It is only a dirty plate-glass window, but it is a barrier all the same. The nondescript scene beyond is out of focus because the photographer, instead, has focused, literally, on the window and its ugly mark, perhaps the remains of a poster that has been ripped from the glass.
Schmidt was born in Berlin five months after the German surrender ended World War II in Europe. In 1961, when he was sixteen, the city was decisively split into East and West by the feuding victors of the war, and so it remained until 1989. Although he had lived for a time in East Berlin, Schmidt came of age in the West, where he photographed the city's neighborhoods in a sober style ultimately derived from the American documentary tradition.
This picture belongs to a series of the mid-1980s in which Schmidt abandoned the reserve of his earlier style and radically narrowed the scope of his views so as to deepen their symbolic and emotional force. The Berlin Wall appears in some of the pictures; its presence is felt in all of them. When the Wall came down a few years later, Germans on both sides discovered that the rift Schmidt had evoked still divided them.
Publication excerpt from The Museum of Modern Art, MoMA Highlights, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, revised 2004, originally published 1999, p. 315.