The birth of Berlin’s street art scene can be traced back to 1961 when Eastern Germany communism was isolated from Western capitalism by the Berlin Wall. This sobering physical divide represented oppression citizens of Germany faced at the time. In the 1970’s, intense political unrest led to defacement of the barrier in attempt to bring civil injustices to light. Despite the city’s obvious charm, Berlin’s history feels ever present.It has been 27 years since the fall of the Wall but a surviving section remains as an international memorial for freedom. The East Side Gallery is located at the Mühlenstraße in Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg, next to the river Spree, and is the world’s largest open-air art gallery. During the Cold War, the West side had artwork splattered across the wall, while the East side was bare; as people were not permitted to get close. Today, the East Side is covered in vibrant murals whereas the West side, facing the river, is plastered in less appealing tags and graffiti.In 1990, international artists were invited to legally paint the wall, reflecting the political changes in Germany and around the world. Berlin is open about its complicated history, reflecting on its past, while building a more colorful and hopeful future. The murals along the wall represent peace, freedom and unity for all.
The most famous mural of the East Side Gallery, “Fraternal Kiss” or “Bruderkuss” is based on a famous photograph which was later painted by Dmitri Vrubel, a Russia-born Berlin artist. It depicts Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev locking lips with German Democratic Republic leader Erich Honecker on the 30th anniversary of the GDR in 1979. The kiss wasn’t exactly shocking, as Communist political leaders frequently kissed as a matter of formality in those days (typically on the cheek). But the passion both men showed was unexpected. The caption reads “My God. Help Me to Survive This Deadly Love.”
This nameless work by German politician Peter Lorenz features the Brandenburg Gate, the American flag and the Soviet red star. The mural painting shows on the one side how great nations, which were involved in the re-union, interconnect. The Brandenburg Gate, the Soviet Star, the US flag, but also the German colors are visible. In contrast the other half of the picture is dominated by collapse and reorganization, actually a chaos. The painting was proudly used on the shirts for the 2015 100 mile Berlin Wall Race.
“Es geschah im November” or “It happened in November” depicts the crowd that Iranian artist Kani Alavi saw from his window the night the wall came down. That of thousands of oppressed East Berliners, now being offered the opportunity to break through the wall and meet up with loved ones for the first time in 28 years. He claims: “I was expecting to see happy and excited faces, but as I observed them closely, I also saw sad, insecure and frightened faces.” “Ohne Titel” or “Untitled” by Czechoslovakian artist Andrej Smolak. The white dove is pulling on a chain linked to an imprisoned hand. Two powerful symbols of peace are breaking apart the confines of captivity.“Mauerspringer,” or “Wall Jumper,” by French artist Gabriel Heimler’s depicts a man leaping over the barricades from West into East Berlin, signifying freedom, liberty and unification.
“Es gilt viele mauern abzu bauen” translates into “It is necessary to break down this wall.” Painted by Ines Bayer.
“Diagonale Lösung Des Problems” or “The Diagonal Solution to Problems” by Michail Serebrjakow shows a simple gesture that everything is going to be a-okay. People were not allowed to question authority and were forced to remain positive and pretend that they were happy. “Being chained into a signal of “yes” means little when “no” is not an option.” You can stroll the entire stretch of wall in about 15 minutes, but give yourself longer to appreciate the murals and ponder the strong messages behind them behind them. Berlin, as as a resilient symbol of hope, power, and possibility.