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The Famous East Side Gallery is Celebrating a Jubilee

Artists began to transform the former Berlin Wall into a piece of art a quarter-century ago

February 04th, 2015

The longest remaining stretch of the Berlin Wall – the iconic East Side Gallery in Berlin – is the largest open air gallery in the world. It has attracted tourists from all over the world since opening in 1990. The story of a transformation from symbol of oppression to an artistic celebration of freedom began 25 years ago in February 1990. Artists from various countries met in Berlin and started to paint their works on the remainder of the demolished Berlin Wall.

It is one of the most visited locations in Germany's capital city. The East Side Gallery stretches approximately 1.3 kilometers from Oberbaum Bridge (Oberbaumbrücke) toward the Eastern Railway Station (Ostbahnhof), along the former borderline that divided Berlin. Around the wall was the so-called death strip, a forbidden piece of land, lined with watchtowers. The patrolling East German soldiers in this area were obligated to shoot anyone trying to escape into West Berlin.

After the Berlin Wall crumbled, many artists have used the last remnants as a canvas for their ideas.  An unknown art student from Moscow, Dimitri Vrubel was one of them. He painted the famous brotherly kiss between the Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev and East German head of state Erich Honecker. Today it is one of the most photographed sections of the East Side Gallery.

The unique open air gallery was opened 28 September 1990 even before the official date of reunification of Germany. In November 1991, the East Side Gallery was listed as a protected historical monument. As the concrete body of a Berlin Wall is permanently exposed to wind and weather, it needs to be repaired regularly. In October 2008, the artworks were completely repainted and a large number of the paintings had to be restored to original state from 1990. Some painters have already renovated their creations several times. Nevertheless other pieces of art are fading or have been damaged with graffitti.

This year in January, filmmakers Karin Kaper and Dirk Szuszies released their documentary "Berlin East Side Gallery". The film covers the various changes of the outdoor gallery since its renovation in 2009 and combines the new footage with private archive material from the artists in 1990. This provides a fascinating overview of the history of the East Side Gallery. Artist, Thomas Klingenstein hopes "that this film will help protect this special surviving part Berlin Wall for the future". The documentary was released for its world premiere on January 6, 2015 at Kino Babylon Berlin Mitte.


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