20 Years After, Berlin Wall Gets Facelift

By: Kirsten Grieshaber - AP Writer
By: Kirsten Grieshaber - AP Writer

Stroke by stroke, Gerhard Kriedner applied pink acrylic paint with a small brush on a 14-yard stretch of the Berlin Wall, recreating the mural he first painted months after the Berlin Wall came down on Nov. 9, 1989.

Kriedner and 90 artists from around the world have gathered
again to repaint their original creations on the concrete slabs,
bringing new life to images that have been eroded by the elements
over the last two decades, on the longest remaining length of the
wall that once split Germany's capital.

"This is a very emotional thing for me," Kriedner, 69, said,
adding that he escaped from communist East Germany to the West
himself as a young man. "The Berlin Wall stands for the total lack
of freedom we had at the time."

While Berliners were initially eager to tear down the city's
most detested symbol, in recent months there has been a major
effort to restore the 3/4 mile-long (1.3-kilometer) dilapidated
East Side Gallery - a major tourist attraction with 106 different
paintings and graffiti.

"The wall was rotten through and through," Kriedner said on a
recent chilly, overcast autumn day as he put the finishing touches
on his mural - a dark, barren landscape with bursting soap bubbles
colored pink and light blue, his interpretation of the promise of
Socialist dreams colliding with reality.

"In order to restore the wall, the entire artwork was scraped
off, the concrete was chiseled down to the steel insides, and then
everything had to be reapplied, but this time with waterproof
acrylic paints," the Bavarian artist said, adding that he'd been
working off a photo of his original piece to ensure the new version
mimicked the original.

Kani Alavi, the head of the East Side Gallery's Artists'
Association, has been the driving force behind the restoration work
that started in October 2008. Alavi lobbied for years to collect
the euro2.5 million ($3.7 million) from the city, state and federal
governments needed for the restoration process. That included room
and board for the artists, who otherwise worked for free.

Of the initial group of artists, only five declined to
participate in the renovation project. Six others died and their
murals have been restored by other artists.

"We thought it was really important to recreate the paintings
because, by now, there's a whole new generation that no longer
remembers the original Berlin Wall and the historic events that led
to Germany's reunification," said Alavi, an Iranian-born artist
who had already restored his own mural of East Germans crossing
Checkpoint Charlie into West Berlin on the night the border opened
for the first time.

Every day, the East Side Gallery in Berlin's formerly eastern
Friedrichshain neighborhood attracts thousands of tourists who pose
for snapshots in front of the murals.

The western side of the wall was covered in graffiti during the
decades after the barrier was erected on Aug. 13, 1961. The eastern
side stood barren, desolate and guarded by stern border police for
decades. Only after the wall's collapse did a group of Berlin
artists decide to decorate the stretch - the first joint art
project of the formerly divided city.

They called on artists from around the world to join them in
expressing their feelings in paint and color on the formerly
untouchable east side of the wall.

"We had nothing, only cheap paint and brushes, but we were so
euphoric about all the historic changes and we wanted to express
them in our paintings," Alavi said, adding that the murals show
the joy and hopefulness of overcoming injustice that people
believed was possible at the time.

Since then, pollution, weather and time turned famous images
like the fraternal communist kiss between East German leader Erich
Honecker and Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev, or the East German
Trabant car that appears to be bursting through the wall, into a
sad sight - with long cracks in the concrete and big chunks of
paint flaking off.

Then there were the souvenir-seekers who chipped off pieces of
rock or scrawled their names and messages atop the paintings.

The East Side Gallery received historic monument status in 1991.
But despite new signs asking visitors not to tamper with the bright
new paintings, it's uncertain whether the new art will be free from
graffiti, vandalism or souvenir hunters.

Some, however, didn't seem to mind that prospect.

Julie Zinser, a tourist from Riverside, California who was
strolling down along the wall said she loved the paintings, but the
bright new colors made the it look less authentic.

"It seems like the gritty beauty of this city got a little
lost," Zinser said and then posed for a photo with her two
daughters.


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