Leonard Freed documented social landscapes and historical sites in Germany for over fifty years, from the onset of the Berlin Crisis through the end of the Cold War. In August 1961, while working on his book, Deutsche Juden Heute (German Jews Today), about Jews who returned to Germany after the Holocaust, Freed traveled from his apartment in Amsterdam to Berlin upon hearing the news that East German forces were building a wall through the middle of the city. He photographed along the newly fortified border and fixed his camera on American G.I.s assigned to inspect the Wall’s construction. On this trip, Freed viewed the Wall peripherally with one significant exception. Freed captured an image of an unnamed African-American solider standing near the intersection of Charlottenstrasse and Zimmerstrasse with the new Wall blocking the horizon. This encounter haunted Freed and inspired him to return to America to photograph the civil rights movement.
Freed opens his landmark 1968 photobook Black in White America with the resulting photograph and adds the caption: “We, he and I, two Americans. We meet silently and part silently. Between us, impregnable and as deadly as the wall behind him, is another wall. It is there on the trolley tracks, it crawls along the cobble stones, across frontiers and oceans, reaching back home, back into our lives and deep into our hearts: dividing us, wherever we meet. I am White and he is Black.” Freed’s photographs and observations on the Berlin Wall were also included in several of his other books, including Made in Germany (1970), Time-Life: Berlin (1977), and the posthumous Re-Made: Reading Leonard Freed (2013), the latter including previously unpublished images from Freed’s documentation of the dismantling of the border system in November 1989 and German reunification in 1990.