Friday, April 19, 2013

How to misinterpret a photograph

A couple of days ago, Commander Chris Hadfield, an astronaut currently on board the International Space Station, tweeted a photograph of Berlin by night, remarking on how it still shows the old east-west divide. The next day, The Telegraph picked up this image, and journalist Jeevan Vasagar (who is apparently in Berlin) waxed lyrical on this image, and came to an interesting conclusion. According to him, it “highlights the higher levels of commercial activity in the west”.

Does it?

Here’s the image as reprinted by The Telegraph:

According to the article, the bright lights in the government quarter and along West Berlin’s premier shopping boulevard the Kurf├╝rstendamm contrast with the “softer, yellow glow in the east”. This rather implies that the intrepid journalist believes that the yellow lights are dimmer than the whiter ones, and (although this is a bit ambiguous) that all the bright white lights are either in the west, or in the government quarter.

First, the “softer, yellow glow”. It was a commenter on The Telegraph going by the name of “george” who had the simple idea of desaturating the image — taking the colour out of it. “Find the line of wall now!” he said:

Not so easy. So now, where was the wall exactly? The article suggests all you need do is draw a line where yellow meets white, but in fact there’s a whole mass of white that is actually in former East Berlin; basically, the district of Mitte, central Berlin, where most of the tourists go. I’ve done my best to draw in where the wall went: it may not be completely accurate, but it’s good enough.

So now where are most of the bright lights? Clearly, there’s not much in it at all. In the west, the bright lights are stretched out into a long thin line, while in the east they’re in a large cluster. Now let me just add a few labels (you may need to click to make it readable):

The government quarter straddles the border just north of the Brandenburg Gate and is actually relatively poorly lit, save for a particularly bright spot which I first thought must be the Reichstag, but on reflection is more likely to be the helipad on the Chancellory. Stretching eastwards from the Brandenburg Gate is East Berlin’s main street, Unter den Linden, and you can clearly see where it intersects with Friedrichstrasse. The focal point of East Berlin is Alexanderplatz, which is ablaze. Potsdamer Platz is a new development on former No Man’s Land, while the Culture Forum, just to the west, is where the Philharmonic, the Chamber Music Hall, the State Library, the Crafts Museum and the National Gallery are located.

So there it is: contrary to what one newspaper would have you believe, East Berlin is looking very bright these days.

1 comment:

  1. At first I thought, they would distinguish between the electric street lights in the east and the gas lights in the west. — Yes, most small streets and even some of the main roads in the formerly western part of Berlin are still illuminated with gas lights.