East Side Gallery, Berlin Wall and the passage of time

Meet the East Side Gallery! What once was the Berlin Wall is now one of the greatest works of art of all time. A piece of art that is bigger than time.
„Die Mauer muss weg!“ The famous battle cry of so many Berlin citizens at the end of the 1980s meaning nothing less than „The wall has to go!“ And this is exactly what happened. The Berlin Wall came down in 1989. But not all of it, a small part along the river Spree is still standing to this day. More specifically a part between Berlin Ostbahnhof and the Oberbaumbrücke: the so called East Side Gallery.

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Sunset at the East Side Gallery in Berlin

But how did the Berlin Wall became the East Side Gallery, you ask? Well, that a part of the famous Wall would ever be transformed into a gallery and would even be given the English name East Side Gallery is a fact that Honecker and Co. probably could barely ever have dreamed of.

And yet this wall strip is indestructible until today and is subject to constant change. On the one hand, this is due to the fact that the 1.3 km long part of the once so notorious border between East and West Berlin, as once the rest of the Berlin wall, is standing outdoors and thus is exposed to the elements without protection. On the other hand, it’s also to a variety of other circumstances. Above all, the circumstance which actually distinguishes the East Side Gallery and builds its whole character: pure art.

The famous faces painting at East Side Gallery in Berlin
Colorful faces along the East Side Gallery

The section along the Mühlenstraße in Berlin was not only placed unter conservation order in the spring of 1990, shortly after the opening of the Berlin Wall, but got painted all over in a short period of time by 118 artists from 21 countries, and thus transformed into a huge work of art, that has remained unparalleled in history ever since.

For each work of art from each artist was not only unique, but a kind of personal comment on the political changes that accompanied the end of the 1080s: the emotional whirligig of hope, uncertainty, fear and the exuberance about the peaceful defeat of the Iron Curtain and the end of the Cold War.

People passing by the East Side Gallery in Berlin

Most of these meanings are still mirrored in the most diverse artworks of the East Side Gallery. Well, at least in what has been preserved to this day. Because some pictures disappeared completely, while new ones were created. And that’s not a bad thing at all. Finally, any form of art on the East Side Gallery is more or less welcome, even the newest forms of street art. And with limitations even the good old graffiti.

Closeup of the faces art at the East Side Gallery in Berlin

It’s all about art that is overlaying long impressed, memorable other works of art like a new coat of paint over peeling plaster. An art that is being renovated from time to time, be it in a well-planned art offensive or rather a hush-hush operation.

“It is part of the history of the wall that it’s broken.”
– Leo Schmidt

What emerges is a mishmash of art and truth, a colorful potpourri which is subject to constant change and which makes the East Side Gallery the longest monument for peace and reconciliation, maybe worldwide. And also a memorial to art itself.

With almost dalíesque caricatures along the East Side Gallery, with striking sayings, quotes and aphorisms that engrave themselves into our memory and, of course, with the one and only famous picture that is a symbol for the whole gallery: the passionate, heartfelt and brotherly kiss between Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev and Erich Honecker, the State leader of the DDR.

The famous brother kiss at the East Side Gallery in Berlin
The famous Fraternal Kiss at the East Side Gallery in Berlin showing Leonid Brezhnev and Erich Honecker kissing (1990)

A work of art that may be deformed and commented on from time to time, but that, however, will maybe never lose its power of the past. Finally, comments are only a supplement.

In other words: The East Side Gallery of Berlin is preservation of and by anyone. It is this characteristic that is the greatest thing about art. That art always reinvents itself all anew and exactly for this reason it is the best protection for itself.

HARD FACTS:

Opening times of the East Side Gallery: always open 24/7
Admission East Side Gallery: free; access from both sides possible
Next stop: S-Bahn Ostbahnhof
Attention, repeated visit is worthwhile, because the artworks of the East Side Gallery are subject to constant change

Note: At this point, thanks to HouseTrip.de who gave me the opportunity to check out one of their apartments on my last stay in Berlin. A great alternative to a stay in a hotel or hostel! Find their Berlin offers right here!

Have you been to the East Side Gallery? What anekdotiques and tips do have from there? Leave a comment!

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This post is also available in Deutsch.

  1. Schöner Artikel, interessante Fakten! Ich wohne ganz in der Nähe der East Side Gallery, laufe/fahre dort oft vorbei und finde immer wieder neue spannende Details und Veränderungen. Das Highlight war allerdings letztes Jahr der Besuch von Mr. Hasselhoff, (http://instagram.com/p/W9wDjqqEMU/ ;-)) der dafür gekämpft hat, dass die Mauer diesmal _nicht_ abgerissen wird. Hat leider nicht ganz geklappt, jetzt klafft eine Lücke an der Baustelle des neuen Gebäudes.

    Reply
  2. TravelDoIt says:

    The East Side Gallery is one of the most colourful and thought-provoking places in Berlin and you’ve really captured that well in your pictures here.

    It’s so easy to see just why it’s a must-see for every traveller.

    Reply
  3. Laura says:

    Great stuff! We visited the East Side Gallery last week and loved it 🙂

    Reply
    • Clemens says:

      Hey Laura, good to hear that you loved it as well. The best thing is, it’s still worth it, to come to visit from time to time, because it still changes its artworks!

      Reply
  4. Rachael says:

    I saw this wall in 1979 and it was quite a sight. I’ll always remember where I was the night it came down.

    Reply

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