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  • Writer's pictureFrancesca Ramsay, MA

A Brief History of The Berlin Wall’s East Side Gallery Memorial

What is the East Side Gallery?

The East Side Gallery is over a kilometre of street art on one of the last remaining sections of the Berlin Wall, which was first erected in 1961.

Test the Best (Trabant) by Birgit Kinder at the East Side Gallery

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What’s on the East Side Gallery wall?

This vibrant monument to the fall of the Berlin Wall and the reunification of Germany is over 1.3 kilometres long. Here you’ll find more than a hundred murals painted on a section of what was originally the wall’s east side. These lively and uplifting images are a diverse mix of surrealism, political statement, graffiti and street art. Don’t miss Russian artist Dmitri Vrubel’s My God, Help Me to Survive This Deadly Love, also known as the Fraternal Kiss, which depicts Soviet premier Leonid Brezhnev kissing East German leader Erich Honecker. This was a special form of greeting between Eastern bloc politicians, the rather passionate embrace demonstrating the special connection between all Socialist countries. Birgit Kinder’s Trabant (above) is another wonderful mural to look out for, though it’s hard to miss this dramatic depiction of a car crashing straight through the concrete.

The feat of creativity that makes up the East Side Gallery is thanks to 118 artists from 21 different countries. It commemorates a time of great change and hope for Germany’s future. And with more than three million visitors a year, it is now one of the city’s most popular attractions.

East Side Gallery History

People began painting this surviving stretch just a few days after the wall fell on the 9th of November 1989. But it was only when artists David Monty and Heike Stephan presented the idea of an open-air gallery to the Ministry of Defence, that they were formally given this section of wall to use for this creative purpose. The East Side Gallery opened at the end of September 1990.

But this wasn’t the first time the Berlin Wall had been used as a canvas. Street artist Thierry Noir had actually begun painting the west side of the wall illegally in 1984. His revolutionary act inspired other artists to do the same, and over the next five years the west side of the Berlin Wall was covered with images, subverting it from a symbol of oppression to one of courage and optimism. You can see Noir’s delightfully gormless colour-pop faces at the East Side Gallery in his work Homage to the Young Generation (below).

Homage to the Young Generation by Thierry Noir at the East Side Gallery

Just a year after opening, the gallery was placed under monument protection. Out in the open air, the murals are completely exposed to the weather, and they don’t appreciate those bitingly cold Berlin winters! Ongoing efforts are being made to preserve the wall’s important message for future generations.

Not only the longest open-air gallery in the world, it’s also the longest continuous section of the Berlin Wall still in existence. The East Side Gallery stretches along the banks of the River Spree, from Oberbaum Bridge to Ostbahnhof train station. This makes the monument one of the last remaining relics of Berlin’s border fortifications, a reminder of the city’s 28-year division. But, just as importantly, it demonstrates beautifully that in the end, the desire for freedom and creativity will always be far stronger than sanctions and force.

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