It is the world’s longest gallery under the open sky and a living piece of history, right in the heart of Berlin: the East Side Gallery in Friedrichshain. Millions of visitors come here every year to see the longest remaining part of the Berlin Wall and the iconic artworks on it. The history of this famous landmark allegorizes in many ways the recent history of Berlin itself, so in order to make you an expert on this very concrete wall we’ve put together all you need to know:
For almost 30 years the Berlin Wall insuperably divided the city of Berlin into an eastern and a western part. East Berlin was the capital of the socialist German Democratic Republic, in short: GDR, whereas the western part belonged to the Federal Republic of Germany. Masked as an “anti-fascist protective rampart” by the GDR government, the Berlin Wall served mostly one purpose: To keep the population of Eastern Germany from leaving or even emigrating, that is to basically lock them up in their own country. Nonetheless, more than 5,000 Berliners managed to escape over the wall during the decades before the Fall of the Wall in 1989. Tens of thousands tried the same, but didn’t make it, and at least 138 people even died at the attempt. Most of them were killed by the GDR border patrol or the deadly precautions along the so called “death strip”.
The night of November 9, 1989 went down in history as the Fall of the Berlin Wall and marked the beginning of the end of the Soviet-controlled eastern bloc. In the following months, the better part of the wall was demolished, but some remaining parts became a popular canvas for the many international artists that felt drawn to the city and its turbulent changes. A joint east-and-west initiative had the idea to have a 1.3 kilometer long part of the wall creatively redesigned by these international artists. So in 1990 no less than 118 artists from 21 different countries started to work on the project and created 104 separate artworks on the 1,316 meters of concrete wall. The original scheme was to ship the different wall pieces around the world as part of a traveling exhibition. This plan was quickly scrapped though and the East Side Gallery was put under monumental protection in 1991 already.
Many of the artists returned to the wall in 2009 to restore the original works, since air pollution, vandalism and the weather had taken a lot out of the paintings. Nonetheless the entire gallery is still open to the public 24/7 without any admission fees.
Brotherhood and Freedom
The participating artists were free to choose their own motives and styles, so you will find 104 artworks that are entirely different. There was a common ground though, and that was to turn the oppressively drab-and-grey concrete wall of traumatizing memories into a colorful place of remembrance. Among the artworks are surrealist visions, large-scale graffitis, and political statements, some featuring quotes of historical figures. The two most famous works are probably the Brotherhood Kiss of USSR’s Leonid Breschnew and GDR’s Erich Honecker by Russian painter Dmitri Wrubel, and the image of an East German Trabbi car bursting through the wall by artist Birgit Kinder. It is really worth it checking out the rest of the galley as well though, as you will probably find many different and inspiring perspectives on the past and future of this city.
It was an intense journey from the ruins of an exceptional history to this creative hotspot the East Side Gallery is today, and it bears the hallmarks of people from all around the globe. As it changes permanently and is constantly being further developed, it inspires visitors from everywhere. Thus, in a way, it is an allegory for the evolution of Berlin from the ruinous symbol of divided Europe to the creative Mecca of Europe. By the way, right next door to the East Side Gallery, not even a 5 minute walk away, you find us, the Industriepalast Hostel Berlin. And we have some of the Gallery’s motives as a postcard here, so you can share it with your friends in a very old-school way.
Can’t wait to meet you here,
is Berliner by choice and a passionate backpacker himself. As a receptionist he knows the real hostel life; as a blogger he's been writing for Industriepalast Hostel's Berlin blog since 2014.