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Victoria and Albert Museum snaps up photos of the fall of the Berlin Wall

On November 9th 1989, the East German government opened the country's borders with West Germany. Openings were made in the Berlin Wall so East Germans could travel freely to the West. The demolition of the wall officially began in June 1990 and was completed in 1992.

Tony Banks was the only military photographer allowed to capture this historic occasion. He was relieved of normal duties and took more than 15,000 photographs over the course of the next few months.

The Berlin Wall was constructed by the German Democratic Republic of East Germany to stop the increasing emigration of skilled and professional East German people during the post war period. Construction of the wall started in August 1961 and it divided East Germany and West Berlin from 1961 to 1989.

Tony, originally from Hartlepool and now living near Otley, has driven a tanker for Yorkshire Water for the last 7 years. Life wasn’t always so sedate for Tony. After joining the army in 1979, he completed tours of duty in the Falklands, Northern Ireland, Germany and Iraq where he was burned and flown back to recover to the UK before returning for his final two tours of duty in Bosnia.

He was stationed in Berlin from June 1989, working as an Intelligence Photographer. On November 9 that year, East German politician Günter Schabowski told a press conference that East Germans would be allowed to cross the border with proper permission immediately. These regulations were supposed to take effect the following afternoon so the border guards could be informed but this slip led to massive crowds gathering at the wall that night.

Tony said: “I was asked to drop everything and get myself down to the wall. I got there for about 7 o’clock that evening and stood close to the Brandenburg Gate taking in the atmosphere. It was chaos, the crowd was massive and there was conflicting news filtering around. Nobody knew exactly was going on but there was a joyful air of anticipation that history was about to be made.”

Over the next few months, Tony’s photographs captured the party atmosphere, the beautiful torch lit nights and the German people drinking champagne in celebration of the freedom the fall of the wall allowed them. He photographed border guards being pushed out of the way so East Germans could cross into West Berlin and recorded speeches given by Chancellor Cole, President Bush and the British Prime Minister John Major on film. He remained in Berlin to record the wall being physically pulled down.

Many of Tony’s photographs were made into posters and given to visiting dignitaries as mementos. 89 of his prints were sold at £50 each to the National Museum of Photography in Bradford, where they were put on display until being archived.

Tony has recently been notified that his photographs are to be transferred to the Victoria and Albert Museum archives 27 years after they were taken. He added: “I’m really proud to learn that my photographs will be held in London as a record of the fall of the wall and the end of the division of East from West Germany. It was both fantastic and humbling to be present in Berlin to record this unique, historic event.”

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