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What was painted on the Berlin Wall in the 1980s and why these drawings became iconic
What was painted on the Berlin Wall in the 1980s and why these drawings became iconic

The Berlin Wall is often considered an iconic symbol of division during the Cold War. By the time it was demolished in 1989, the art on the Berlin Wall had become a clear example of the mood and feelings of the city's inhabitants.

The art of the Berlin Wall of the 1980s was an artistic reflection of the events of the Cold War in Europe. The fifteen years after the Allied victory in World War II were marked by massive movements of migrants from East Germany to West Germany, as East Germans grew increasingly unhappy with the lack of economic opportunity in the Soviet-controlled Eastern Bloc. Realizing the potential loss of their human capital, Soviet and East German officials decided to build a barrier separating East and West Germany and East and West Berlin.

People of the World, Shimal Gimaev, 1990. \ Photo:

The Berlin Wall was, in fact, two walls with a "strip of death" between them. This barrier strip had watchtowers, searchlights, and electrical fences threatening anyone who tried to cross the border. While the East Wall was heavily guarded and remained intact throughout the Cold War, by the mid-1980s West German artists began decorating the West Wall. Art on the Berlin Wall was often characterized by subversive symbolism that criticized the wall and what it symbolized.

1. Berlin Wall

Berlin Wall. \ Photo:

The Berlin Wall's role as a public work of art began in the mid-1970s when the wall was upgraded to a taller, smoother surface that was the perfect canvas for street art. Artists began covering walls with political slogans, jokes and artwork in the mid to late 1980s, when the underground city street art scene began to grow among the Berlin population.

Left to right: The Berlin Wall at the start of the Cold War, photographer Paul Schutzer. \ Berlin Wall in 1989, photographer André Kaiser. \ Photo:

What West Berliners once considered a “wall of shame” has increasingly become an artistic public expression of the feelings and ideas of the city's population. Many visitors to the city left their own footprints on the wall, making the art of the Berlin Wall a diverse display of different languages ​​and cultural ideas from around the world.

2. Art on the Berlin Wall

Graffiti on the Berlin Wall. \ Photo:

Western Wall artists often did things in a hurry. They usually only took a few different colors with them to paint and worked quickly to avoid being caught by the East German authorities. Although the West German police usually turned a blind eye to the wall painters, the wall was considered part of East German territory and was constantly patrolled by the East German authorities in search of fugitives and people vandalizing the wall.

Western Berlin Wall. \ Photo:

The need to paint unnoticed led to the widespread use of graffiti on the Western Wall. This new art form was largely brought in by American artists who were part of the booming street art scene in New York in the 1960s and 70s.

The fascination with graffiti continued among Berlin artists after the collapse of the wall when a massive street art scene swept Berlin throughout the 1990s and early 2000s. It also increased the number of large murals and other street art projects that characterize the city today, continuing the legacy of art on the Berlin Wall.

3. Symbolism

There is no Europe without Berlin, 1988. \ Photo:

Artists often made their work symbolic of the wall they were painting on. Art on the Berlin Wall was a form of rebellion against the repression and schism that the wall brought into the daily life of Berliners.It was a way for artists to express their contempt for the wall and its meaning, transforming the dull stone surface into an artistic expression of expression and rebellion. This gave the city's artists the ability to have a semblance of control in a situation that they seemed unable to control.

By the late 1980s, these two walls represented a huge contrast between life in West and East Germany. While the East Wall remained empty and gray throughout its existence, the West Wall gradually morphed into a mile-long canvas, capturing the freedom of expression that West Berliners enjoyed in their daily lives. By 1989, walls had become much more than just barriers; they had become contrasting products of two opposing systems of governance, culture and artistic expression.

4. Thierry Noir

Tribute to the artist Marcel Duchamp, 1984. \ Photo:

Thierry Noir is a French painter often referred to as the leading pioneer of art on the Berlin Wall. After leaving university and being laid off from a number of jobs, he moved to Berlin in search of artistic inspiration. Since 1984, Noir has made wall painting an almost daily ritual.

Thierry Noir stands in front of a mural depicting his iconic cartoon heads. \ Photo:

His works were characterized by caricature paintings made from a minimal palette of colors. By 1990, Thierry had painted over five kilometers of paintings on the Berlin Wall. Many of his works are often considered the iconic style of Berlin Wall art today. His paintings have been seen in many off-the-wall media from art galleries around the world to the cover of U2's 1991 album Achtung Baby.

5. Art on the Western Wall

In 1986, American artist Keith Haring was invited by the Checkpoint Charlie Museum to contribute to the burgeoning art scene of the Berlin Wall. Keith painted figures that were intertwined with the colors of the German flag, representing the division of the German population. Unfortunately, the fresco was painted over within a few days by other artists, whose motives still remain a mystery. This part will become the center of the Berlin Wall art until the end of its existence.

West Berliners leave their mark on the wall. \ Photo:

Painting on the same section of the wall as Haring, artist Ron English painted an extensive mural in 1988. Using the nearby East German dissidents as observers, he was able to complete the mural in a week and a half. Art on the Berlin Wall has become a collage of diverse ideas and artistic expressions from all walks of life.

6. East Side Gallery

"God! Help me survive among this mortal love. " \ Photo:

After the wall was torn down in 1989, artists David Monti and Heike Stefan met with GDR (German Democratic Republic) officials to discuss creating a work of art from the East Wall. It was decided that part of the wall on the Mühlenstrasse would be preserved as a public art exhibition. Artists were invited to create artwork on the wall, and many of them are still on display today. This work of art was heavily centered around the freedom and liberation that the East Germans felt after the wall collapsed. By the end of 1990, over a hundred artists from around the world had created artwork on the East Wall.

East Side Gallery. \ Photo:

The East Side Gallery is an outstanding contemporary exhibition of the Berlin Wall, located on the Spree. With a length of almost one and a half kilometers, it is one of the world's largest open-air art galleries and one of the main tourist attractions in Berlin.

Test the Rest by Birgit Kinder. \ Photo:

One of the most famous works is the work of Dmitry Vrubel, written in 1990. It depicts the socialist fraternal kiss between Soviet President Leonid Brezhnev and East German President Erich Honecker in 1979. Another striking example of creativity on the wall is Birgit Kinder's Test the Rest. This painting shows the Trabant, East Germany's most popular vehicle, breaking through the East Sidewall.

“It Happened in November,” Kani Alavi. \ Photo:

The work It Happened in November, which was written by Kani Alavi in ​​1990, did not go unnoticed either.It depicts the faces of East Germans who poured westward after the collapse of the wall. This painting was inspired by a range of emotions Alavi saw on the faces of East Germans as he watched the wall collapse from his Berlin apartment.

7. Inspiration

Contemporary Berlin Public Art. \ Photo:

Art on the Berlin Wall inspired a wave of street art both during and after the Berlin Wall. Berlin is known today as one of the street art capitals in the world, with extensive murals painted on numerous walls throughout the city.

Many Berlin Wall artists, such as Thierry Noir, have inspired an abstract, minimalist style of art based on speed and a deliberate lack of detail. The techniques used to create art on the Berlin Wall are considered by many to be an integral part of many of the city's signature street art styles today.

8. Art on the Berlin Wall: International Heritage

Fragment of the Berlin Wall on display in the United Nations Sculpture Garden. \ Photo:

When the Western Wall was torn down, pieces of art were auctioned off to individuals and institutions who wanted to own a piece of Cold War history. Today, hundreds of remains of the wall are on display around the world.

Three paintings are displayed in the garden of United Nations Headquarters in New York. There is also a wall slab outside the headquarters of the European Commission in Brussels. The art of the Berlin Wall, housed in such highly prized locations, illustrates how important and iconic this wall is as a symbol of the 20th century and the Cold War period.

Berlin Wall art lives on today in museums, universities, galleries, parks and other places around the world. Despite the fact that the wall has come down for over thirty years, international respect for the artists of the Berlin Wall shows the immense power of their art, as it managed to survive the Soviet Union, the Cold War and, ultimately, the wall itself.

Read also about what the Berlin Wall was actually built for and how it influenced the lives of ordinary citizens.

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