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.
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.
Fourteen haunting figures both slowly sink and emerge out of a sidewalk corner in the Polish city of Wrocław. Constructed by artist Jerzy Kalina in 2005, the figures are a memorial to the two-year period of harsh martial law inflicted by the People’s Republic of Poland. Martial law is normally established when civilian government fails to function properly, or during times of widespread disregard for the law. Military rule is then imposed temporarily upon citizens after traditional government fails until the problem is resolved. This happened in Poland between December 13, 1981 to July 22, 1983 under Communist rule in an attempt to crush opposition. Activists and dissenters were interned without charges or trials by the thousands; people were literally disappearing off the streets – some 100 people were even killed. Kalina demonstrates this period of terror with his statues of people who are literally being swallowed by the earth while going about their daily lives, reminding us of how much freedom we truly possess today. The fear during a time like this must have been rampant – which is only extenuated by how recent it was. Meandering the streets of today’s Poland, it is hard to imagine that this freedom-less period took place barely 30 years ago – and makes you appreciate just how far Poland has come.