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The East Side Gallery

Updated: Jun 29


Photo of the East Side Gallery in Berlin

The East Side Gallery, Wikipedia

 

History of the East Side Gallery

In the wake of the Berlin Wall's collapse, artists swiftly embraced the opportunity to adorn the previously untouched east side of the Berlin Wall. However, East German border guards quickly painted over the initial creations at Potsdamer Platz as defacing the Wall in East Berlin was not allowed.


Undeterred, two artists David Monty - West Berlin - and Heike Stephan - East Berlin - envisioned converting the Wall into the globe's largest open-air gallery. Following discussions with East Germany's Ministry of National Defense, they secured the segment on Mühlenstrasse for their endeavor. This segment of the wall, stretching 1.3 kilometers (0.8 miles), was on the former East Berlin side and had remained relatively intact, providing a lengthy canvas suitable for a large-scale art project.

 
View of the Berlin Wall from the East Berlin side, lined with street lights

Stretch of the Wall at Mühlenstrasse 1987, Stiftung Berliner Mauer

 

With the endorsement of the East German Council of Ministers, the "East Side Gallery" project was inaugurated, calling on artists worldwide to contribute. Beginning in March 1990, the East Side Gallery was unveiled on September 28, 1990, showcasing over a hundred murals that transformed the Wall into a vivid symbol of victory over repression. The artists' works, rich with individual messages and reflections, celebrated the Wall's fall and the conclusion of the Cold War, while also expressing hopes for peace, freedom, and democracy. Amidst this celebration, numerous artworks also depicted concerns about an uncertain future, capturing the complex emotions of a world in flux.


Over 100 artists from 21 countries participated, creating more than 100 paintings directly on the wall's surface. Such as Bodo Sperling, Barbara Greul Aschanta, Jürgen Grosse (Indiano), and David Monti, among others. Some of the most notable works include "The Mortal Kiss" by Birgit Kinder, depicting a Trabant car breaking through the wall, and Dmitri Vrubel's "My God, Help Me to Survive This Deadly Love," which portrays a fraternal kiss between Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev and East German leader Erich Honecker.

 

Development and the Future of the East Side Gallery


However, the journey of the East Side Gallery has not been without its challenges. Exposure to the elements and the actions of vandals have taken their toll over the years. To preserve the integrity of this artistic landmark, the murals have been repainted several times. These efforts, often involving the original artists or new contributors, ensure that the gallery remains a vibrant and relevant piece of public art. Each repainting not only restores the original beauty but also adds new layers of history and meaning.

 
Famous mural on the Berlin Wall with graffiti covering it

East Side Gallery after years of defacement, Stripes.com

 

In a weird turn during one of the renovations in 2013, the Berlin-based pop artist Jim Avignon controversially overpainted his 1990 mural "Doin It Cool For The East Side" at, replacing cold warriors with smiling construction tycoons and speculators. Avignon claimed this act is part of Berlin's evolving artistic landscape and cited his authorial rights, despite sharp criticism from fellow artists in the "East Side Gallery Artists' Initiative."


They argued his unauthorized action violates the site's protected status and were considering legal action. The local monument protection authority, which deemed Avignon's actions incompatible with heritage preservation laws, also contemplated penalties and potentially restoring the original artwork. The incident highlighted broader conflicts at the East Side Gallery, including protests at the time against new construction projects that threaten this historic landmark.


Regardless since then the land surrounding the East Side Gallery has become a hotspot for urban development. With its prime location, it was inevitable that commercial interests would seek to capitalize on the area. The land has been sold, leading to a surge in construction projects, which have the left the Berlin Wall seemingly isolated, surrounded by metal and glass buildings all constructed in the last 10 years.


Looking ahead, the future of the East Side Gallery remains a topic of active discussion and community interest. Preservation efforts are crucial to maintaining its status as a symbol of artistic and historical significance. As urban development continues to reshape the landscape around it, stakeholders must find ways to ensure that this unique gallery retains its place in the cultural heritage of the area.

 

Your Trip Berlin


Want to add the East Side Gallery to your group trip or team event? Contact Your Trip Berlin or book an obligation-free 30-minute meeting to get your trip started!


 

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Alexander La Rocca


Photo of Alexander La Rocca with the Mauerpark in the background

Alexander La Rocca has been creating memorable experiences for Berlin visitors since 2012. With expertise in itinerary building and various activities, he founded yourtripberlin.com for group travel and businesses.


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