Archival Discovery Reveals a Ruined Berlin

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Forgotten for decades, a trove of post-war photographs from 1945 has recently been unearthed. The snapshots illustrate the devastation of the German capital and capture the desperation of the city in the weeks after the end of World War II. They also show glimpses of Berlin's resilience.

The soldier with the Iron Cross on his chest lies in the middle of the street. His steel helmet has rolled away. The Red Army soldiers are turning him onto his back and cleaning their weapons. They take no notice of the photographer kneeling to take the picture. He's already taken dozens of shots today -- this time he's just chosen a corpse for the foreground.

It's a scene from the final days of the World War II, taken somewhere in the center of Berlin. For decades this picture, along with thousands of others, lay in the archives of a Berlin publishing house. Unnoticed. It is only now that the collection has come to light.

The pictures capture a moment in the city that had reached the end of 12 years of dictatorship and a devastating war: Signs of those final battles, of death, destruction and hopelessness -- but also of life growing once again among the ruins. They are photos that portray a grotesque normalcy, in contrast to the better-known images of heroic liberation and optimistic reconstruction. They provide documentation of the city's downfall in the blink of an eye between an end and a beginning. A Berlin that was just beginning to free itself from its lethargy.

The prints fill whole cabinets, endless shelves, countless boxes and files. Few journalists ever visit the photo archive on the first floor of the publishing house on Alexanderplatz -- even photo editor Peter Kroh rarely comes by. The photos he uses at the Berliner Kurier newspaper are usually delivered by photo agencies, or come from stock that was digitized long ago....

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