I know that there are many admirers of the photographic art of my father Heinrich von der Becke, not only in Germany but all over the world. With this website, I would like to provide uncomplicated access to him and his photos. The Berliner Tagesspiegel once called him “Großer Kleingedruckter”, referring to his role as a “great” among the German press photographers, alluding to the countless small picture references “Foto: v. d. Becke”. For me, and not only for me, he was one of the best sports photographers of his time and I am probably not the only one who calls him an artist.
In his opinion, the prerequisites for a good photo were the following aspects:

were determined by current events. But basically, no matter what event he went to, he always had an idea, a conception of what he wanted to photograph at the moment and from what angle.
Light and shadow
were always aspects of his ideas about how he could achieve certain effects under given lighting conditions with the camera and, if necessary, with additional lighting.

Light and shadow
were always aspects of his ideas about how he could achieve certain effects under given lighting conditions with the camera and, if necessary, with additional lighting.

The man with the cap and his ladder | Picture archive HvdB in the Berlin Sports Museum

For him, sharpness was an exclusion criterion for good or bad photos. He used to use the term “Magnum” to denigrate photos that were calculatedly taken out of focus.

The Moment
To catch the decisive moment and press the shutter release – he succeeded very often in his photographic life, as the pictures on these pages prove.

The angle of view
that had to be well thought out beforehand. He was often in a kneeling position but also sitting, standing and lying down – taking pictures from a frog’s and bird’s eye view, so to speak. There was also a period when the sports photographer could always be found on the pitch with a ladder. This was sometimes annoying, but it gave him a much better view and position when taking pictures.

Six-Day Race (panorama montage 1956) | Heinrich v. d. Becke Picture Archive in the Berlin Sports Museum

I have fond memories of the photo shoots (although they weren’t called that yet) at the Sports Palace for the Six-Day Race. As a 16-year-old, I was allowed to accompany my father and helped him carry the heavy batteries for the flash units, because he was already working with 2 flash units at that time. We moved into a very specific position that he had chosen days before. That was professional and impressed me at the same time.

I wish you good entertainment while reading further biographical notes and information on stations in the life of Heinrich von der Becke, as well as the insightful explanations of the competent authors under the menu item “Articles“.Let yourself be seduced by the “small” selection of perhaps the most beautiful photos of the master. However, when looking at them, remember that most of the pictures date back to a time when photos were still analogue, were taken with a plate camera or roll film and developed in the darkroom with chemicals. Back then, no one had even thought of the internet, let alone Instagram.

Ludwig von der Becke

Essential stations

1929 bis 1933
Trained as a sports press photographer at Pressefoto Schirner in Berlin.

Employee at Presse-Bild-Zentrale Braemer & Güll (PBZ) in Berlin.

Olympic Games
Grafik: Plakat mit zwei Läufern hinter zwei Flaggen und div. Schriftzügen.

Olympic Games in Berlin and Garmisch-Partenkirchen from 6 to 16 February 1936. With participants from 28 countries, there was a new record number of participants.




(Poster: Ludwig Hohlwein, 1874-1949)

II. World War
Ein Fotograf mit Helm, Gasmaske um den Hals und im Militärmantel schaut durch das Visier seiner Plattenkamera auf den Fotografen. Er sitzt, gestützt auf Gesteinsbrocken in einer kargen felsigen Landschaft.

Infantryman and photojournalist in the propaganda company PK 501.

More pictures from this period can be found in the Federal Archives.

Foundation of the company “Heinrich von der Becke – Pressefoto”.
Foundation of the company “Heinrich von der Becke – Pressefoto”.

After the end of the war he worked with Kindermann & Co from 08 May to September 1945. On 01 October 1945 Heinrich von der Becke founded his own company.

(Photo: Here the company sign from Lietzensee-Ufer 3 in Berlin, the company headquarters for many years.)

PHOTOKINA – International Photo and Cinema Exhibition
Grafik: Logo mit Schriftzügen links, daneben div. Text und darunter div. Unterschriften. Alles auf grünlichem Hintergrund.
1951, 1956 und 1958

In thanks and appreciation for the photographic achievements.

Olympic Games
Grafik: fünf miteinander verbundene Kreise in den Farben Blau, Schwarz, Rot, Gelb und Grün, wobei drei Kreise in der oberen Reihe und zwei Kreise in der unteren Reihe liegen.
1952 - 1976

1952 Helsinki (summer) – Oslo (winter), 1956 Melbourne – Stockholm (riding) – Cortina d’Ampezzo, 1960 Rome – Squaw Valley, 1964 Tokyo – Innsbruck, 1968 Mexico – Grenoble, 1972 Munich – Sapporo, 1976 Montral – Innsbruck

Olympics Photo Competition
Stabhochspringer mit einer Körperhälfte bereits über der Hochsprunglatte. Der Athlet hat den Stab losgelassen. Der Stab steht noch fast senkrecht.

2nd prize for the picture of pole vaulter Manfred Preussker at the 1958 European Championships in Stockholm.

Grand Prix of the “SPORT-IL­LUS­TRIER­TE”
Fotomontage: Urkunde mit u. a. rotem Schriftzug „Das Sportbild des Jahres“ daneben rechts unten Foto mit Sportboot und hilfesuchendem Mann im Wasser.

Sports Picture of the Year for the picture “Capsized” from the Verband Deutscher Sportpresse e.V. It won 2nd prize in the category “Sports-Feuilleton-Pictures”.

Photo Competition of the Association of German Sports Journalists VDS
Beim Versuch, mit seinem Pferd das Hindernis am Wassergraben zu überspringen, stürzen Reiter und Pferd kopfüber in den Wassergraben. Erschrocken blickende Zuschauer im Hintergrund.

1st prize and Sport Photo of the Year for the picture “Falling into the moat” at the Horse Performance Show in Berlin-Spandau. H. Henning fell with Obir.

Photo Competition of the Association of German Sports Journalists VDS
Zwei Turner gehen am Mattenrand entlang und blicken nach links auf den Turner in Aktion. Der schwebt beinahe horizontal zwischen ihnen mit angelegten Armen.

A total of 5 prizes in this competition for “Luftikus” (see photo) as sports picture of the year and 1st prize in the category sports feuilleton as well as 4th prize in the same category with “Freude über den 2. Platz”. In the category Sport Fight Pictures 1st prize for “He kisses the ground” and 2nd prize for “Siamese twins”. The pictures and further details on the Photos page.

Bildmontage: Urkunde mit Logo beiger Punkt und Kreis auf rotem Viereck sowie div. Schriftzügen. Davor unten rechts Foto mit 2 Sporttandemfahrern.

Annual competition for the press photos of the year and competition for the photojournalist of the year. Exhibition from 17 Mar to 08 Apr 1969.

Photo Competition of the Association of German Sports Journalists VDS
Torwart horizontal in der Luft, streckt sich hinter sich nach dem Fußball, der den rechten Außenpfosten außen touchiert.

2 pictures by HvdB selected by the jury: in the category football campaign pictures “The saving post” (see photo) received the 2nd prize and “The pacemaker” in the category sports feature pictures the 5th place. More on the Photos page.

Award of the Federal Cross of Merit on ribbon
12 Männer und eine Frau stehen in einem Halbkreis in Fotopose mit Blick zum Betrachter

At the suggestion of the Governing Mayor Klaus Schütz, Gustav Heinemann also honoured Heinrich von der Becke (far left in the picture) and another 15 Berlin journalists with the Federal Cross of Merit on Ribbon. Among them were Bernt Conrad (WELT editorial staff), Dr Karl Heinz Brinkmann (Tagesspiegel), Claus Werner Caro (BZ), Harry Croner (photo journalist), Erich Grohmann (cameraman), Harald Karas (Abendschau), Herbert Koch and Dr Peter Pechel (SFB), Günter Linke (Deutschlandfunk) and Gabriele von Mirbach (dpa).

Award of the Zeus Medal
Lachender älterer Mann mit Brille und in Anzug hält Medaille in den Händen. Dahinter steht lachende Frau.

Head of Department Sylvia Tromsdorf of the Landessportbund Berlin e.V. awards Heinrich von der Becke the Zeus Medal of the Berlin Sports Youth on his 75th birthday on 20 March 1988.

Sports Badge of the German Sports Federation
Zwei Männer mit Anzug und Krawatte lächeln sich freundlich beim Akt der Urkundenübergabe an. Der Mann rechts hält eine Urkundenmappe und eine Urkundenschachtel in den Händen.

On 30 May 1988, Heinrich von der Becke receives the bronze sports plaque of the German Sports Federation (DSB) for special services in the promotion of sports, presented by Manfred von Richthofen, then President of the DSB.

Honorary member of the VDS
Grafik: verzierter Schriftzug UKUNDE darunter div. Schriftzüge mit u. a. Unterschriften umrahmt mit Verzierung.

Honorary member of the VERBAND DEUTSCHER SPORTJOURNALISTEN e.V. in recognition of his great services to sports journalism on March 12, 1991.

Sale picture archive
Grafik: schwarze Schriftzüge SPORTMUSEUM und SPORTMETROPOLE untereinander schwarz umrahmt. Darunter schwarz umrahmter Schriftzug BERLIN in rot und rechts daneben Silhouette eines stehenden Bären. Alle Rahmen miteinander verbunden.

In February 1997, the picture archive was sold to the Berlin Sports Museum, Olympiapark Berlin.

These notes by Heinrich von der Becke exist about his life, his professional career, as well as the photographic equipment, photographic production and photojournalism of the time.

At the end of the so-called “Golden Twenties” – it was in the spring of 1928 – I was hired as a commercial apprentice at the sports picture agency Max Schirner in Berlin-Charlottenburg. It was my goal to become a press photographer.

My father had insisted on signing an apprenticeship contract and I also had to register for the commercial vocational school. The apprenticeship fee: 15 marks in the first year, 30 marks in the second year and 50 marks in the third year. Schirner, incidentally one of the co-founders of the Sportclub Charlottenburg, already had a good name in the illustration business at that time. He was not only a good (not trained) photographer and a good businessman at the same time.

He employed numerous staff in the photo lab, in the office permanently and freelance photographers, who were called “operators” at that time. He not only supplied Berlin daily newspapers and sports magazines, but made a daily dispatch all over Germany and also abroad. There were also already relationships with foreign picture agencies. Schirner only had competition in Berlin from a few independent sports photographers, the best known of whom is the name Riebcke.

Plate camera 9×12 with adjustable elevator and folding frame viewfinder | Origin / Rights Industrie- und Filmmuseum Wolfen (CC BY-NC-SA)

I took my first pictures as an apprentice at a sporting event, the Berlin championships in forest running. I was handed a 9/12 plate camera with an interchangeable cassette containing 12 glass plates and was guided by an older, freelance “operator” who took pictures with a 13/18 Contessa-Nettel.

By chance I managed to get a relatively sharp photo, although the lighting conditions were exceptionally poor. The reasons: my 9/12 camera had a rather lame focal plane shutter that worked slower than the set speed of 1/350th of a second. The photo was taken at a point on the course that was somewhat uphill, forcing the runners to move slowly. After developing in the lab, it turned out that the shots my older colleague had taken were very underexposed and not printable. My negatives were usable.
The next morning I could see my first sports photo printed in the newspaper. It had come about through a chain of fortunate circumstances.

In the first months of my apprenticeship, I mostly had to work in the photo lab. The enlargement of 9/12 plates on 13/18 paper was done by the lab assistant. In the darkroom I learned to develop the pictures, had to put them in the fixing bath and then rinse them. The pictures were dried in a cupboard with gas heating on black lacquered metal plates. Often pictures got stuck on them. The plates had to be cleaned with benzene. At that time, no one knew about harmful benzene fumes. It was not until the end of the 1930s that the first electrically operated drying drums made of metal were available.

Large-format plate cameras in use | Heinrich von der Becke Picture Archive in the Berlin Sports Museum

At that time, photographers were still using large-format plate cameras of the formats 18/24, 13/18, 10/15, 6 ½ by 9 and 4 ½ by 6. But the 35 mm cameras – especially Leica and Contax – were becoming more and more popular. At the Olympic Games in Garmisch Partenkirchen they even had an advantage over the plate cameras because their focal plane shutters worked better in very cold weather. Our chief lab technician at the time at the Pressebildzentrale Berlin, who was a trained master photographer, did not think much of 35mm film at first. When I brought him my first 35mm film, he scolded me: “What are you doing with a flypaper already?
At the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin, all the colleagues who used 35mm cameras with long focal lengths had an advantage. The coveted indoor special passes were issued in very limited numbers. The majority of all photographers had to work from the stands.

Street Fight on the Madrid Front | Heinrich von der Becke Picture Archive in the Berlin Sports Museum

After the end of the Olympic Games in Berlin, my next assignment was photo coverage of the Spanish Civil War. An interpreter from the Ministry of Propaganda accompanied me to Spain and stayed with me until I had my accreditation in Burgos, the seat of Franco-loyal northern Spain. I stayed in Spain for nine months, got to know the Madrid front and the southern front as far as Marbella.

From 1928 to 1935 I worked for the Schirner company, then until the beginning of the war in 1939 for the press photo centre in Berlin, which was completely bombed out in the last year of the war. From the first day of the war, I was a tank destroyer with Infantry Regiment 68. After the Polish campaign and the West Wall, I was transferred to the propaganda company. After several wounds and rehabilitation, I went to war school in Potsdam and became an infantryman again. Because I had no intention of becoming an officer, I left the war school in Schwerin on Good Friday 1945, 1 April.

I had previously arranged with three very good comrades to leave our unit. But we each had a different goal. We were all members of propaganda companies. First Lieutenant Krafft – until that time NS commanding officer – had managed to get the necessary papers for himself and three others, including my friend Otto Kunkel, also a radio reporter, to enable me to come to Berlin – and with a marching order, with which I could also get ration cards.

I was the only one to go to Berlin, the other three to Hamburg, Düsseldorf and Frankfurt. According to our calculations, the war could last another 14 days or three weeks at most. That same afternoon I visited Neue Kantstr. 9 in Berlin Charlottenburg. My PK comrade Henne had given me this address. He knew that my flat in Berlin-Lichterfelde had been bombed out and practically put his at my disposal.
A friendly young lady opened the door for me at Neue Kantstr. 9. It was Fräulein Thea Wabra (his later wife – editor’s note) who was in charge of this flat. I put down some of my luggage and said goodbye again to visit friends in Berlin. I was given the keys to the flat and did not report back until a few days later.

Heinrich and Thea marry in September 1945 and found their own company. Heinrich takes photographs and Thea works in the office and the archive.

Until the capitulation and the occupation of our district, there were still many exciting situations for Thea and for me, but with a lot of luck we survived everything safe and sound. After the Russians had entered Berlin, I started working with Klaus Kindermann, with whom I had spent my apprenticeship at Max Schirner. He still had his intact office and laboratory and took private photos of Russian soldiers who paid with food.As early as spring 1945, there was the Soviet-licensed “Berliner Zeitung”. I was allowed to work for this paper after a short time and also soon made reporting trips within the Soviet-occupied zone. When the four sectors were officially established in the summer, there were also American, French and British newspapers. The Russians meanwhile published the “Illustrierte Rundschau” and the “Berliner Illustrierte”. Gradually it became more and more difficult to work in the eastern sector, and then came the blockade period and the almost complete separation from the East.

There followed a period of good cooperation both with the Berlin daily newspapers and with Time-Life and with the numerous West German illustrated magazines. Our small company then had employees in the office, in the laboratory, a representative who brought the pictures to the editorial offices and now and then freelancers and permanent volunteers. My wife did all the work in the office and in the archives, plus the household and looking after the children. (Note: Without the grandmother this would probably not have been possible).

There were plenty of trips to West Germany and abroad. By visiting 13 Olympic Games, including Helsinki, Stockholm, Rome, Cortina d’Ampezzo, Melbourne, Squaw Valley, Tokyo, Sapporo and Innsbruck (2) and Montreal, the circle of vision expanded quite a bit. But there was not only sports photography. Everything important that happened in Berlin from 1945 to 1992 was captured in pictures:

  • the activities of the Allies in Berlin, a complete documentation of the Berlin Wall from the first stone to its demolition
  • numerous political events
  • visits by great statesmen
  • international congresses and exhibitions
  • the Berlin Film Festival
  • important artists, painters, sculptors, musicians, architects, dance tournaments, concerts, jazz and rock’n’roll

in fact everything that seemed important to me in Berlin and elsewhere completed my archive.

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