Berlin is probably my favorite city to photograph. There is so much history, and its vastness means there is always something to shoot. Even if Berlin weren't so big, it would continue to present new photographic opportunities because the city is changing fast. It keeps reinventing itself; whenever I return to Berlin, it looks different. Somehow it feels different. This is great because even though I have wandered the same streets of Mitte or Prenzlauer Berg, I experience them slightly differently from before.
I decided to take only one camera and one lens. The challenge I have is that I enjoy the gear aspect of photography so much I always want to bring a lot of gear. This leads to much contemplation before traveling to decide what to bring. I usually shoot everything I bring, and I hardly have travels where I leave the gear I took unused. Sometimes though, it is nice to limit gear to the maximum. That is the approach I took this time.
I decided to go for 50mm instead of 35mm. The slightly narrower perspective works well in urban environments. I brought the Voigtlander 50mm F2 APO-Lanthar. I wrote about this lens before, using it on the Leica SL. I now shoot with the M10, and I was curious how this combo would work. The curiosity was aimed at handling; there are no questions about the output of the lens. The next photo shows how incredibly sharp and clear the Voigtlander APO renders.
This performance makes the Voigtlander APO a deliberate choice. It's not the best all-rounder lens because it is so good. The sharpness and clarity work in urban settings like this as they deliver a certain grittiness to a scene. A very different kind of grittiness compared to the noise in film, but it can evoke a similar response when viewing the photographs. The handling on the M10 is good but not great. The lens feels just a tad too big on an M, something that didn't bother me at all when I used this on the SL.
The outstanding performance of the Voigtlander APO worked well for the photo above. The beautiful façade of this significant building in Berlin is captured with much detail and clarity. The New Synagogue remarkably remained relatively undamaged during the Kristallnacht, but it was heavily damaged in the Second World War. It continued to be in a poor state after the end of the war in East Germany. Only after the fall of the wall did serious reconstruction happen. It serves as a Synagogue now again but is also a Jewish Center. This chapter is, of course, the most dramatic one in the long history of Berlin. I will never cease to be amazed by how Europeans found a way to move forward after this darkness. What Berlin has become in our time is perhaps the most tangible evidence of that.
Berlin hosts an unfathomable amount of cafes, bars, and restaurants. It is the place where the very German and delicious tradition of coffee and cake in the afternoon has merged with all of the cultures of the people that flocked to Berlin over the years. This has resulted in a cacophony of drinking and eating options, much to my liking. The Leica M is made for this environment. Relatively small and unobtrusive, it is easy to take with you as you go through the city from one eatery to the next.
The Voigtlander 50mm APO highlights a hot item in German politics today with clarity. Döner is one of the most favorite street food items in Germany, and in Berlin in particular. Due to inflation, prices have risen strongly, and this is causing a stir. Even chancellor Scholz is asked to address the issue of the high-priced sandwich.
Let's turn our attention back to the lens. The photo above is probably my favorite from this trip. After a rather warm October, the cold was finally coming in. Snow was falling while we were there, which created some nice photographic opportunities. The Voigtlander is perfect for the shot above. The snow is captured extremely clearly, and even though it was quite dark, the photo is crisp with little noise. The large aperture helps, of course, as does the sensor in the M10; despite its age, it is still world-class today.
Berlin is a joy to visit; I hope to return there on many occasions in the future. Knowing myself, the chances are slim that I will take this exact setup of the M10 paired with the Voigtlander 50mm APO. But whatever I bring, Berlin will be ready and waiting, presenting itself in yet another light.