Iconic Murals on the Berlin Wall

'Fraternal Kiss' by Dmitri Vrubel is one of the Berlin Wall's most gripping murals
'Fraternal Kiss' by Dmitri Vrubel is one of the Berlin Wall's most gripping murals | © Oleksandr Prykhodko / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Alice Dundon
4 June 2019

The Berlin Wall, once a symbol of division, now forms a large open-air gallery featuring 105 murals by artists from across the globe. Many were painted in 1990, the year after the wall fell, and the artworks that line the banks of the River Spree 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 include Dmitri Vrubel’s Fraternal Kiss, Birgit Kinder’s Trabant breaking through the wall and striking cartoon heads by Thierry Noir. Keen to know more? Here are the most iconic Berlin Wall murals.

‘Fraternal Kiss’

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

‘Fraternal Kiss’ by Dmitri Vrubel is among the most famous of all the Berlin Wall art | © Joshua Hee / Alamy Stock Photo

Thierry Noir’s cartoon heads

Known for his signature brightly coloured cartoon heads, French artist Thierry Noir was the first person known 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 to be speedy, his murals feature few colours and avoid complex figures.

Cartoon heads by Thierry Noir were painted illegally on the western side of the wall | © A Astes / Alamy Stock Photo

‘Thank You, Andrei Sakharov’

Entitled Danke, Andrei Sakharov (Thank You, 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.

This simple portrait was painted by Dmitri Vrubel | © 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 or learn much about. Klingenstein spent time in a Stasi prison for dissidents before being extradited to West Germany, and later lived in Japan from 1984 until the mid-1990s.

‘Detour to the Japanese Sector’ was painted by East German artist Thomas Klingenstein | © 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, smashing their windows. 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.

‘Vaterland’ by Gunther Schafer has been a target of vandalism since it was painted in 1990 | © hanohikirf / Alamy Stock Photo

The Trabant breaking through the wall

One of the most symbolic pieces of graffiti the Berlin Wall has to offer, painted by Birgit Kinder, shows a Trabant car breaking through the concrete. The Trabant – ubiquitous in the German Democratic Republic – is seen to represent the former East Germany and 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 Trabant breaking through is one of the most undeniably symbolic pieces of graffiti the Berlin Wall has to offer | © 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.

‘Es Geschah im November’ by Kani Alavi was painted in 1990 and depicts the day the wall fell | © Santi Rodriguez / Shutterstock

‘The Wall Jumper’

This mural, entitled Der Mauerspringer (The Wall Jumper), was painted by Gabriel Heimler in 1989 and 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’ by Gabriel Heimler depicts a West German jumping over to the East | © Petr Svarc / Alamy Stock Photo

‘The Seven Stages of Enlightenment’

‘The Seven Stages of Enlightenment’ is a colourful mural by Indian artist Narendra Kumar | © PSI / Alamy Stock Photo

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’

Michail Serebrjakow’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 to preserve communist ideals and quash dissenting voices.

‘Diagonal Solution to the Problem’ by Michail Serebrjakow depicts a thumb being held up by a chain | © meunierd / Shutterstock

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