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10 Iconic Murals on the Berlin Wall

The Berlin Wall is now the world's largest graffiti gallery
The Berlin Wall is now the world's largest graffiti gallery | © Oleksandr Prykhodko / Alamy Stock Photo
The Berlin Wall, a former symbol of division, is now the world’s largest open-air gallery, featuring 105 murals by artists from across the globe.

Originally painted in 1990, the artworks that line the banks of the River Spree in Berlin stand as a memorial to the reunification of Germany and to a broader moment of globally significant political change. The most striking and renowned murals to adorn the Berlin Wall include Dmitri Vrubel’s ‘Fraternal Kiss’ and Birgit Kinder’s ‘Trabant Breaking Through the Wall’.

‘Fraternal Kiss’

Russian artist Dmitri Vrubel’s ‘My God, Help Me to Survive This Deadly Love’, commonly known as ‘Fraternal Kiss’, depicts the famous embrace between Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev and East German President Erich Honecker at the 30th anniversary of the creation of the German Democratic Republic in 1979. In March 2009, following the deterioration of the artwork as a result of vandalism and atmospheric conditions, the painting was erased from the Wall and Vrubel was commissioned to repaint the piece.

'The Kiss' by Dmitri Vrubel at famous East Side Gallery © Joshua Hee / Alamy Stock Photo

Thierry Noir’s cartoon heads

Known for his signature brightly coloured cartoon heads, French artist Thierry Noir is famous for being the first person to paint on the Berlin Wall. For five years during the 1980s, Noir illegally painted the western side of the Berlin Wall with bold, cartoonish images of animals and human faces, evading police and border guards. In part due to this dangerous environment, and his consequent need for speed, his murals feature few colours and avoid complex figures.

CX3313 East side Gallery graffiti in Berlin © A. Astes / Alamy Stock Photo

‘Thank You, Andrei Sakharov’

Entitled ‘Thank You, Andrei Sakharov’ (‘Danke, Andrei Sakharov’), this simple portrait was painted by Dmitri Vrubel and Viktoria Timofeeva in honour of Soviet nuclear physicist, dissident and human rights activist Andrei Sakharov. Having worked to design thermonuclear weapons for the Soviet Union, Sakharov later became an advocate of civil liberties and civil reform, facing state persecution for his activism. These efforts earned him the Nobel Peace Prize in 1975. He died in 1989, just a few weeks after the Wall fell.

Andrei Sacharov pictured by Russian artist Dmitri Vrubel on the Berlin Wall in East Side Gallery in Berlin, Germany, Europe © Pierre BRUMDER / Alamy Stock Photo

‘Detour to the Japanese Sector’

‘Detour to the Japanese Sector’ was painted by East German artist Thomas Klingenstein. The mural evokes the artist’s childhood desire to explore and live in Asia – somewhere East Germans were not allowed to travel to or learn much about. Klingenstein spent time in a Stasi prison for dissidents activity before being extradited to West Germany and later living in Japan from 1984 until the mid-’90s.

The East Side Gallery, Berlin 2014 © 2ebill / Alamy Stock Photo

‘Vaterland’

Depicting elements of the Israeli flag superimposed onto the German flag, Günther Schaefer’s ‘Vaterland’ (‘Fatherland’) was painted to honour the 50th anniversary of the Night of Broken Glass (Kristallnacht), when Nazi forces in Germany and Austria destroyed Jewish-owned shops and businesses. The painting is a protest against extreme regimes and abuses of human rights, but has been a target of vandalism since it was painted in 1990.

The Berlin Wall / East Side Gallery with painting combining the german and israeli flag (Vaterland by Gunther Schafer) © hanohikirf / Alamy Stock Photo

The Trabant breaking through the wall

This iconic mural, painted by Birgit Kinder, shows a Trabant car breaking through the Berlin Wall. The Trabant – ubiquitous in the German Democratic Republic – is seen as symbolic of the former East Germany and the collapse of the Eastern Bloc. The painting is a nod both to this popular car and to the many East Germans who tried to escape over the Berlin Wall.

The East Side Gallery is the largest outdoor art gallery in the world.This piece of the wall shows a graffiti of a Trabant car, which breaks through the wall © mezzotint_alamy / Alamy Stock Photo

‘It Happened in November’

German–Iranian painter Kani Alavi painted the haunting mural ‘Es Geschah im November’ (‘It Happened in November’) in 1990. The abstract painting – inspired by Alavi’s own observations from his former apartment near Checkpoint Charlie – depicts the day the wall fell, with thousands of East German faces pouring 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.

Mural 'Es geschah im November' by Kani Alavi on the East Side Gallery, the longest preserved stretch of the wall, on August 8, 2015 in Berlin, Germany. - Image © Santi Rodriguez / Shutterstock

‘The Wall Jumper’

This mural, entitled ‘Der Mauerspringer’, (‘The Wall Jumper’), was painted by Gabriel Heimler in 1989 and later restored in 2009. The wall jumper is not, as often assumed, an East German refugee trying to escape to the West, but rather a West German jumping over to the East in a symbolic gesture of freedom.

Der Mauerspringer (Wall Jumper) painting by Gabriel Heimler, East Side Gallery, Berlin Wall (Berliner Mauer), Germany © Petr Svarc / Alamy Stock Photo

‘The Seven Stages of Enlightenment’

This colourful mural by Indian artist Narendra Kumar Jain shows a mystical tantra figure derived from Indian philosophy. The mural symbolises liberation from ignorance and ways to overcome barriers and reach enlightenment, while also evoking unity and wholeness.

‘Diagonal Solution to a Problem’

Mikhail Serebryakov’s mural, entitled ‘Diagonale Lösung des Problems’ (‘Diagonal Solution to a Problem’), depicts a thumb being held up by a chain to keep it in a positive, thumbs-up position. The artwork shows the forceful nature of the East German government’s attempts to preserve Communist ideals and quash dissenting voices.

Mural "Diagonal Solution to the Problem" by Michail Serebrjakow © meunierd / Shutterstock