East Side Gallery

Monday, September 15, 2014

If you come to Berlin as a tourist, this is a place unlikely to be missed. After having seen Alexanderplatz, Checkpoint Charlie, Brandenburger Tor, one needs to take a relaxed stroll down this section of the Berlin Wall. It's located close to the center, in Friedrichshein, along the river Spree. It's the longest open air gallery in the world (1.3 km long, which is also the largest remaining section of the Wall). 

After the Wall came down in 1989, artists from all over the world gathered to make this unique and original piece of art. They transformed the former untouchable Wall with bright paintings and activist messages, celebrating life, joy, freedom and hope. 

In 2009 some of the murals had to be renovated, because they had been damaged by erosion, graffiti and vandalism. Judging from some photos I could find online, people really had no respect for the art and it was really covered in graffiti. Some of the paintings were copied by the authors; others were copied without their authors' permission. It seems to me that the paintings are in a good state now; however, there are still numerous little graffiti and signatures here and there, and you can even see a photo of girls signing on the Gallery below. I guess the nature of this site and the fact that it's not a 'real' indoor gallery, but open and accessible to everyone, misleads people in thinking it's not real art. But I still don't really understand the need to sign your name in a public place just so everyone who doesn't know you sees you've been there... or you see it yourself when you come back. Seriously?

The photo above is the one I think is photographed the most - at least by the tourists, and when you're walking by it, you have to stop as at least two people are taking photo of it at that very moment. It's a painting of Leonid Brezhnev and Erich Honecker, communist leaders, painted by Dmitri Vrubel; it's actually inspired by a true event, their kiss at the celebration of 30 years of the foundation of the German Democratic Republic in 1979. The painting is a really good reproduction of the photo (which is why it was sometimes criticized), and it says in Russian and German "My God, help me to survive this deadly love".

They say the East Side Gallery is a place where art has become the expression of the time it was made in, place where old and new meet: an old Berlin and the new one, a separated Germany and a unified Germany. Well, it definitely makes you think while you're walking along. And I read somewhere in an urban weekend guide through Berlin that you shouldn't walk along the whole Gallery because it's a waste of time. I couldn't agree less. Firstly, I think it's really personal whether you would want to see every painting; and secondly, 20-minutes-walk is hardly any waste of time. If you're visiting Berlin, just do what suites you best. :)



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