When East Meets West

When visiting Berlin there are a handful of absolutely must-visit attractions, but none as important as the Berlin wall. A lasting symbol of the city wide divide which split Germany in two for nearly three decades, the wall signifies just a slice of Berlin’s war torn past.


East Side Gallery in all its colourful beauty. Image: Marie J Burrows


Constructed in 1961 by the German Democratic Republic or GDR in the east, the wall was initially claimed to be ‘protecting’ the area’s inhabitants from ‘fascist’ elements from the west who were conspiring to prevent the “will of the people”. In reality the wall was acting as a blockade, helping to stop the mass fleeing of the population to western Berlin after discovering the GDR (or East Germany as it was also known) was being transformed by the Soviets into a communist state.


Wise words on the East Side Gallery. Image: Marie J Burrows


Fast forward 28 years later after decades of protest, thousands of attempted escapes and the Cold War, and the authoritarian systems of East Germany and other areas in the Eastern Bloc are being scrutinised more intensely. After weeks of civil unrest the East German government announces on 9th November 1989 that GDR citizens can again visit West Germany and the west half of the city.


Important historical figures painted onto the Berlin wall at East Side Gallery. Image: Marie J Burrows


The official reunification of Germany takes place on the 3rd October 1990, and Berlin is a whole once more. Although by this point most of the wall has been destroyed a few parts remain. At this point the East Side Gallery is formed when around 100 artists are invited to paint on the east side of a stretch of the wall remnants, creating a long lasting international memorial for freedom.


The infamous kiss by Russian artist Dmitri Vrubel, ever poignant considering Russia's anti-gay stance. Image by Marie J burrows


A couple of the most iconic pieces at the East Side Gallery include the block coloured profiles of Thierry Noir’s ‘Some Heads’ and the kiss between communist leaders Leonid Brezhnev and Eric Honecker by Russian artist Dmitri Vrubel entitled ‘My God, help me to survive this deadly love’. Despite the wall being altered with graffiti since its creation in 1990, a restoration process which took place in 2009 restored some of the murals to their former glory. Although what stands today is by no means perfect, still vandalised to some extent and littered with distractions such as shops and food stands, the gallery remains a beacon of hope in a world still filled with political unrest; and is a must see for anyone visiting Berlin.


East Side Gallery 





Transport tip: for the start of the wall go to S-Bahn & U-Bahn station Warschauer Strasse. The gallery ends near Ostbahnhof  S-Bahn station.