Press photographer Ludwig Binder documented the student protests and police deployments of 1968 in Berlin. Jim Rakete tagged along as an intern. Now, 50 years later, an exhibition showcases their work.
Jim Rakete strides across the two exhibition rooms in the museum of Berlin's Kulturbrauerei, inspecting whether his large-scale photographs are hanging correctly.
The black-and-white photos are well suited in this historical gallery space in Berlin's Prenzlauer Berg district. They are hung high up, not at eye-level, on a brick wall. Others are presented on white walls, or on partitions in the middle of the rooms. Rakete is pleased with the results.
An early "selfie" from the period of analog photography depicts his beginnings as a young photographer. His boss 50 years ago, Berlin-based press photographer Ludwig Binder, had bought a "fisheye" — an ultra wide-angle lens — and asked his employees to help him test the self-timer by stepping in front of the camera.
Jim Rakete was 17 years old at the time, and the picture moved him up from intern to assistant. Later, he was permitted to take his own photographs at a Jimi Hendrix concert.
A turning point
"I actually became a photographer due to him and the events of 1967/68," said Rakete, referring to Binder. Encountering these press photos by Binder from this period, which the Museum in der Kulturbrauerei is showing in the exhibition "The 68ers," is significant to him. "Binder was one of the few people to show both sides: the police with stones pounding down on them, as well as the students who had been beaten bloody," he noted.
Rakete's father was a political correspondent with a radio broadcaster, so discussions about the turbulent political events of the period were part of everyday life at home in West Berlin.
Born in 1951, he got his first name thanks to the "Amis" — the American soldiers of Allied-occupied Germany. As of 1968, he worked as a photo reporter for the BZ paper.
Like Rakete, Binder was also a self-taught photographer. During his studies, he developed a passion for American jazz and began taking pictures of musicians of all kinds. He began working as a freelance photographer in West Berlin at the beginning of the 60s and then established his own agency in 1967, where Rakete began working as a student intern.
Binder was on the go a lot in his work, and regularly listened to the police radio, allowing him to arrive quickly to the scene of many events. He thus became a chronicler of Berlin's student revolts.
He photographed the violence coming from both sides of the revolts, as well as the events in the hours afterward. He was also witness to the attacks on Benno Ohnesorg and Rudi Dutschke. His photos have become iconic for the 1968 movement.
Through the eyes of witnesses
Walking around the exhibition with Rakete is akin to traveling through time. We stop in front of a portrait of a woman with short hair, her lucid gaze coming from intelligent, somewhat sad eyes. "Frederike Hausmann held the ultimately fatally wounded student Benno Ohnesorg back then, trying to save him," Rakete explained. "Ohnesorg was then transported throughout Berlin, in various ambulances, and was turned away at each hospital. Looking back, it's a completely unbelievable story," he reflected.
Rakete himself was never a part of the student circles. But his teacher, Ludwig Binder, was the one to capture the iconic photograph of Ohnesorg being carried away. It remains unforgettable for Rakete.
At the beginning of 1968, Jim Rakete was still a high school student, looking on at the university student revolts from a distance. Still, he was struck by the radicalism of the youth rebellion against outmoded traditions and the authoritarians of the Nazi generation. "Everything was in transition back then," he said.
Read more: 1968: A time for dreams and protests
Yet when he would voice concern about the violence, his worries would fall on deaf years, he recalled. Instead, "a fascinating thing about this 1968 period is that the students sharing apartments would spend evenings talking and talking and smoking, and by the end of it, everyone would have the feeling they had changed the world, but no one had the mental capacity to empty the ashtrays. It was always me who did that," he said. He then flashes a smile of victory. It's a pity there's no camera at hand — it could have become an historical photo.