Whispers in East Berlin – A Nashalina Schrape Project

Keep all special thoughts and memories for lifetimes to come. Share these keepsakes with others to inspire hope and build from the past, which can bridge to the future. – Mattie Stepanek

There were always ghosts in the house. Breathing, moving, slowly. Changing the shadows. Whispers of movement of articles of clothing. They were memories. Not spirits. They were things that happened in the house in the past and they didn’t leave. They were thick. Not loud. They were the things we did not talk about.

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The family house was built in 1939. This is the neighbors house but ours in exactly the same. Except for ours in hidden in a myriad of trees and bushes. Only the very tip of the roof is visible from the street.

The house was built by my maternal grandparents in 1939, right before my mother was born. In Eastern Berlin. Four generations have been in this house. And even though furniture comes and goes, my great grandmother always sits in the front dining room. Quietly, alone, she is solemn and shut down.

My grandmother is laying on the sofa in the living room. Napping, she has been addicted to sleeping pills since the end of WW2. My mother is little and cold in the small bedroom upstairs. Her room is dark. She is cold and alone.

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Looking into the room that my grandmother told my 4 year old mother that she was gong to kill her first and then herself with the pistol she had. As Russia was entering Berlin, Hitler told the citizens the honorable thing was to commit suicide as they did not want to end up in the hands of the enemy.

Both of my grandfathers are in the room that I sleep in when I visit. My step-grandfather is occupied with fixing the poorly made East German made vacuum cleaner, from the plant he works at. His breathing is labored because of shrapnel he sustained during WW2.

My beautiful grandfather is tinkering on the large miniature schooner he made, he has no idea that WW2 and his SS uniform will bring about massive destruction and change generations to come.

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My mother’s first memory was red cherry pit stains in a green rug in the house, where the Russian soldiers had spit them out during the invasion of Berlin, at the end of World War II. My grandparents had planted this tree when they landscaped the house in 1939.

The Russian soldiers are in the same room that my grandmother is napping in. They are spitting out seeds from the cherry tree that my grandparents planted when the house was built. The cherry pits leave stains on the green rug. This becomes my mother’s first memory ever. She must have been 3. I wonder if this is where they raped my grandmother. Wait, then in the dining room, my mother is moving about, screaming, pleading not to be shot by my grandmother, who was only trying hard to fulfill the duties of a German Frau and commit suicide before she and her child ended up in Russian hands, as they were invading Berlin.

Up in the room that I sleep in, shelved away, is the one illustrated book that my mother looked at over and over again, every night at as a child, to help her leave her world and enter one that was charming, lovely, full of color and gold. After the war was over, wood fire was scarce. My mother has vivid memories of bitter cold.

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The field next to the route that was the road the Germans walked during the mass expulsion from Poland, after World War II. My family had a large family farm on this land of many generations. It was lost after the War. And given to a polish family.

The upstairs master bedroom window forever holds the view of the field across the street and the path that the Germans marched in mass expulsion from what was Germany, but became Poland.

The corner in the living room has a radio on, declaring the separation of my family by a gigantic concrete wall accompanied by guards with automatic weapons, attack dogs and mines. That wall was two and a half blocks from the house. One day, without notice, the East German regime came and cleared what was the location of my  grandfather’s burial site. That way the border control had a clear view of anyone approaching the wall. The location of my grandfather’s body is unknown.

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The apples form the original apple trees planted in 1939. I have many memories of my grandmother eating two every night before she went to bed. And me pulling one off the tree as I was playing.

The backyard is full of all the fruit and nut trees my grandparents had planted. And you can almost hear the squawk as the chickens laid their blue eggs with the magnificent orange yolks. The apples trees are full of bees and apples and are happy to get craggily and craggily.

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After the war, their was nothing to burn for warmth and very little to eat. My mother had few toys. She did have this illustrated fairy tale book. For hours she would look at the images over and over again. This was her favorite.

The basement bomb shelter that has become a memorial for all of my step grandfather’s tools, holds despair and terror. It’s a space where, if you closed the door and stayed inside long enough, a person could lose their mind. The old wicker basket that used to hold my grandmothers linens has cracked.

All of these things stay in the house and garden. They never go away. I wonder about all the other things that stay in all the other houses in Altglienicke Berlin. In Berlin. Germany. Europe. The earth. I think we would do well to listen to them and honor them.

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My mother standing in the field next to the route that was the road the Germans walked during the mass expulsion from Poland, after World War II. That land had been a part of German territory since the middle of the 1700s.

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My mother’s hands from berries that are used to make jelly.

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Wedding photo of my grandparents, with blossoms from the apple tree they planted. My mother often commented how the color of the paint on the floor looked like blood. This jug is from the family farm which was part of former Germany.

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ID photos from my mother during the erection of the Berlin Wall in the late 1950s. The larger image is my mother looking on from West Berlin when she became a political refugee from East Berlin. Notice the barb wire.


A few months back we showcased Deeply Penetrating B&W Photography of Nashalina Schrape. “Whispers in East Berlin” is one of her latest photo projects. The cold dark tones of the images speak volume of the nostalgia and reconciliation with the past with all its misappropriations. Those aware of the chapters of the history revisited can witness the distress and its overpowering intensity.

On being asked, Nashalina told us that it was important to capture color in this project to highlight the shadows and darkness yet reveal the vibrancy and beauty of this story. And…

“This project has helped me find a graceful peace about my family’s legacy. It has helped to embrace the things that they have been running from. I believe the ability to use art for a greater good, reflect beauty and reveal the vulnerability of life and humanity is a huge gift. If, with this project, I am close to this ideal, I am blessed.” – Nashalina Schrape

“Whispers in East Berlin” has been featured in many print and online publications. It’s just been selected for an award for Photo Reportage in Berlin.


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