Cover photo: The Olympic Stadium | Heinrich von der Becke Picture Archive in the Berlin Sports Museum (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

Exhibition "Heinrich von der Becke" in the Olympic Park Berlin 2008

Opening speech on November 8, 2008 in the atrium of the former “House of German Sports

Dear ladies and gentlemen, dear Mr. von der Becke, dear Martina, dear Gerd,

I see many old familiar photos with which I grew up in 50 years of sports administration and honorary office and which remind me of Heinrich von der Becke. Since Heinrich von der Becke’s death 11 years ago, this exhibition has been a wish of all of us, the staff of the Sports Museum and the members of the Forum for Sports History as the supporting association of the museum. In the International Month of Photography we fulfill this wish ourselves and thank all who helped, the sponsors, especially the team and their own initiative.

As a small gift from the Landessportbund, I have brought 50 v.d.Becke color slides, which we had purchased in the 1980s for poster series and a school sports calendar and which are now to be returned. I would like to add a warm greeting from our president, Peter Hanisch, who is on vacation.

HvdB was a photographer, reporter, artist, sports lover. He captured victories, defeats and tragedies in pictures. He was one of the few photojournalists who liked to take a camera to children’s and youth sports and accepted such reporting assignments without hesitation, even though there was hardly any money in it. The sporting élan of the youngsters inspired him.
I met him in 1964 when I was looking for photos for the commemorative publication for the centenary of my club, the TuS Neukölln 1865. The choice of photographers who were interested in amateur sports beyond professional sports was greater then than it is today. There were also state reporters who worked for the 12 district picture offices and the state picture office and, of course, took pictures at sporting events. After checking out all the addresses, visiting Schirner, Wolfgang Albrecht and Bruno Scholz, with whom I worked in the youth magazine blickpunkt, I had the first photos together, but really found what I was looking for at HvdB on Lietzenseeufer. He had the photos I was looking for, mainly of youth athletics, such as the Potsdam-Berlin Run, the Wilhelm-Leichum Memorial Sports Festival and the Asseburg Memorial. Since then, contact with him and his wife had not broken off for over 30 years.

At the German Gymnastics Festival in Berlin in 1968, I made the suggestion to appoint HvdB to the jury of the photo competition “Youth Compete”, which I had announced together with my journalistic mentor Erwin Heinold and the Kodak company. Heinrich von der Becke agreed to form the jury together with two well-known colleagues from the rest of Germany, Albrecht Gaebele and Erich Baumann senior. Heinrich v.d. Becke accepted photos that said something about the exciting moments of the sport, but had to be format-filling sharp. His eagerness to experiment was limited, although he shot series of pictures with the Robot and copied them on top of each other. Some motifs from table tennis and gymnastics are in my memory as sports pictures of the year. Protest-modern, i.e. blurred and out of focus, almost in the direction of photographic images – as with Albrecht Gaebele in gymnastics or with Erich Baumann in motor racing – were not his thing at all. I remember very animated technical discussions on the sidelines of our two jury meetings. Each of the three photographers had his own profile, v.d.Becke just preferred to be authentic, exciting, artistic. He pressed the shutter release to the thousandth of a second, but in addition he had a choreographic hand: no shadow play escaped him, no background in front of which he could place his objects if necessary, thus reporter and director at the same time, no photographer.

Professionally, we worked closely together, mostly on call. Whether it was for Sport in Berlin, the LSB 25th anniversary publication, at sporting events and functions, conferences, receptions and honors, or for publications up to large-format posters. When he wasn’t working on attractive large orders or traveling the world, HvdB was reliable and quick to respond. He often came directly from the Olympic swimming stadium to the neighboring Haus des Sports, where he was one of the regular early swimmers. Children and young people in sports – I already mentioned it – were a favorite subject and so he was one of our star photographers when the school competition “Jugend trainiert für Olympia” was founded. Criticism of excessive high-performance sports could be heard from him if anything in sports was unhealthy.

I remember discussions about turning throws in indoor handball as well as the arguments at the time about training children too early in the Eastern bloc countries. He was all-embracingly interested in sports and also in sports politics. Sometimes it was difficult for him to part with his pictures, always wondering where they should appear and with which story. He was doing well with his small company, not overly businesslike, as some colleagues in the writing guild sometimes rumored, perhaps envying his fame. He was not a functionary of the sports journalists’ association, rather a loner, in the truest sense of the word constantly on the road himself. He was not to be found at the counters of the Deutschlandhalle or at the bar of the sports press festivals, so he was no friend of the third half, which was popular with some of the journalists at the time. But in the Deutschlandhalle he was at his best: He shot his master photo at the 6-day race; the breaking of the front wheel, not yet noticed by the athlete himself. It was included in the elaborate library of photography published by Stern. For me, the book “The Dream of Victory – Struggle and Cult in Sports Photography” is still the most beautiful sports book ever.

Heinrich von der Becke made a name for himself not only as a sports photographer. This was, of course, related to the political and economic development of our city in the post-war period: He was one of Berlin’s most successful city reporters and reported in his photos on the reconstruction and blockade of Berlin, the Cold War and the building of the Wall, large-scale rallies, city festivals, the Kennedy visit and student protests, and finally German unity. With his VW, ladder and cap, he was a well-known figure in the city. His photos appeared around the world, from Time-Life to German magazines to daily newspapers. Regularly in the Berliner Morgenpost and the Tagesspiegel. Before that also in the Telegraf, the Tag, the Kurier, the nachtdepesche and the Abend, which were replaced by Bild and BZ at some point in competition.

I remember a cultural festival on Kurfürstendamm in 1977, which my wife attended with our daughter and a friend. The three-year-old was tired and sat down on the curb, wondering who would carry me home now. A photographer with a ladder pulled out his camera. He was, what my wife suspected, HvdB. I called Frau v.d.Becke, and told her “little girl at the curb, day, time and place”. Two days later Heinrich von der Becke brought me the photo, beaming to have accidentally caught my daughter and to be able to do me a favor.

With the completion of the stadium terraces for the Landessportbund and the Sportjugend in 1986, we furnished the halls and corridors of the new building throughout with v.d.Becke photos. They were faithful and constant companions to our visitors and us for more than 20 years. At the beginning of this year they were replaced thanks to a donation: The aging black-and-white photos by Heinrich were replaced by new ones by Jürgen in color. Jürgen Engler, one of the few still freelance sports photographers, has thus also followed in Heinrich von der Becke’s footsteps at the Haus des Sports. The trend in press photography in particular is toward large agencies and teams, and freelancers with no ties are a rarity. Whoever writes today usually has to take pictures at the same time. This is regrettable, as it means that the old tradition of sports photographers is being lost. The Internet does the rest, when thousands of digital photos are available at any time. Copyright and copyright protection are something for warning associations and clever lawyers, the authors have little of it. Heinrich von der Becke always castigated photo theft and led several copyright lawsuits, we often discussed it and he would then really get into a rage. He loved his photos like his children and would not let anyone take one away from him.On the occasion of his 75th birthday during the European Year of Culture Berlin 1988, we honored him with a small exhibition in the Haus des Sports. This included his cameras from a long career. He was proud to be awarded the Zeus plaque of the Sportjugend. I am pleased that this color photo from 1988 is displayed here.
Around the time of German unification, he was restlessly on the move, despite his advanced age and initial ailments. Several photo series, including the one on the 1st Olympic Youth Sports Days in the Olympic Stadium, were completed. One of them with 5 competitive gymnasts and their hoops was choreographically skillfully staged with the shadow play of the Olympic rings. Ten minutes of preparation was needed for the artistic result. All the girls wanted prints, of course.

At some point he told me that he wanted to retire. He bought a computer to organize his life’s work. He then left his archive in its entirety to the Sports Museum. In 1993, he introduced me to a former colleague from the pre-war period, three years older, who had just offered his archive to the Landesbildstelle for sale: Willy Huschke, a sports photographer and war correspondent like von der Becke before 1945, and a well-known photographer for fashion, business and architecture after the war. Willy Huschke lived near the Olympic Stadium and sold us his old glass plate enlarger for our photo lab, there was no such thing 15 years ago. The old gentleman showed me some of his sports photos from the thirties and was full of praise and memories of his long-time famous colleague with the cap. Now both of them are no longer alive. Their estates have remained in Berlin: v.d.Becke here in the Sports Museum, Huschke in the State Archives and with the Fashion segment in the City Museum.

So much for my memories of Heinrich von der Becke. In appreciation of his personality, of what has been shown and heard here, I would like to thank you very much for today’s event – and for listening to me.

Manfred Nippe (Berlin State Sports Federation)

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