Home Features Three capitals and a few smelly old cameras

Three capitals and a few smelly old cameras

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Psst, wanna buy a smelly old camera?

I photographed the decidedly grumpy individual below manning his table in the Mauerpark flea market in Berlin on a Sunday morning last month. I usually find flea markets a disappointment — full of stalls selling junk — but the Flohmarkt am Mauerpark is well worth a visit. It’s really popular with both locals and tourists and you can find anything from craft beer to vintage Märklin model trains and smelly old cameras.

Flohmarkt am Mauerpark, smelly old cameras

There were three sellers of old cameras on the Sunday I visited. Most of the cameras were East German models — Prakticas, Exaktas and Exas. But you would be pretty brave to buy one. Old cameras do not age well unless looked after. Rubber and cloth focal plane shutter blinds are prone to rotting and fungus loves old lenses. Going by his demeanour this guy was not finding many takers for his doubtful offerings.

Berlin was the last stop on a three-week, three-capital-city trip It came about because, back in January, after reading an enthusiastic travel story on the delights of Stockholm in a magazine, my wife and I decided to go and see for ourselves.

A long hop

If we lived in Europe, popping away for a few days in Stockholm would not be a problem. But Australia is a very long way from anywhere, except New Zealand, so to make it worthwhile we decided on a three-week trip to three capital cities: Copenhagen, Berlin and Stockholm.

Thirty years ago a European trip like this would result in photos of the “sights” to show friends. But now the world is full of experienced travellers and bringing back photos of those sights is really very old hat. Of course, we took in a few of the tourist attractions as well as more than a few great restaurants, beer gardens and for me, no fewer than ten museums. And there were many more that I did not have time to see.

Stockholm, steamers

Included in the museums were the Fotografiska in Stockholm and the Museum of Photography in Berlin. Both are excellent and both have one thing in common — they are about photographs. So if you visit them expecting to see collections of old cameras and related gear you will be disappointed.

As for me, nowadays photography is all about the end result, not the process. I enjoyed both of them and, particularly, their excellent museum shops full of photo books. The only camera-related object or book I found in either museum shop was a plastic pencil sharpener in the shape of a twin-lens reflex in the Stockholm shop.

To take or not to take

As I was not taking photos of the tourist sights there were not going to be the people portrait photo opportunities I find in third world countries. I seriously considered only using my iPhone for photography on the trip. I had in mind the idea of coming home with just a few evocative photos — essentially vignettes — of the places we visited. Evocative is defined as bringing strong memories or images to mind.

Then I overthought this idea and decided to take the Leica Q, only to have a rethink and decided at the very last minute — the luggage was by the front door — just to take my X1 because it is unobtrusive, small and light and could be carried around all day without becoming a burden. The older you get the more such considerations matter.

Copenhagen

Unfortunately, this last-minute camera switch resulted in my inadvertently bringing the Q’s battery charger and not the one for the X1. Fortunately, John Nicholson, long time Macfilos reader and resident of Copenhagen, who I had already arranged to meet for lunch, saved the day with a loan of one of his chargers. The X1 eats batteries for breakfast so I was lucky Copenhagen was our first port of call, although in the end I only needed to charge one battery on the trip.

X1 Fix

My mindset changes when I am using the X1. Despite its slow autofocus and lack of “must have” features, I always seem to come home with some interesting photos when I use it.

The decision to take the X1 was the definitely the right one, yet again. I came home with the small set of evocative photos I was hoping for. It was more than a dozen but I have limited myself to just twelve for this story.

I forgot to take my selfie stick so no photos of the two of us leering by the little Mermaid in Copenhagen or the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, although I would have fought through the crowds of selfie-stick-wielding Chinese tourists at both locations to get these shots anyway. And not a single shot of food.

This sets me apart from 95% of tourists but I just did not think that my friends or family or indeed Macfilos readers would be that interested in a photo of Swedish meatballs or a Schweinshaxe and sauerkraut.

Let me explain the photos. The image of Helsingor Castle¹ in Denmark looks like a very standard tourist shot. But for me the clarity and the deep blue sky evokes memories of the icy cold wind which was blowing off the Baltic that day. Boy, it was cold and this was supposed to be summer. Helsingor is reputed to be Hamlet’s castle, although as Ryanair was not operating at the time it was unlikely that Will Shakespeare ever came near to Helsingor.

The six shots from Stockholm are a 100% distillation of Stockholm to me. The beautiful harbour setting, the still-working vintage steam-powered ferry boats, the cobbled streets, the cyclists, the Royal Palace and its surrounding streets in the old city and the beautiful islands in the Archipelago, just a short ferry trip from the city. I loved Stockholm but I could not live with the climate or the, gulp, prices.

Berlin Wall

The carousel horses and the Tivoli archway are from the magical Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen. Walt Disney apparently was inspired to create Disneyland after visiting the Tivoli. I last visited the gardens over 50 years ago and I found them magical then and I still do. These two photos remind me how a little old-fashioned charm can still be magical. All credit to the Danes for preserving such a wonderful institution in the centre of Copenhagen. It is right next to the main railway station and the Town Hall square.

No gate

I visited Berlin and managed not to take a photo of the Brandenburg Gate. But I did take a photo of a section of the Berlin Wall and also a one inside the wonderful Reichstag glass dome.

My wall shot was taken on the stretch beside the very sobering Topography des Terrors exhibition on the horrors of the Nazi regime in Germany and across Europe.

Reichstag, Berlin

Germany, to its credit, has fully confronted its Nazi-era history and you need a strong constitution to view this exhibition in its entirety.

The photo was taken through the front window from the top deck of a bus. The cyclist is one of the tens of thousands of Berliners who cycle as their main mode of transport every day. The fact that the city is flat encourages cycling but, also, Berlin motorists have a very understanding attitude towards cyclists.

It’s very easy to take a cheesy shot of the Reichstag building and its Norman Foster designed glass dome so I went for a different angle with visitors on the spiral internal walkway with the German flag flying proudly in the wind outside.

So there you are: Three capital cities in twelve, for me, memory-laden photos.

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¹ Hamlet’s castle is called Elsinore in the play and the correct name for the castle in Helsingor is Kronberg Castle although everyone calls it Helsingor Castle anyway

You can find more from John Shingleton at The Rolling Road. And on Instagram

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9 COMMENTS

  1. What a wonderful way to begin a weekend! The X1 just keeps on giving you and your readers masterful results. Glad you safely back on your throne at the Beach, the King if X1.

  2. Being another X1/X2 fan, I´ve been following your contributions here with both interest and admiration, and this instalment is no exception. Delighted to see you visited my home town (Stockholm) as well; you found most of the “obvious” spots, and made the most of them. If I had known, I´d been delighted to show you even more (and let you recharge batteries with my chargers…).

    Just as well, however, that you didn´t try to find a pic of “Swedish meatballs”; traditional Swedish food is scarce nowadays in Stockholm. Thai, kebab, falafel, pizza everywhere, but meatballs: scarce as hen´s teeth.

    Thanks for your text and images; liked them a lot!

  3. Thanks for the memories John. Stockholm is one of my favourite cities which I manage to visit most years once if not twice. The last visit was just a few weeks back in March when we also paid a visit to the excellent Fotografiska, although the walk from central Stockholm was somewhat tortuous with all the road and rail alterations. You still have a few galleries and museums to take in on another visit as I seem to recall there are about 48 in all.
    One of the benefits from my point of view is that the whole central area is walkable, although some of the subway stations are a sight to behold.
    Copenhagen is high on my list of ‘must visits’.

    • Mike , I know exactly what you mean about the walk to Fotografiska from the other side of the harbour. It is the ultimate urban maze and I also had great difficulty finding the pedestrian route through that mess of road and rail works. Indeed there may well be visitors on their way to the museum still trapped in there after days of trying to find the route out. A few signs would help.

  4. An interesting challenge to self, John, to go somewhere and deliberately choose not to take any standard tourist shotss. I particularly like the last image. Depth, silhouette and the splash of flag colour.
    But the gear you use is so last decade. It’s time for an update, so here’s the deal:
    You bring the X1 to coffee next week. I’ll bring an old school white-out correction pen.
    The X1 can be easily transformed into your very own personalised unique Urban Jungle X1.
    Then a hipster collector you can be.

    • Ha ha ha now that would be worth seeing. You too can draw around a childs jigsaw on the side of your expensive camera. oooooh now that sounds funky.

      You could call it the JS tippex edition.

  5. Hi John,

    I am just playing catch up, nice article and nice idea to save weight on luggage – “I know, I’ll leave my batteries at home, and get a Macfilos afficionado to bail me out.”, hopefully you mailed them back while still in Europe to save on taking them back to Oz.

    My favourite is the dark silhouette shot with the German flag – well spotted me thinks. A close second is the lady cycling down a cobbled road.

    Dave

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