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Berlin: A Visit to the East Side Gallery

It was recently the 26th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, an event which is not celebrated much in Germany, reserving festivities instead for the Tag der Deutschen Einheit (Day of German Unity) on October 3rd. In 1990, East and West Germany officially reunited to become one country again, almost a year after the fall for the wall on November 9, 1989.

During its demolition, a few parts of the outer wall were left standing, the most famous of which is now known as the East Side Gallery.

Standing along the north side of the River Spree, along Mühlenstrasse between Oberbaumbrücke and Berlin Ostbahnhof, the 1.3km stretch of the former wall is a huge tourist draw. In 1990, the government invited various artists from all over the world to cover it in murals on the theme of peace, unity, and hope for the future. As a result, it has earned the distinction of being one of the world’s largest outdoor art galleries.

Here, the art is a bit different than other kinds of street art that you’ll find in Berlin, not least because the pieces on the wall were actually commissioned. The style is also unique, and reflects the time during which it was created. Many of the pieces are clearly political, some are humorous, others are controversial, and many more are abstract.

Unfortunately, many pieces have been covered in graffiti, tagging, or just tourists scribbling their names over the famous images.

Since 2008, there has been a non-profit organisation charged with restoring the gallery to its original state, but progress is slow. Recently, they were cordoning off sections of the wall that can be saved by cleaning.

Others cannot be saved, and will remain permanently defaced, unless the original artists agree to repaint them. Several artists already refused to do so in 2011, either because they were insulted by the proposed fee of €3000, deemed too low to complete the work (especially given the knowledge that the city had set aside several million euros for the project), or because some believed that the renovations would turn the East Side Gallery into an overly-sanitised tourist attraction and thus transform the spirit of the city.

Indeed, some would tell you that it may be a bit too late for that now, with rampant gentrification and the ever-increasing cost of living in Berlin. The Disneyfication of the East Side Gallery may just be another symptom of this, and this, as well as its historical significance, only adds to its importance as a symbol of Berlin.

Don’t forget that there is more of the wall than just the East Side Gallery to be seen in Berlin nowadays. For something completely different and much more solemn, check out the Berlin Wall Memorial, where you can learn about the destruction of the city during the war, how the wall was built, and stories of people who died trying to cross from East to West.

Have you ever been to the East Side Gallery? What’d you think about it? Let us know your thoughts down below!

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