On the evening of November 9th 1989, East Germans would flood across the Berlin Wall in the first unrestricted movement into Western Germany since the 1950s. They took to the wall with chisels and hammers, beginning the demolition process that would be completed by the government in November 1991. However, there are a few places where you can still see the Berlin Wall – the largest and most famous being the East Side Gallery.
In 1990, shortly after the borders were opened, artists from all over the world flooded to Berlin to use the east side of this stretch of the wall as a canvas. Some political, some simply an expression of happiness, the paintings stand as a message of freedom in stark contrast to the white and grey rectangles that were the wall’s only decoration previously.
Many of the paintings were restored in 2009 before the 20th anniversary celebrations which is why a lot of these pictures show the wall in remarkably good condition. When I visited in June, I was impressed at how the meaning of the paintings generally wasn’t obscured by other graffiti and it was pretty amazing to walk down the street taking in the art.
Mauerspringer (“The Wall Jumper”) was one of the paintings restored by its original artist, Gabriel Heimler in 2009. It reminded me of how the wall once wasn’t an expression of freedom and hope but a barrier that many risked death to cross. It’s less easy to forget this at other sections of the wall – for example, at the Topography of Terror exhibition where it seems much closer to it’s original grey and imposing state.
One of the most well known paintings at the East Side Gallery is “My God, Help Me to Survive This Deadly Love” or ‘The Kiss’ depicting a famous photograph of East German President Erich Honecker and Soviet Leader Leonid Brezhnev practising the socialist fraternal kiss. The image has become iconic and was also repainted in 2009 by the original artist Dmitri Vrubel.
My personal favourite of them all is “Ohne Titel” (‘Untitled’) by Gamil Gimajew.
You’ll see a lot of photos of people in front of this abstract riot of colour – it takes a pretty awesome photograph!
The East Side Gallery was one of my favourite sights in Berlin – and there’s a lot to see – so even if you’re only there for a short time, I’d highly recommend making the effort to check it out. As it’s open air, it’s free to access and close to an S-Bahn / couple of U-Bahn stations.
Have you ever been to Berlin? What was your favourite sight there?