Berlin’s East Side Gallery

February 09, 2019
At which point does a graffiti differentiates itself from street art? Once they are pre-planned and has more details than a simple stylised tag, or when they are not deemed illegal?

When it comes to East Side Gallery, a dedicated protected section of the Berlin Wall east of the capital city of Germany adorned with street art 1.3 kilometres long, it is much more than just a collection of graffiti - though there's a section for that too.

1989 marks the end of the division of Berlin in west and east, and in the next year the painting of the standing remains of the Berlin Wall begins in the Mühlenstraße, where the present day East Side Gallery resides. The painting of the murals brought 118 artists from 21 countries together; producing the 106 murals that became the East Side Gallery.

The East Side Gallery is unique in that it is both historic and modern, and at the same time, highly accessible. The murals that makes up the East Side Gallery are painted on the Berlin Wall, the very symbol of division that portrays memories of pain, suffering, and separation for the citizens of Berlin and Germans in general. Now there are only patches of the Wall left in Berlin, yet it's not just a memory, it is part of Berlin's identity; tourists from all over the world come to Berlin to see the historical solid fence that claimed lives, children took school trips to learn about its history, and there are people who remember it as it was back in the 1960s.

And yet, the East Side Gallery embraces its history and celebrates everything the Wall didn't stand for at the same time. The murals, though different individually, showcases common themes; freedom, tolerance, acceptance, community.  They are a collection of colourful and powerful homages to the values the world needed -then and now. Today the East Side Gallery embodies the same spirit that it has at its beginning; that art speaks to many people, it speaks a deeper truth, and it brings people together.

There is, however, an ironic juxtaposition of the murals on the west and east side of the Wall that makes up East Side Gallery. The west side, which faces a busy main street right by one of Berlin's main train station, the Ostbahnhof, are lined with professionally done, beautiful murals. And yet the east side faces an undeveloped, uncared of piece of empty lot, and are covered with tags done in spray paint, which are the result of plain vandalism. I can't help but think of how this speaks to the condition of the prosperous West Berlin compared to the poorer East.

The eastern side of the gallery

If you have ever found yourself east of Berlin (step of at the Berlin Ostbahnhof Station or take the 248 bus in the direction of S+U Warschauerstraße) a visit to the East Side Gallery would offer a trip that shows a different, maybe more free and rebellious side of Berlin. As a bonus, there is plenty of opportunity for you to snap an Insta-worthy photo with extremely cool backgrounds.

Read more about my stay in Berlin in my series, The Berlin Diaries.


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