The East Side Gallery is the largest open-air gallery in the world, consisting of 105 paintings by artists from all over the globe. Originally painted in 1990, many of the murals were badly graffitied over the years and have had to be restored. The gallery has also been subject to gentrification and protests, with a section of the wall being removed for a building project. However 1.3 kilometres remains and with it many iconic, colourful murals that embody the gallery’s symbol of freedom.
The Kiss depicts the infamous embrace, known as the Socialist Fraternal Kiss, between Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev and East German President Erich Honecker. It took place in 1979 in honour of the 30th anniversary of the German Demonstrated Republic, or East Germany. The mural was painted by Dmitri Wrubel, and under the image is a slogan reading, “My God Help me to Survive this Deadly Love.”
The brightly coloured cartoon heads are painted by world-famous artists Thierry Noir. The French-born artist was the first person to paint the wall, often risking his life to do so. After the wall’s fall, it seemed only right that Noir had a mural at East Side Gallery. Noir was also part of the 2009 initiative to restore paintings on the wall.
Danke, Andrej Sacharow
This simple but beautiful portrait on the Berlin Wall was painted by Dmitry Vrubel and Viktoria Timofeeva, in honour of Andrej Sacharow. He was a Soviet nuclear physicist, dissident, and human rights activist. Sacharow stood for freedom and liberty, and he died in 1989 a few weeks after the wall fell.
Rising Japanese sun
This mural, entitled ‘Detour to the Japanese Sector’ was painted by East German artist Thomas Klingenstein. It depicts his desire to explore and live in Asia, saying, “as a child, I dreamed of living in Asia, specifically Japan. I wanted to find out more about that culture than was allowed in Communist East Germany because at the time Japan, like the US, was considered an imperialist power.”
The unique German flag, painted by Günther Schaefer draws from two important historical events in German history. The flag and its ‘pendant painting’ were created to honour the 50th anniversary of the Night of the Broken Glass when Nazi forces in Germany and Austria destroyed Jewish-owned shops. By unifying German and Israeli flags, Schäfer was commemorating the traumatic beginning of Fascism and Communism. The painting lends itself as a protest against extreme regimes and abuses of human rights.
Trabant breaking through the Wall
This iconic mural, painted by Birgit Kinder, shows a Trabant car breaking through the Berlin Wall. The Trabant car is a famous symbol of the Communist East Germany and its most commonly used vehicle. The painting is a nod to this popular car and the many East Germans who tried to escape over the Berlin Wall.
It’s Happened in November
Berlin artists Kani Alavi painted this haunting yet stunning mural in 1990. The abstract painting depicts Checkpoint Charlie the day the wall fell, with thousands of East German faces, floating from one side through to the West. The faces show a range of different emotions in an effort to portray the mixture of confusion, joy, trepidation, and liberation felt by East Germans heading over to the West.
The Wall Jumper
This mural, entitled ‘Der Mauerspringer’, meaning the wall jumper, was painted by Gabriel Heimler, in 1989 and later restored in 2009. The wall jumper is not an East German refugee trying to escape to the West, but rather a West German jumping over to the East as a symbolic gesture of freedom.
The Seven Stages of Enlightenment
This colourful and exotic mural by Narenda Kumar Jain shows a mystical Tantra figure based on Indian philosophy. The mural symbolises the liberation from ignorance and the ways to overcome barriers and reach enlightenment. It acts as a representation for unification.
Mikhail Serebrjakow’s mural, entitled ‘Diagonal Solution to A Problem,’ depicts a thumb being held up by a chain to hold it in a positive, thumbs-up position. The mural shows the forceful nature of the East German government to preserve Communist ideals in the country.