouver, construction, urban commentary, Vancouver, BC, Canada, fotoeins.com

“… at the right price”, Downtown Vancouver – 22 August 2014

What camera are you using? Have you bought a new camera this year or will you be buying a new camera soon? Please leave your questions or comments below!

I made all of the photos above in Vancouver, Canada. This post appears on Fotoeins Fotopress at fotoeins.com.

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