Daily photographs by HANS VON RITTERN, with humorous, artistic and social commentary on life in the big city.

Posts tagged “1983



Mondays on Memory Lane: MY OFFICE VIEWS FROM THE 102nd FLOOR OF WORLD TRADE CENTER SOUTH TOWER – With the advent of the spire topping off and finishing the new World Trade Center Tower, I will tell you what it was like to work in the original towers. In 1983 I got a job on the 102nd floor of the World Trade Center, the south tower. I was senior project manager of a commercial design firm named Dancker, Sellew & Douglas. I worked there with my dear friend Helene Bernicoff. My desk was right near the tall floor to celing windows. It was incredible.

On my first day to work – I was late! I am German, Germans are never late! But I was. You see, I had calculated the exact amount of time it took to take the subway from Rego Park, Queens to the Trade Center. What I had not calculated on was the vertical traveling time. That took an additional 12-15 minutes. By the time you found an express elevator in the rush hour that had room to take you to floors 50 and 100, then, transferred to the local elevator which took you to floors 101 – 110. . . it was 12 to 15 minutes vertical traveling time! To transfer from a “local” to an “express” was something one usually does with trains and buses, not elevators, it was surreal. Then you had to un-pop your ears every morning as you arrived at your desk. (There were 198 elevators in total).
My view was north. I could see the whole of Manhattan, the Chrysler Building, The Empire State Building, Central Park and far into New Jersey. My friends relied on me for weather forecasts. If the radio said it was a sunny afternoon for the park, I would contradict the radio and say, ‘No, no, I see a big dark weather pattern coming in the from the north or the south’. It was fun.
Northeast view from the original World Trade Center Tower. Woolworth Tower below.

Northeast view from the original World Trade Center Tower. Woolworth Tower below.

On stormy days the building would sway in the wind, it had to of course. The girls would complain and say they were getting sea sick…no they weren’t, they just wanted to go home to watch their soap operas. There were 12 lobby elevators which expressly took you to the higher floors, twelve of them. Each was the size of a cattle car – huge! On very stormy days, only the outer corner elevators would be operational because we were told the center 10 car cables were not stable enough to handle the swaying…great to know. Once inside the elevator, even the biggest loudmouth shut up. There was always this “silence” in the elevators.
The elevator banks at the World Trade Center

The elevator banks at the World Trade Center

On those stormy days you had to learn to balance yourself. No, not walking – in the toilet. You see, the water in the bathroom bowl swayed the way it does on a ship in stormy high seas. If you weren’t careful, you’d get a wet bottom.
Since we were a design firm, we had many colored markers at our desks. What we would do, is to attach one of the markers from the ceiling with a string and hang it so the tip would touch a piece of paper on our desk. We would watch the marker make the same pattern on the paper over and over again as the building swayed. As the wind shifted, so did the design on the paper. I wish I had kept on of those papers, but it was a novelty taken for granted in those days. There was always ‘white noise’ in the background, the hum/buzz of the air ventilation systems, it was like being on an eight hour airplane ride daily. To work in the clouds – a memory I will never forget and always treasure.

Historic photo: THE BERLIN WALL FALLS NOV. 9, 1989

“Life is a Cabaret Old Chum?”

This photo was taken by me at the Berlin Wall on the free side of occupied Berlin in 1983. It eerily evokes the 1972 Liza/Fosse film ‘Cabaret’  asking “Life is a Cabaret Old Chum?”. It was scrawled by Y.A.T. – Young Actor’s Theatre. There many Y.A.T’s in the USA, so I don’t know which branch wrote this, but it struck me so. I  wanted to photograph as much of the graffiti on the free side as I could. Sadly the photos are all on film and I have no idea where they are. This one I had framed and remains on my wall in my office.

The memory of this photo I will not forget – at this section of the wall there was a low railing in front of the wall (on the free side), only about 2 feet tall. So I stepped over it, as many had obviously done to graffiti the wall. Directly on the ‘other side’ in East Berlin was a gun tower. As soon as I stepped over the railing to get a close-up photograph of this graffiti, the windows of the gun tower flew open, a machine gun was pointed at me and the East German solder yelled at me “Zurück!”  to get back – on my free side!
When you have a machine gun pointed at you, no matter whether you are on the free or occupied side, you do as they say and I retreated.
I was terribly curious to see what was on the other side, like a child too short to see what’s on the other side of the neighbor’s fence. My family was visiting our relatives in Hamburg, and refused to come with me to West Berlin, since they did not want to see a city divided and warned me not to go to East Berlin since we had had relatives detained at the border – so I defiantly went on my own and crossed the border.
I was the only English speaking tourist on an all German  speaking bus. When we got to Check Point Charlie, I seemed to  fascinate the East German guards and they detained me. They took the film out of my camera, my extra rolls of film, my pen, my newspaper and anything to eat. After being asked a barrage of nonsensical questions I was allowed to rejoin (the now) disgruntled group. Our West German tour guide was told to get off the bus and an East German guide took over.  As we crossed over the border it was literally like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz going from color to black and white. It automatically was bleak and gray. None of the buildings had been sufficiently repaired, many columns were still riddled with bullet holes. Buildings had rust on them everywhere, cement was crumbling, hardly any cars on the road, just rickety bicycles. Why there were even tours, and why the communists would want you to see this bleak existence is beyond me. But, as in a car accident on the road, we stop and look. I stopped, looked and stared.
Then I saw what was said to only be a rumor – people standing in long lines for a single orange. One orange. Photos were forbidden. It was a scene out of every war movie you have ever seen. Heads hung low, shivering, they waited for what was so abundant just a mile away. When we crossed back over to  West Berlin, I saw East German soldiers carrying huge sacks of oranges back to the East side for the privileged few.
I am glad to this day I went, guns and all. It is a part of my German heritage. My great aunt was an opera singer, her sister a pianist in the Berlin State Opera, then located ‘in the east’.  Did I dare tell them it was still riddled with bullet holes in 1983? I said nothing. The day the news broke of the fall of the wall, the euphoria and endless tears were an emotional outburst from my parents who had been through two world wars in that beautiful city.
I have two Berlins in my head. One is of a glorious flourishing opulent city of the roaring 1920’s and 1930’s recounted to me by my parents, the other is of a demolished smoldering heap, remnants of which I had now seen for myself. I am a proud American citizen, equally proud of his German ancestry. Let us always cherish our freedom. . . after all ladies und gentlemen, life IS just a cabaret! . . . isn’t it?
One of the gun towers
(Translation) “Russian – Go piss on yourself!”