“100 DM – Berlin 2019” is project realized in collaboration with the photographer Tommaso Bonaventura, marking the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall (9 November 1989). Starting from a stance that favours private and family stories and adopting the Begrüßungsgeld vicissitude, the project faces the complexity of an epochal change through a two-sided narrative, both photographic and textual.
From 1970 right up to December 1989, the Begrüßungsgeld (welcome money) was the gift offered to every resident from the German Democratic Republic visiting the German Federal Republic for the first time.
The amount and the way in which it was distributed varied over time until a single solution was offered, worth 100 DM (Deutsche Mark), which corresponds to around 60 euro in today’s money. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, thousands of people started queueing up outside banks to withdraw their 100 marks, due to each citizen who could provide proof of ID.
We posed an apparently simple question: Just how did they spend their Begrüßungsgeld money? In Berlin we worked over the course of two years to try and verify if and how that symbolic event had marked the start of a new central role of money in the lives of GDR citizens.
In actual fact, right from the moment we asked it, we realised that from this simple question, a wide range of considerations opened up, immediately followed by a great many more questions: did everyone collect their money? What did people feel, queuing up at the bank and showing their East German document? What did they think would happen from that moment on in their lives? What did they know of the West, and what value did the Western mark have for them, having never been allowed to spend it?
These are just some of the questions that we found ourselves asking people, entering their houses, their lives and their family histories. It became clear to us that everyone had a vivid memory of this fact and of the day in which they went to the bank to withdraw their 100 marks, which in many cases coincided with their first day in the West.
We gathered numerous personal accounts concerning a change that in fact went far beyond this.
On 9 November 1989 in Germany, it was not only the Berlin Wall that fell but a whole country that changed. A part of it disappeared – the German Democratic Republic was annexed to the Federal Republic – and 17 million people suddenly found themselves driven towards a new life, in which the rules of the previous one were no longer applicable. The GDR disappeared, and the life stories of its inhabitants were split in two: a “before” and an “after,” hybrids citizens caught halfway between two societies that had begun to coexist.
Their stories reinforce the fabric of history, that of the GDR and of Germany, as well as our own and that of the world as a whole. None of them were at all surprised that we were so interested in hearing them.
Thirty years on, one man returned with us for the first time to the exact spot on the border where he had tried to escape. Some of them showed us around the Berlin outskirts where they grew up. Others gave off signs of delusion, excitement or bewilderment. Sons and daughters took us to see their parents and talked with them about that time. Today, thirty years after that 1989, those who saw the wall being built, those who lived with it and always took it for granted, live alongside those who never even set eyes on it. The private stories traced a map that guided us around a contemporary, complex and stratified Berlin.
It was an opportunity, for them as well as for us, to share tales and reflections on a chapter of recent history that concerns us all.
The project became a traveling show and a book designed by Studio Lupo Burtscher and published by Silvana Editoriale
30 October 2019 – 6 January 2020 / TORINO
CAMERA – Centro Italiano per la Fotografia | Project Room
Museo del Risparmio
9 November – 26 January 2020 / TRENTO
Fondazione Museo storico del Trentino di Trento – Le Gallerie
18 January 2019 – 22 March 2020 / PORDENONE
CRAF – Centro Ricerca e Archiviazione della Fotografia – Chiesa di San Lorenzo, San Vito al Tagliamento