Friday, 20 November 2015

Camera Shops in Berlin

Off to Berlin, land of the metal moon. Dreamers with empty hands may sigh for exotic lands. I've never been to Berlin, not even in dreams, so why not find out what it's like? My original plan was to try out my old Canon EOS 50, but on the first day a little catch inside the back door broke off!

The 1990s was not a great time for plastic SLR cameras. Nikon built their cameras with flimsy battery doors that flopped open and rubber coatings that became sticky, Canon used fiddly catches that broke off. The replacement part is actually more valuable than the camera, so I left it in Berlin. I hid it as an Easter Egg for some lucky Berliner.

I also took along my Olympus Stylus Epic, and used that instead, along with my mobile phone. It wasn't economical to have the EOS 50 fixed, but perhaps I could pick up a cheap, second-hand EOS film camera, so I decided to look at some of Berlin's camera shops. Alas I failed but in the process I learned a few new things, e.g. I should have got off the u-bahn at Rathaus-Neukölln, not plain Neukölln; they are two different stops.

I also learned that in Germany you can take plastic bottles back to the supermarket and if you stick them in a special machine you get a coupon for 25c! That's only seventeen pence, but imagine if you could import thousands of empty plastic bottles to Germany; you'd be rich.

Foto Impex does not sell used cameras and it doesn't do repairs. It's a trendy shop that sells overpriced, rebadged Lubitels and Impossible Project film and so forth, but it also sells film. The counter has stacks of Adox Silvermax and CHS and so forth for €5 or so. Adox film on the counter, you don't see that every day. Behind the counter Foto Impex is like a throwback to the distant past of the mid 1990s, with ordinary camera film from Kodak and Fuji.

The place sold Fuji Superia for €2.08 a roll, which is extremely good value. The counter assistant seemed to sneer at it, because Superia is the working man's film, but I don't care about people. I have written before about Joe's Basement. It was a professional photo lab in London that also did regular film development; it closed back in the very early 2000s during the apocalypse of the professional film development laboratories. I liked Joe's Basement because it didn't have a snobbish air. London's other professional photo labs were snobbish and unpleasant to ordinary customers e.g. me, and of course you're all fucking dead you fucking fucks, no-one gives a shit about you now you unemployed little shits. Joe's Basement is dead as well, so there's no real moral to this story. Foto Impex will die in the fullness of time. Every business dies eventually, especially if it doesn't own its own premises.

Foto Impex had something of a snobbish air about it, but that might simply be Germans. As with so many places in Germany the attendant spoke English but pretended not to, and although I addressed her in clear, unaccented standard English - using simple words and hand gestures that even a five-year-old would understand - she seemed unimpressed. It can't be me.

Some of Foto Impex's film. And some cat chocolate. The shot of Karl Marx Street was taken with the Silvermax; the headline shot at the top was taken with Ilford HP5.

At this point I need to put in a filler paragraph so that the formatting of the article doesn't look strange. There has to be a gap between the photograph of Foto Impex's film (and the cat chocolate) and the photograph of the next shop, which in this case is Kameraservice Ostkreuz, which is in the former DDR.

As per the name, Kameraservice Ostkreuz primarily services cameras, but it also sells used equipment. In the photograph you can see a new-old-stock Praktica MTL5 for €110, which is an ambitious price. The place appeared to be open but there was no-one inside and the door was closed.

The Praktica puzzled me. Had it really been in the window since the days of the DDR? There's no collector's market for Prakticas. Was the shop's clientele made of elderly former citizens of the DDR who knew of nothing else? Who knows.

On to the next shop. Berlin's public transport system is superb, but I decided to walk, because I wanted to see what Berlin looked like. Also, I need to burn off some calories. Got to keep searching and searching, and what will I be believing and who will connect me with a bargain camera?

Wonderful, wonderful, wonder... next stop Foto Video Günther, which is also in the former East. Ever since 1989 the East is no longer in the east, of course, it's actually in the west now. They moved it.

Günther is no doubt a fine modern-day camera shop, but it's not really much use if you're into old film antiques. The window had a couple of old Minolta Vectis APS SLRs and, off the top of my head, an EOS IX. It seems that APS cameras are a staple of used camera stores, I remember a couple of places on Tottenham Court Road having IXes in the window many years after APS and indeed film had ceased to be a thing.

An Ericsson GA628. Everybody had one of those. You could swap the faceplate.
I took this photo in November 2015. East Berlin felt a bit like the 1990s - Pierce Brosnan is still James Bond there, and the women all wore those strapless "bandeau" bikini tops. I never liked them, they looked constricting. But who I am to tell women which bikini tops they should wear?

Off to ASA 90, which was closed, and looked as if it had shut down. The window had a Mamiya RZ67, a Robot clockwork camera, an OM2 and other stuff which looked just fine. It also had a Canon 300D digital SLR, which is also an antique nowadays. Perhaps I went on an off day.

Judging by their website the prices are much less ambitious than Kameraservice Ostkreuz but still... I don't know. Perhaps I'm spoiled by eBay. ASA 90 lists an EOS 50 just like mine for €49, which is £34 in English, which is on a par with eBay's prices plus you can presumably take it back to ASA 90 if it breaks, except that as a tourist I wouldn't be able to do that.

Off again to Foto Braune, which I couldn't photograph very well because there was scaffolding in front of it. The shop had a large window display and a very compact interior, but it put me in mind of Günther from up the page. Their prices were higher than ASA 90 although they seemed to major on 35mm kits, with a lens and a flash.

In general shops like Foto Braune are dying out in London, because there's no point; property makes more money than businesses, and the internet has undercut anything that sells commodity goods. I assume the same thing will happen to East Berlin and thenceforth the rest of the world. The only things left in the high street will be restaurants, shoe/fashion shops, cashpoint machines, nothing else. By this time I had concluded that I would rather spend my Euros on wine, women, and song, so that was the sum total of camera shops I visited in Berlin. There are others, and apparently a neat flea market as well, but I'm not bloody Fatima Whitbread.

Here are some things I saw in Neukölln, which is pronouned NOY-CHOLN. It is of course a track on David Bowie's "Heroes", but it's also a real place, apparently very trendy, which means that it is probably very fashionable to diss it for not being trendy any more. It reminds me of Shoreditch of fifteen years ago a little bit, or perhaps it reminds me of being young again. The moment something becomes trendy it becomes no longer trendy.

David Bowie plays saxophone on it (the track, not the place):