The Fraternal Kiss

In 1979, Régis Bossu, a freelance photographer for European Stars and Stripes, Stern, Spiegel, and Sygma, went East Berlin to photograph the festivities of the 30th anniversary of the Deutsche Demokratische Republik — East Germany. The celebrations’ guest of honor was the aging Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev.

When Brezhnev finished his speech, East German President Erich Honecker opened his arms to congratulate him with a big kiss, a normal ritual for socialist comrades.  (But both Honecker and Brezhnev were a little more enthusiastic than your average Communist dictator in kissing. A contemporary joke runs such: Brezhnev was commenting about a foreign leader, “As a politician, rubbish… but what a good kisser!”) A dozen photographers were there to capture this moment, but it was Régis who captured two men at the decisive moment. Many magazines used it immediately, and Paris Match devoted double pages to it, with a caption “The Kiss”.

In the euphoric weeks following the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989, artists from all over the world gathered flocked to Ostbahnhof to paint on the eastern side of the Berlin Wall. In a lampoon of Socialist Realism, a Soviet artist, Dmitri Vrubel, painted the kiss there with a caption: “God help me to survive this deadly love affair.” (Vrubel saw the photo in an old Paris Match). It became one of the most famous pictures on Berlin’s East Side Gallery as that long stretch of wall is now called, and when it was erased by the government in 2009, the public uproar led to Vrubel being invited to repaint it.

Bossu’s and Vrubel’s image was repeatedly copied, re-photographed and re-published, and printed on T-shirts, towels and other memorabilia. A Berlin hotel took it as its logo. According to Bossu, “The Kiss,” has been re-published more than 500 times. See Bossu and Vrubel posing with their respective images in front of the erased section of the Wall here.

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