The Berlin Wall's East Side Gallery Murals
Built by the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) in 1961 to keep the country’s residents from defecting to West Berlin, much of the Berlin Wall came toppling down in 1989 with the collapse of the Soviet-controlled Eastern Bloc.
The longest surviving section—the East Side Gallery—is a national monument that features murals created by 118 artists from 21 countries. Originally painted in 1990, the murals celebrate the reunification of Berlin and a new era of freedom. The gallery, which spans 1,316 meters, is the longest outdoor art gallery in the world.
One of the most iconic murals is titled “Thank You, Andrei Sakharov.” Painted by Russian artists Dmitri Vrubel and Viktoria Timofeeva, the mural pays homage to the Soviet nuclear physicist whose human rights activism earned him the Nobel Peace Prize in 1975.
Another mural features the popular East German Trabant car breaking through the Berlin Wall. The painting by German artist Birgit Kinder honors the many East Germans who tried to escape to West Berlin.
Thierry Noir’s brightly colored, cartoon-like images represent the movement in opposition to the Wall. The French artist began illegally painting the Berlin Wall in 1984—the first artist to do so. Evading border guards, he inspired other artists to paint their reflections of the oppression the Wall symbolized.
Günther Schaefer created “Fatherland” to mark the 50th anniversary of Kristallnacht, the night when Nazi forces in Germany destroyed Jewish-owned homes, stores, buildings, and synagogues. The mural superimposes elements of the Israeli flag onto the German flag, calling attention to the dangers of human rights abuses. Sadly, it has been the target of antisemitic slogans.
Like “Fatherland,” most of the original paintings were damaged by graffiti and vandalism. A nonprofit began a restoration and preservation effort in 2000, and in 2009, the artists were invited to repaint their works. Twenty-one of them refused, and subsequently sued the city of Berlin because they said their murals had been recreated without their permission.