Crash! One of the largest canvases in the world, West Berliners began painting on the 14-foot wall in the 1980’s while the corresponding East Berlin Wall remained immaculate – guards would not let East Berliners approach the Wall on pain of death (fearing escape attempts). First constructed in 1961 to separate the two countries, the Berlin Wall (especially the western side) later became what Facebook is today: a relatively uncontrolled blank slate on which people can express opinions, feelings, and dreams. In one mural, a car – a white Trabant – is depicted crashing through the Berlin Wall. Trabants were a popular East German car brand, and despite being cute and bug-eyed, the reinforced plastic cars were poorly made and notoriously hard to drive – though East Germans were desperate to get one, so desperate that they had to sign up on a list just to be considered for ownership. Trabants then became a symbol of the communist East Germany, and ceased to be manufactured after the fall of wall. It’s not hard to understand what the artist was trying to depict here: an East German in his or her iconic East German car crashing through the oppressive and separatist Berlin Wall after it fell in 1989.
Brandenburg Gate (or Brandenburg Tor) in Berlin, Germany
Berlin is a place with a challenging history. Located in Germany‘s eastern side, the city of Berlin was part of the state of East Germany for decades before the Berlin Wall fell. Berlin itself was a divided city: half in the East and half in the West. Families divided right down the middle. Lives, jobs, families, loyalties – it didn’t matter. East stayed in the East, and the West in the West. (In the end of course, it was better luck to be living in West Berlin.) But that all changed November 9th, 1989 (still scarily recent…) – the day the Berlin Wall fell. Citizens on both sides reportedly climbed atop the Wall in celebration. The Brandenburg Tor is possibly the most iconic monument in Berlin. Built in the 18th century by Prussian King Frederick William II, the Neoclassical style, topped with bronze statue of noble horses, was chosen for this ‘victory’ gate. The Brandenburg Tor stands on Pariser Platz – the same place as the old city gate that once marked the entrance to Brandenburg an der Havel town, ancient capital of the pre-Germany state of Brandenburg. Used by the Prussians, the Nazis and the East Germans as a symbol of the city’s power, the Brandenburg Gate was partially destroyed in WWII. On August 13th, 1961, the structure became part of the Berlin Wall, and its original use as a gate was re-instated (one of eight points for crossing the Wall). Nearly impossible to traverse by East Germans, the gate remained a symbol of power – but in a negative sense, sparking protests, demonstrations and eventually celebrations the day the wall fell. Today, it reminds Berliners and visitors alike of the power of standing together.
In solidarity with the Germans after last night’s attack, I present you with a piece of the Berlin Wall, an item that, while in the beginning represented intolerance, fear and division, today represents love, hope, and tolerance. The East Side Gallery, as mentioned before, is the largest open-air art gallery in the world, and the pieces that remain are there to make sure that we never forget or make the same mistakes again. While this world is unfortunately becoming smaller, more exclusive and more prejudiced, there is still hope that the vision that inspired the East Side Gallery and other similar works of art in Germany and throughout the world, will continue to spread their message. Tourism only works if people are willing to understand and learn about other cultures and traditions. In an ideal world, this would mean letting the best traits from cultures influence each other, and eliminating the worst, least-tolerant traits. As the Wall suggests, dividing each other – whether by a physical barrier or by a cultural one – is an answer doomed to fail. Instead, the Berlin Wall suggests that understanding, hope and acceptance is the way to move forward in this modern era, for both tourism and all other manners of international interactions.
Sometimes, a landmark or monument becomes so iconic, so heavily associated with a city that any reminder of one automatically reminds you of the other: Paris – Eiffel Tower; Rome – Colosseum; London – Big Ben; Moscow – the Kremlin. Berlin and its Wall belong on such a list. The Berlin Wall, erected by East Germany’s German Democratic Republic in 1961, divided the city in half, cutting off one from the other…until 1989 when it famously fell (though entire demolition did not occur until 1990). Imagine, for a moment, that your city–wherever it may be–was suddenly cut in half by a gigantic wall. Families are separated. Friendships are partitioned. Jobs are lost. Travel is stunted. Freedom is killed. 3.5 million manage to escape to the West before the Wall goes up, but the rest are left behind. Yet, despite all the horrors of WWII, the crash of the Iron Curtain, and the hardships that continued to befall the residents of the Eastern Bloc during the following decades, the East Berliners persisted. And when the Wall finally fell, instead of showing anger and pain, they celebrated life and freedom. They used the largest stretch (1.3 km) as a giant canvas, with 105 different paintings and graffiti depicted on the east side (i.e. the East Side Gallery). Despite the fact that the art changes the original appearance of the Wall, it is a magical display of freedom, democracy, movement and choice celebrated by millions every year from all corners of the globe.
One of the most loaded (and iconic) places to visit in Europe is what remains of the Berlin Wall. For so many years, the Wall separated families, friends, co-workers, neighbours. Citizens of the same town were suddenly divided; the Wall literally split the city in half. And then, abruptly and very literally, the Wall fell. On the monumental day of November 9, 1989, the wall that had symbolised so much pain and caused so many horrors quite suddenly came crumbling down. The Berlin Wall had become nothing more than a few remaining sections of concrete, now worthless – little more than bygone symbols of pain and terror. But then something amazing happened. The city of Berlin invited artists from around the world to decorate the once-imposing wall. Each of the 106 paintings of the East Side Gallery carries a message – a message of freedom, of solidarity, of strength, of love, of patriotism, of humanity. They worked together to turn something negative – a symbol of all that was contrary to freedom and happiness – into something positive, a work of art celebrating a new era of Berlin, of Germany, of Europe. This painting by Sardinian-born artist Fulvio Pinna, “Ode to Joy,” was created to promote and recognise the new-found freedom of the now-reunited Berlin and, like the other 105 paintings, sends a powerful message to its millions of viewers.
Do I even have to tell you that this in the infamous Brandenburg Gate, once located between the free West Germany and the Communist-controlled East Germany? I hope not. You don’t have to visit Berlin to recognize this impressive and iconic structure. The gate was rebuilt in the late 18th century as a Neolithic triumphal arch (though nothing like other triumphal arches), and it’s located in Pariser Platz, at the end of Unter den Linton street. During the partition, the gate was inaccessible and surrounded by barbed wire. Soviet-controlled East Germany, which existed from 1949-1990, separated not only family and friends, but also sections of the same city and the same country. Considering the economically-advanced state of modern Germany, it’s strange to think that the Brandenburg Gate was once inaccessible to all but a privileged few less than 25 years ago. In 1989, a peaceful revolution in the GDR (German Democratic Company) brought down the Berlin Wall, opening borders, and allowing the emergence of a reformed government committed to freedom.
Yes, this is the infamous Berlin Wall that was torn down on November 9th, 1989 after communism fell. Over a kilometre long, the East Side Gallery is an international memorial to freedom and has over 100 paintings. Some people even argue that this is the largest open-air gallery on display. The above painting is just one of them, a piece without a title by the Russian-born artist Gamil Gimajew, that is an explosion of colours, words, swirls and hidden faces. The paintings on this wall, created in 1990, represent freedom, hope, and a better future. Twenty years later, this so far seems to be true for Germany! If nothing else, walking along the East Side Gallery is an amazing way to experience both art and German culture without paying an entrance fee.