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Das Booth

It’s been a decade since two Berliners reintroduced the old Photoautomat photo booths – and they’re still drawing a steady stream of colourful characters

Text by Toby Skinner / Photos⁄Photoautomat Weserstraße & Mitja Schneehage

The Weserstraße people

I spent a day at the Photoautomat on Weserstraße, a pretty street on the border of Kreuzberg and Neukölln where bohemian cafés and bars have popped up in the last decade as house prices have more than doubled. For the most part, I just grabbed passers-by or people who were already using the booths, gave them €2 (NOK16.7) and a selection of props, from a toy Trabant car to a Berlin snow globe, a fake Communist passbook and an “I love Berlin” cap. I did, however, cheat slightly by asking a writer friend to call up some of his mates and bring them down.

The brief was for people to just be themselves and to use the props however they wanted. Some ignored them; one tried to eat the Trabi; one wanted to take her top off; and another decided to pose with his teddy bear instead. There were a few mishaps – the photos from one lovely Muslim family didn’t appear from the machine, a video artist ran off with his strip, and a lot of older locals wanted absolutely nothing to do with me.

Still, it was a fascinating snapshot of a place and its residents, almost all of whom had come to Berlin from elsewhere. Of the non-tourists, most lived in the area, and I was struck by the way they seemed to be living life on their own terms. Almost no one had a full-time job, and everyone raved about the freedom afforded by low rents, cheap beer and a thriving creative scene, even if gentrification was a regular theme.

There was a photographer/baker/food blogger/shop assistant; an actor/dancer/performance artist/entertainer; a writer who embeds his poetry in Google Street View; and a Nigerian caterer who has done so much community work that they let him live in the church tower. A story about a photo booth turned out, like all the best stories, to really be a story about people...

Meet the Weserstraße people on the next page...

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