|ORWO Neopan Film Data Sheet|
Long ago, in a galaxy far away- well actually it was 1987 in what was the German Democratic Republic, I began a love affair, albeit with a film.
Traveling on a day visa for the first time to the GDR with my friend Christof and his sister, I paid the DM5 for a day visa and exchanged the mandatory DM20 for the local currency, Mark der DDR. Though M20 was roughly worth US$8 it was hard to spend.
The stereotypes of the East Block were that of empty shops and long lines. But at least in the capital of the GDR, neither of those issues were apparent. What was apparent, was that the prices of things were drastically different. Many of the day-to-day things that consumers would want were much less expensive.
I ate and drank far more than I should have. If I remember correctly, a beer at a sit down cafe on "the Alex" was M0,70 (ca. US$ 0.30) or so. I had perhaps the best ice-cream in my life from a street vendor for a few cents (and later again a ho-hum ice-cream in a restaurant.)*
So spending the mandatory M20 wasn't as easy as you'd have thought. In addition, it was illegal to take any GDR currency out of the GDR.
What to do? Well after spending what I could on food and drink, postcards and a magazine we found a camera shop. I bought a few rolls of ORWO NP20. ORWO NP20 was a panchromatic medium speed black and white film.
As I understand the history, as Germany was being partitioned after WWII many of the remaining leaders of industry feared the Soviets. That led to many industries fleeing to the American, British or French occupation zones. And it lead to divided industries straddling the East and West. Perhaps most famously was the Zeiss company with the original headquarters in Jena in the East, and a new Western concern in Oberkochen in the Federal Republic.
Similarly there was AGFA, Germany's biggest photo film manufacturer. Agfa relocated to the West in Leverkusen, and (for legal reasons?) the old factory in Wolfen continued to make films under the moniker ORWO. Orwo was short for ORiginal WOlfen.
In any case, I really came to fall in love with the NP20 (and export NP22) emulsion. They had a rich tonality and an unusual contour sharpness giving a unique look. The other ORWO films weren't shabby either, NP15 a fine grain slow (ISO/ASA 25) and NP27 (ISO/ASA 400) had their merits as well, in addition to being very inexpensive.
Thirty years later and the GDR is gone, film is pretty much irrelevant, and here I am basking in nostalgia.
*it's possible I've conflated parts of this story from my two visits to the GDR, once in 1987 and once in 1989