War and peace in Hanoi – a German lensman’s perspective


From babies born in bunkers to daily scenes of a peaceful life, Thomas Billhardt captures a time of poignant contrasts in Hanoi.

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Thomas Billhardt first came to Vietnam with a group of movie makers from the German Democratic Republic (DDR) in 1967. Seeing the devastation of the war, the bomb craters, destroyed buildings and the sounds of air raids and sirens calling for people to take cover first hand, Billhardt took photos as the capital city was subjected to the U.S. Army’s Operation Rolling Thunder, the intense bombing campaign against the north of Vietnam. The above photograph is of a Vietnamese soldier in the northwestern area of Hanoi in 1967.

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Children look up from inside a bomb bunker outside Hanoi’s Metropole hotel in 1968. Bomb bunkers were set up at many locations across the capital city during the 1965 – 1972 period. These bunkers were built on both pavements of major streets to help residents reach one as quickly as possible.

130 photos of Hanoi from 1967 to 1975, taken by Billhardt, are showcased at an exhibition at Manzi Art Space in the capital city, from October 3 to November 15, 2020.

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Children born in a bunker in 1967.

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A boy attends an outdoor painting class in Hanoi.

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The headquarter of the State Bank of Vietnam in 1972.

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Pedestrians, cyclists, manually pulled carts and a bus on a Hanoi street in 1975.

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Two women on the upper floor of a rundown old house in 1975. Typically, the ground floor of such houses was used to run a business and the upper floor served as the residence.

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Hanoians have breakfast outdoors near the Hoan Kiem Lake in 1975.

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A kindergarten teacher and her wards at the Dien Hong Garden in 1975.

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People watch a football match at the Hang Day Stadium in 1975. The stadium was opened in August 1958. It had 14 entrance gates with a football pitch, volleyball and basketball courts and could hold around 20,000 spectators. Its structure remains virtually the same until today with some upgrades done in the 1990s.

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Hang Dao Street in 1975. Located downtown, the 260m long Hang Dao was “Rue de la Soie” (Silk Street) during the French colonial times. The street was famous for stores selling silk and hosted a tramway line running from the Hoan Kiem Lake to the Hang Dau Garden. It was the main street among the 36 guild streets that made up Hanoi’s Old Quarter.

The tramline no longer exists and the street has numerous stores selling clothes of all kinds.

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A tram in 1975. The city’s first two tramway lines were jointly inaugurated in November 1901, and trams became a popular form of public transportation for Hanoians.

Billhardt returned to Vietnam six times after 1975 and published four photo books. He organized a “Vietnam War” exhibition in 1999 and returned to the capital city in 2003 for another exhibition and to meet people in his old photos.

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Bustling Trang Tien Street in downtown Hanoi during the 1967 – 1975 period. It was the most modern street in Hanoi then, connecting the Opera House and the Hoan Kiem Lake.

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St. Joseph’s Cathedral on Nha Chung Street. The church was one of the first structures built by the French colonial government in Indochina. It opened in 1886.

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Children walk hand in hand, wearing rolled straw hats. During the war, children wore these hats as a guard against shrapnel.

e.VnExpress

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