On November 4, 1989, I was at the demonstration at Alexanderplatz in Berlin and took photographs. Someone was walking around with a poster that read “Free to Fly to Shanghai.” To me this was a bold statement that said it all in short words. Twenty years later I wanted to do just this, and I flew to Shanghai without having to obtain permission. I needed a Chinese entry visa, of course, but I didn’t need an East German exit visa. That was the key difference.
In the German Democratic Republic it would have been almost impossible to travel to Shanghai. From 1982 on, they practically did not let me go anywhere, not even to Czechoslovakia or Poland. The restriction was eased in 1988, and I was allowed to travel to my father’s seventieth birthday in Stuttgart. In the period just prior to the fall of the Wall, I was admitted to the Association of Graphic Arts of the GDR. I had photographed the East German football team FC Union Berlin, and I wanted to photograph Hertha BSC in West Berlin as a comparison. I was supposed to get a passport on November 15. So at that point I felt much freer internally. I even had a stipend from the GDR Ministry of Culture, which, amazingly, I continued to receive after the monetary union - in West German marks. I was in Shanghai for a total of twelve days. The number of inhabitants is estimated to be one-and-a-half times that of the GDR, around twenty-five million. This city is fascinating for its contrasts. On one side there are newly built neighborhoods where twenty years ago there were rice fields. And beneath the massive superstructure, you find the hustle and bustle of village life. A man sits on a bench and meditates. A woman washes her hair on the street, dancing and singing at the same time. Three hundred people come together in the park to do tai chi. In Shanghai people run around in their pajamas. One man stands in the street and brushes his teeth, and a little girl pedals toward me in a set of pink fluffy pajamas. I originally moved to Berlin because it is a place where you can turn a corner and experience something unusual. I had the same experience in Shanghai. People are trying to make ends meet, like everywhere else, but there it is all very public, and you see many more intimate moments. Only one person in twenty turns away when you take a photograph. I shot over a hundred rolls of film. Some shots had to be taken incredibly quickly. You almost feel overstimulated by the flood of images, but my inner sense of composition helped me. I owe that to my many years in the GDR, when life didn’t cost anything and I had enough time to find my path. In Berlin I first worked as a telegram messenger. Since I had to walk for hours through the city, I began by playing around with graphic compositions, photographing signs, ruins from the war, children playing. Some art critic once wrote that when two things encounter one another, the result is a third. That is what attracts me, whatever it is that is poised over a given situation. When I give seminars, I always say: “So you know that you are constantly walking around in your own film. In the morning you wake up and the film starts, and at night you go to bed and the film even continues a little bit in your dreams.” When I take a photo, I pause this film for a moment. But it has to happen in a way that the person looking at the photograph can imagine the moments before and after the picture. An image is good when it sets something in motion again in other people’s minds. For about five or six years now I have had the feeling that the GDR is finally history. Now I am a living witness. When I was in Shanghai, a journalist from Düsseldorf contacted me to ask if I would be interested in giving an interview about the GDR for a Chinese art magazine. I told her that it would unfortunately not be possible, since I was in Shanghai, and she wrote back, “Perfect, that is where we have our editorial office.” So I met her colleague. We had a meal together, and he interviewed me. It turned into a multipage spread. I can’t read it, since it’s in Chinese, but I think