Strangers in Berlin: Breaking the Ice During Social Distancing

With the new social distancing measures during the extended second lockdown, the idea of meeting a stranger is pretty much a contradiction. But how come the craving for social interactions is so big right now? Is it the season, is it the allure of something forbidden, or a simple case of “you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone”?

Visual artist Tanya Sharapova has decided to explore this idea as a reaction to the second lockdown which has proven to be such an odd and testing time. The first lockdown already prompted a string of artists to come out with wonderful photo series such as the window photos from Lovis Ostenrik, the daytime/nighttime outfits by Kseniya Apresyan, the nude social distancing portrait by Aja Jacques, and the Together A Part series by AnaHell and Nathalie Dreier. But the second lockdown has been quieter in terms of creative output – even for ourselves. So we are glad to be able to share Tanya’s series “Strangers” here with you.

The lack of social interactions has given her some time to face her own fears – one of which being her fear of approaching strangers for portraits here in Berlin. She noticed it’s much harder here compared to Russia, the Himalayas, or South East Asia where she worked as a travel and portrait photographer for National Geographic and Conde Nast Traveler before. I can totally relate to that from my time as a party photographer back in the early days of iHeartBerlin. There is such a big difference between Berliners, who really don’t like to be photographed, and practically any other place in the world, where people even asked me to take pictures of them. In Berlin people are just so skeptical about photos, I can totally understand that Tanya feels insecure, awkward, and shy to approach them. Good for her, that the second lockdown became an opportunity to challenge that.

Since November she has been zooming around the city now looking for strangers that attract her attention – on some days with more luck than on others. Over time, the initial idea of developing the courage to approach people transformed into capturing the diversity of characters that you find in Berlin with her film camera. “Basically, I’m looking for the reflection of myself in all these stranger’s faces and it’s really interesting to observe who I chose to photograph,” she says. “This project turned out to be the perfect tool to fight the grey winter boredom and to find things to do when the possibilities of working as a photographer are quite limited.”

The photos she has been publishing so far on her Instagram are fantastic and the Berliners she finds are amazing. As the analog film she uses and the printing is quite pricey she started a little fundraiser to support the continuation of the project. If you like her work, it would be great if you’d consider supporting her!

Below you’ll find a selection from her ongoing portrait series with some commentary of her or quotes from each stranger. Enjoy!

Day 14.
“I’ve deleted Instagram from my phone. I felt it was too much.”


Day 4.
“I have had dogs of the same breed for 50 years. This is the seventh.”


Day 2.
“I can connect people. I live here for 7 years and I know a lot of different people, who probably need each other”.


Day 28.
“Do people in Russia not go to churches?”


Day 26.
“On Monday I will go to Portugal, to spend a winter there.”


Day 24.
Harman Sidhu.
“Have you been to Golden temple?”


Day 23.
“You don’t need to fly to the moon. It’s not made of cheese.”


Day 22.
“We were dancing.”


Day 21.
“There are no people there”.


Day 48.
“I have pussies on my hands.”


Day 33.
“I’m too old.”


Day 46.
I met Chris on my way to the photo lab. He was juggling at the intersection of Tempelhofer Ufer and Mehringdamm. My English, German or Russian languages didn’t work out. Chris spoke only Spanish. But he was pretty good at using Google translate. The only thing I managed to find out that he came to Berlin 10 days ago.


Day 16.
“Can I take a photo of you?”


Day 43.
“She would have played better with her jacket off.”


Day 12.
“Mississippi river starts 40 minutes driving from my home place.”


Day 11.
No name.
“Kein Englisch, ich bin Türke. Ich verstehe Ihr Deutsch, alles gut. ” (No English, I’m Turkish. I understand your German, it is ok.)
This Turkish woman and this place suited each other perfectly, but she didn’t want the portrait to be done. We found a compromise.


Day 10.
“I live in Wilmersdorf. During the second lockdown, I decided to explore Berlin’s parks. About Hasenheide I knew that it is a place for parties. My son told me: ‘You should be careful. There they could sell you hash.'”


Day 38.
“I make movies, mostly dark movies.”


Day 35.
Hugh and Ewald.
That day I had a hangover. I left my place two hours before the light would disappear. Biked around Kreuzberg. Didn’t find any interesting faces to photograph. So I selected one street and started biking there like a squirrel in a wheel, forward and back. It seemed it could work out this way. And then this white fur hat appeared. And two beers in two hands. For my tired head, they looked like salvation. I crossed the street towards the sense of a righteous fall from grace. Both looked like real characters. The boys came to Berlin from the small German city Weimar a couple of days before. The one in a white hat has sold his sculpture for a movie scene which was filmed here in Berlin. The fact of getting 600 Euros for the piece of art seemed terrific to his friend in the glasses, he was thrilled.
“And how did you manage to sell your sculpture to be part of a movie?” I asked.
“Once, I draw six portraits in a half year and gifted all these portraits away. One of the portraits turned up in a Berlin apartment. Someone noticed it and said – I want this guy to make a sculpture for our movie.”


Day 40.
Georg was my personal Santa. One day I thought that to better study German I really need an old-school paper dictionary. And the next day he gifted it to me. Just opened his bag, asking in German – maybe you need this book? I thought it would be something about some Christian mission, with which he came to meet at Brandenburger Tor. But no. Wirklich, ich brauche dieses Buch!


For more portraits of the ongoing series check Tanya’s Instagram and if you like it support her crowdfunding project here.


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<a href="" target="_self">Frank</a>



Frank is the founder and editor-in-chief of iHeartBerlin. He takes photos, makes videos, and writes texts mostly about what's going on in Berlin. His vision and interests have shaped iHeartBerlin since its conception back in 2007 - and he hopes to continue bringing you the best of Berlin for many years to come.