Page last updated at 16:18 GMT, Tuesday, 21 April 2009 17:18 UK

Berlin Wall gets fresh lick of paint

Rosemarie Schinzler recreates her painting (16 April 2009)
The aim is to revamp the gallery for the 20th anniversary of the Berlin Wall's fall

By Tristana Moore
BBC News, Berlin

Visitors to Berlin often ask "where is the wall?" They probably end up at the East Side Gallery.

But over the years, one of the city's biggest tourist attractions has become a magnet for vandals. Today, this section of the wall is crumbling and it is covered in graffiti, which is ubiquitous in Berlin.

But the East Side Gallery is now getting a fresh lick of paint. The concrete is being scrubbed, and the graffiti has been removed so the artists can start from scratch.

It's important for all Germans to learn about the negative and positive aspects of their history
Rosemarie Schinzler, German artist

It is part of a 2.5m-euro (£2m, $3m) restoration project funded by the Berlin Senate, the federal government and lottery money.

The East Side Gallery is the longest remaining section of the Berlin Wall, billed as the world's biggest open-air art gallery.

Shortly after the fall of the wall in November 1989, 118 artists were invited to paint murals on the long section of the old Cold War barrier in Berlin's Friedrichshain district.


Rosemarie Schinzler, an artist from the German city of Freiburg, travelled to Berlin after the wall fell in 1990.

People add grafitti to the Berlin Wall (20 March 2009)
The Berlin Wall has become a magnet for both tourists and vandals

She wanted to visit the German capital after the dramatic events of 1989. She later took part in a competition and was selected to paint a mural on the East Side Gallery.

Twenty years later, Rosemarie is back in Berlin trying to recreate her original mural.

"Everyone should come here," she says, "especially children as they've got no idea what it was like to live in a divided city and a divided country."

"It's important for all Germans to learn about the negative and positive aspects of their history."

After the collapse of the Berlin Wall, artists from all over the world converged on the German capital and started painting murals on the 1.3km (0.8 mile) long section of the wall, which came to be known as the East Side Gallery.


East Berliners flood through the part-demolished wall in November 1989

The artists, from 21 different countries, painted their vivid murals which were an expression of their reaction to the historic changes. But the weather, and graffiti, soon took their toll.

'Historic monument'

The organisers of the restoration work say they spent years trying to convince the authorities to fund it.

Painting of Trabant bursting through the Berlin Wall (
Famous paintings have already been painted over by the wall's restorers

"We need to restore the East Side Gallery for future generations", says Kani Alavi, the head of the East Side Gallery Artists' Initiative.

Alavi is an Iranian-born German artist who witnessed the fall of the Berlin Wall from the vantage point of his flat near the famous Checkpoint Charlie crossing point.

"All these paintings must be recreated, like the famous picture of the Trabant car which comes crashing through the wall," he says.

"People will then be able to feel the euphoria of that time when the wall came tumbling down 20 years ago and see how artists left their mark in 1990," he adds.

Another artist, the Frenchman Thierry Noir, is also helping to organise the restoration of the gallery.

In April 1984, Noir and another French artist painted the first major works of art on the Berlin Wall, in the city's Kreuzberg district.

It's unbelievable, where is my work?

Dmitri Vrubel, Russian artist

"It was dangerous back then. I lived near the Berlin Wall in Kreuzberg," he says.

"We didn't want to make the wall beautiful - there were too many lives lost. There was so much sadness surrounding the wall. I just wanted to brighten up this sadness."

Noir painted his large bright figures that later featured in Wim Wenders' film, Wings of Desire, in which he played himself.

"The wall is like a historic monument. If the wall is painted, we hope it will be protected. Young people need to see what it was like and we shouldn't repeat the mistakes of the past," Noir says.


But one artist was apparently upset when he discovered the original murals would be scrubbed off.

Partially restored section of the Berlin Wall
The organisers spent years convincing the authorities to fund the work

Dmitri Vrubel, the Russian artist who painted the famous mural of the Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev kissing the former East German communist leader Erich Honecker, told Germany's Bild newspaper that he was not keen on the idea of painting the same mural again.

"It's unbelievable, where is my work?" he told Bild.

But the organisers say it is a misunderstanding.

"Vrubel knew last year the East Side Gallery was going to be restored," Alavi says.

"We told him. He's complaining now, but it's all a bit of a PR stunt. I hope Vrubel will come back to Berlin in June to repaint his picture. We're looking forward to seeing him again."

Despite the big clean-up, tourists are still flocking to the gallery.

"This place is great, there's so much history here, you can feel the energy when you look at these murals," said one tourist from Los Angeles.

The aim is to revamp the East Side Gallery in time for the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall this autumn, when the eyes of the world will be on the German capital.

"I hope the Berlin authorities put up some lights here or install a few cameras. The East Side Gallery should be treated like any other memorial," Alavi says.

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