See Thy Neighbor: Stern Photographers Thomas Höpker and Harald Schmitt in the GDR

The Wende Museum
The Armory, Culver City, California
April 26 - October 25, 2020


Proving that photography is no more “objective” than any other medium, two photographers with the same mission offer very different views of East Germany. In 1973, in the wake of a West German policy of détente toward Eastern Europe, official relations were established between the two German states. Soon after, the West German illustrated magazine Stern set up an office in East Berlin. The first Stern photographer who permanently moved to East Berlin was Thomas Höpker, a future president of the Magnum photo cooperative, who covered East Germany in 1975 and 1976. When Stern’s management offered him a chance to move to New York, he gladly accepted, finding not much to enjoy in the East German capital. His successor, Harald Schmitt, started to work for Stern in East Berlin in 1977. Unlike Höpker, Schmitt enjoyed life in East Germany, stayed for more than six years, married an East German conservator, and involuntarily left the GDR in 1983 after an attempt to prove that the faked Hitler diaries, which Stern had just published as originals, originated in East Germany. Through reports published by Stern, unpublished photographs, and documents and photos from the Stasi archives (both photographers were closely monitored by the East German secret police), this exhibition highlights Höpker and Schmitt’s very different approaches to East German life, culture, and society.