The 25th Anniversary of Ostkreuz A Birthday in Paris

One image from the 25 years shows a bride in Havana in 1996
One image from the 25 years shows a bride in Havana in 1996 | Photo: Jordis Schlösser/Ostkreuz

It could have been so nice: the 25th anniversary of Ostkreuz. A true reason to celebrate with a major exhibition in Paris, the place it all began. The Goethe-Institut invited many guests. Yet then, one day after the opening, the attackers arrived and no one was in the mood to celebrate.

Paris, spring of 1990: Seven photographers from East Berlin are sitting in an indoor market café and have an idea. They have come to the city on the invitation of François Mitterrand for an exhibition of the most important of artists of the former GDR. The wall had fallen a few months before, but Germany is still divided and no one really knows what will happen next. For years, the photographers have been friends with some colleagues at the famous Magnum agency. They now resolve to follow their example and found their own agency.

Paris, 13 November 2015: Some of those same photographers are back in Paris. The agency, called Ostkreuz, is now 25 years old; an anniversary they want to celebrate with a major exhibition in Paris. It opened the day before and the mood is joyful. “We were all out in the city headed somewhere,” reported photographer Annette Hauschild a few days later in the taz. “The weather was simply gorgeous. It was warm enough to sit outdoors at the cafés. That fit in with our image of Paris: drinking coffee, getting together and enjoying the good life and good food.”

Yet that was precisely the opposite attitude towards life that the terrorists of 13 November had. That evening they murdered 132 people in cold blood. Some of them perished steps away from the restaurant in which Hauschild and her colleagues were dining. The waiters urge them to leave and shut the roller blinds behind them.

Annette Hauschild stayed in Paris longer than planned to capture the mood of the wounded city in pictures although she admits she had never felt so vulnerable in her life. “I had the feeling that I had to document it,” she explained. “Everyone was on edge, but I walked through Paris on Saturday in spite of it and took pictures around the Place de la République. I was still out that night. I wasn’t even well equipped, just one camera and one lens.”

Zum Fotoalbum Zum Fotoalbum auf Facebook | Screenshot: Goethe-Institut In this case, Hauschild involuntarily did what Ostkreuz photographers often win awards for: she went to where it hurts.

Today, Ostkreuz is Germany’s most renowned photography agency. It has 20 members; the youngest in their early thirties, the oldest in their mid-sixties. They are multi-award-winning auteur photographers with their own approaches and styles. Now, the Goethe-Institut Paris is presenting the complete photographic spectrum of the Berlin agency in a retrospective at two exhibition spaces in Paris. For two weeks, the best images from 25 years of Ostkreuz were shown at the gallery Passage du Désir and until 18 December the Goethe-Institut will show GDR photographs by the founders.

It’s hard to celebrate during times like these. But it is unforgivable to let ourselves be intimidated. So, Happy Birthday, Ostkreuz!