Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Berlin Tourism for Dummies: The East Side Gallery

If you haven't already visited Berlin then you have probably at least heard of The East Side Gallery. It's kind of essential to visit, even on a short trip to the city. The Gallery itself is situated on a 1.3 km long  (3/4 of a mile) stretch of the original Berlin Wall. It is the largest open air gallery in the world and home to over 100 'freedom' paintings from a host of international artists.

It was originally created in 1990 just after the fall of the Berlin Wall as an expression of freedom and hope for a new future. In the new unified Germany artists descended upon the east side of the famous barrier to tell the story of a divided then reunified Berlin, to preserve the memory of those who suffered under oppression and inhumanity and to show hope of a better world for all.

The wall runs along the eastern bank of the river Spree and is the 12-foot high canvas onto which the artwork is directly painted. It is the longest preserved part of the Berlin Wall that is still standing today. Although the gallery's original significance was a celebrated success, it's story is not without controversy and neglect.

After just two years the cheap paint was already showing signs of weathering and so the first restorative attempt took place. In 1996 the Künstlerinitiative was created by a group of artists in order to help raise donations and get sponsorship. The gallery had no public funding so they relied on donations to upkeep and maintain the art.
Covered in graffiti in 2005. "My God, Help Me to Survive This Deadly Love", Dimitrij Vrubel, Soviet Union
As time went on, not only was the appearance of the artwork deteriorating, but the concrete itself was also showing signs of decay. Originally built in 1961, the steel reinforcements within the concrete had started to corrode and the wall started to crumble. Restoration was not going to be easy or cheap. Over the years the gallery has also suffered from an over abundance of graffiti as you can see in the photo of the famous work above.

"Test the Rest", Birgit Kinder, East Germany
2006 saw another blow to the project as a 45-meter section was ripped down to make way for river access to the new O2 World arena site which was being built next door. In 2008 however, the city of Berlin along with the national lottery provided one million euros in funding to help restore the gallery and, by December 2009, 99 of the remaining 106 paintings had been restored (many by the artists who originally painted them).    

"Es geschah im November", Kani Alavi, Persia

"Politik ist die Fortsetzung des Krieges mit anderen Mitteln", Carsten Jost, Ulrike Steglich, East Berlin
I've walked along the stretch of the gallery quite a few times, mainly to bring new visitors to see it. Some of the art is simple, some provocative. Some pieces are dark and symbolic whilst others are bright and celebratory. Although it might not be as powerful a symbol as it would have been in its heyday I think that you can still learn something from it and hear the common international voice towards peace and understanding.

Tolerance, Mary Mackey, USA

Five facts about the East Side Gallery: 

01 - The East Side Gallery was officially opened on the 28th Septemeber 1990. 

02 - 118 artists from 21 countries participated in the project in 1990.

03 - Restoration of parts of the concrete wall was undertaken in 2002.

04 - In the year 2000 about a third of the wall was restored and repainted.

05 - In 2009 74 of the original artists helped restore their own work.     

The East Side Gallery is located between the Ostbahnhof train station and the Oberbaumbrüke. There is no cost to see the gallery and you can visit it at any time day or night.

Some interesting links and articles about the East Side Gallery:
The Künstlerinitiative
Berlin Tourist Guide: East Side Gallery (with a photo gallery)
The Telegraph: Berlin Wall anniversary: East Side Gallery restored to state twenty years ago.
An East Side Gallery Timeline

Our new Berlin Tourism for Dummies section aims to give quick introductions to some of the main sights to see in Berlin. We hope it is helpful to those of you planning a trip to the city.     


  1. Visited E.G. back in 2011 and it was super cold during the winter time, but so worth it. I did notice thought that the "My God, Help Me to Survive This Deadly Love" mural has graffiti. I don't recall it being so on my last visit, but must check photos to be sure.

    Neat summary, I've learned a bit!

  2. I learnt quite a bit too by writing the article. The photo I used of "My God, Help Me to Survive This Deadly Love" is from 2005 so when you visited in 2011 the graffiti would have already been removed (the rest of the photos I took earlier this year).

    The maintenance of the gallery has to be an ongoing thing, thats the problem with it being outside and in public. Even though it hasn't been long since the last clean up, it is showing some signs of deterioration and vandalism again which is a huge shame. I hope they manage to continue to protect the artwork so that future generations can see it.