Berlin East Side Gallery: Memory, Hope and Decay

Berlin East Side Gallery: Memory, Hope and Decay

I walked along Berlin East Side Gallery on a gray, windy, and cold day of March, huddled up in my jacket while silently looking at the wall paintings celebrating freedom after the Wall’s collapse, which started on November 9, 1989.

Berlin East Side Gallery, Test the Rest

Berlin East Side Gallery, Test the Rest

A memorial for a sad past, a sign of hope for a future of freedom

As I walked past the artworks, I tried to imagine how the city looked like when it was divided. It’s hard to think that not long ago people of East Berlin were isolated, deprived of their freedom and living in very difficult conditions and I wonder how the Germans living on the other side of the Wall, only a few steps away, could feel knowing – at least in part – what was happening on their threshold.

Berlin East Side Gallery. My God, Help Me to Survive This Deadly Love

Berlin East Side Gallery. My God, Help Me to Survive This Deadly Love

A memorial to freedom, the 106 graffiti are the longest open-air gallery in the world, created in 1990 by international artists, each one interpreting with his own creativity a time of important change and the hope for future freedom in the entire world.

Berlin East Side Gallery

Berlin, East Side Gallery

Looking at its deterioration, somehow Berlin East Side Gallery sadly seemed the place of oblivion.

I was saddened at seeing the deterioration of the paintings, ruined by atmospheric agents and vandalism. More than a memorial, Berlin East Side Gallery seemed the place of oblivion.

It was unexpected.

Berlin with its beautiful Museums, the ever present traces of the past – the glorious and the infamous -, Berlin so open, tolerant and respectful. How could they possibly let one of the greatest symbols of the 20th Century almost fall apart?

Berlin East Side Gallery, Diagonale Lösung des Problems

Berlin East Side Gallery, Diagonale Lösung des Problems

Not all artworks are of the same quality, but a few of them – most of which have become icons – haven’t lost their power, the strength of the underlying message. Like  Test the Rest, by Birgit Kinder, showing an Old Trabant Breaching the Wall,  or the famous My God, Help Me to Survive This Deadly Love, by the Russian painter Dmitri Vrubel, showing the kissing Communist Leaders Leonid Brezhnev and Eric Honecker in 1979 to celebrate 30 years of the German Democratic Republic (GDR) or, in short, East Germany.

Although less famous, I was impressed by Diagonale Lösung des Problems painted by Michail Serebrjakow and the way it brilliantly associates the universal thumb up  with the chain tying it.

Berlin East Side Gallery, Rushing Out

Berlin East Side Gallery, Rushing Out

I enjoyed the satirical style of the  first wall painting (coming from the Oberbaumbrücke), showing  a Trabant whose driver is rushing to cross the border, and other artworks which struck my mind for the beautiful colors and composition, although their meaning remains a mystery to me.

Berlin, East Side Gallery

Berlin, East Side Gallery

Despite the damages, Berlin East Side Gallery remains a fascinating site, blending art, culture, history. A memorial to the past in the hope for a better future. If only for this reason, it’s a must-see in Berlin.

Berlin East Side Gallery, Untitled

Berlin East Side Gallery, Untitled

Have you been to the Gallery? Which were your impressions? I’d love you to share your thoughts.


More reading: Berlin Holocaust Memorial. Winning my Brain, but not my Heart


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  • Vid of Bruised Passports
    Posted at 11:21h, 15 July Reply

    I enjoyed reading your view on the East Side Gallery 🙂 We just wrote an article on why we LOVE Berlin, but the East Side Gallery did not make it there – it does have an intriguing history, but the radicalism seems to be undercut by the fact that it is now marketed as a ‘mainstream’ attraction. Even the well-known pieces seem to have lost their edge. There is a lot more radical street art in Kreuzberg etc.

  • Luke
    Posted at 17:50h, 04 July Reply

    It’s always overwhelming to see the East Side Gallery, even more when it’s the first time. I don’t think (though I wouldn’t be sure) that they’ll ever tear it down. It was almost entirely repainted by the original artists in 2010 (if I’m not wrong), as part of the celebrations of the 10th anniversary of the reunited Berlin.
    What I find really shocking are the dumbass tourists that feel the need to leave their mark on the wall. Seriously, why would anyone do that?
    Besides that, the greedy politics who sold this ground between Wall and the river Spree should be in jail.
    Anyway, nice photos, nice article!

  • Mark Neyton
    Posted at 15:19h, 03 July Reply

    Really awesome and interesting article..I’ve visited The Wall 2 years ago but you’ve showed it in different and interesting perspective. Thanks for sharing this!

  • alessandro sender
    Posted at 09:50h, 02 July Reply

    wow, very suggestive!

    • Simon Falvo
      Posted at 11:58h, 02 July Reply

      Ale! What a wonderful surprise! I never suspected you were following me. And yes, some paintings of the East Side Gallery are really impressive. Hope you’ll come back soon!

  • [email protected]
    Posted at 10:56h, 01 July Reply

    We visited Berlin for the fist time this May and sadly I must concur with you about the East Side Gallery. Unfortunately the deterioration lessened the importance that it should hold and apart from a few works it became just another street art gallery. This was further emphasised when I saw how other memorials to this terrible time have been so sensitively established and maintained.

    • Simon Falvo
      Posted at 11:38h, 01 July Reply

      Interesting that you shared my impressions and thoughts, Jenny. I’d like to think that the East Side Gallery will be better kept in the future, but after having read that a piece of it has been torn away to build a new condo, I’m not sure of what might be left 10 years from now. Such a pity…

  • On A Junket
    Posted at 08:49h, 01 July Reply

    Great images. Diagonale’s thumbs up is quite impressive. Forced happiness…??

    • Simon Falvo
      Posted at 11:33h, 01 July Reply

      I would think at ‘forced agreement’, but it’s so open to personal interpretations…

  • Zoë Dawes
    Posted at 09:16h, 01 July Reply

    Absolutely fascinating article Simon. What powerful art and intriguing insight into a country’s psyche. Thanks for sharing your impressions.

    • Simon Falvo
      Posted at 11:35h, 01 July Reply

      Thank you, Zoe. Certainly other people had different impressions of the East Side Gallery, and that’s what I like when I read about travel: Same place, different emotions and thoughts.

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