The longest continuous stretch of the Berlin Wall, the East Side Gallery is at once a historical artefact and living artistic creation. Controversy surrounding its restoration has opened up debate about artists’ rights and the way we remember the Cold War.
Every year, millions come to experience the ‘historic’ Berlin Wall at the East Side Gallery. But the murals on this 1,316-metre stretch of wall are not the relics of resistance some visitors imagine them to be; instead, they constitute an evolving artistic reflection on German reunification.
Between February and September 1990, 118 artists from 21 countries created 106 artworks on a remnant of the Wall, and, in the process, the East Side Gallery, the world’s largest open-air gallery. Imbued with optimism and solemnity, these murals perfectly captured the zeitgeist: elation at the events of the previous November and heaviness connected with memorialising the division and hardships of the Cold War.
In November 1991, this portion of the Wall was designated a national monument and, five years later, Alavi founded the East Side Gallery e.V. artists’ initiative to oversee the preservation of the works; nevertheless, years of exposure to the elements and vandalism badly damaged them. In 2002, German art historian Gabriele Dolff-Bonekämper commented on the difficulty – the near futility – of attempting to conserve the murals. “If we want to keep the images, they’ll have to be repainted,” she wrote. “If we want the gallery to be a living artistic reflection of our own time, new ‘original’ paintings must be allowed, covering the old originals.”
Following some minor renovations, the artists were invited to repaint their designs in 2009. The restoration was controversial: 21 artists refused to repaint their murals, deeming the fee they were offered insultingly low. They went on to sue the city of Berlin when the murals were “forged” by an urban renewal firm, claiming their works had been copied without their consent.
It’s also open to debate whether the artists who did decide to return to the East Side Gallery were able to faithfully re-create their original artworks. After all, how could they channel that same heady mix of jubilation, shock and sobriety that characterised the mood in 1990?
However you choose to look at it, this latest chapter in the history of the gallery is part of what makes it so special: it’s at once connected to its origins and an evolving response to those events.
This story appears in Issue 4 of Culture Trip magazine: Art in the City.
KEEN TO EXPLORE THE WORLD?
Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world
Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.
Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.
Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.
Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.
We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.