The Berlin Wall divided the city for nearly 30 years, but it inspired some iconic artwork. Curator Paris Agar takes us through the East Side Gallery in Berlin, exploring its art work and what the pieces meant to Berliners then and now.

Art and the Berlin Wall

I’m here at the East Side Gallery in Berlin, the longest surviving stretch of the Berlin Wall at 1.3Km in length, that’s just under a mile long. This open-air gallery runs along the river Spree and is one of the city’s most popular tourist attractions. It opened in 1990 just after the fall of the wall, and features over 100 paintings by more than 100 artists from 21 different countries. 

The murals reflect on this pivotal moment in world history. ‘My god, help me to survive this deadly love’ is one the most famous. Copied from a photograph it captures socialist leaders Erich Honecker and Leonid Brezhnev in a loving embrace. Another mural shows a Trabant, a car synonymous with East Germany, breaking through the wall. 

This mural was created by East German artist Jürgen Grosse, known as Indiano. In 2009 it was repainted as part of a project to conserve East Side Gallery artworks that had been vandalised or were in a state of disrepair. ‘Save our earth’ has particular poignancy today in relation to climate change. But in 1990 it was one of hundreds of motivational messages which Indiano emblazoned on the wall after it fell in 1989. These messages were designed for a global audience and acted as a call to action, a way forward for the dawn of a new era in Berlin. 

I’m on Leuschnerdamm a street in Kreuzberg district of Berlin. During the 1980s, this was one of the poorest areas of West Berlin, a hub for immigrants, students, and artists. The Berlin Wall ran along this stretch of road here and became a canvas for artists living nearby. After the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989, artist Indiano painted 223 individual wall sections here in just 7 months. One of those sections, inscribed with the message ‘Change your life’, was from this very spot and can now be seen outside IWM London.

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