Travel Stories: Berlin on a Budget: East Side Gallery

One of the downfalls of living in London, where I have access to some of the world’s premier museum attractions for free, is that feeling of disappointment I feel when forking out for museum entry abroad.

However, it could be worth it for the feeling of elation upon finding a free museum/art gallery abroad!

One of my favourites has to be the Berlin East Side Gallery – a section of the Berlin Wall that has been kept intact and redeployed as an open-air art gallery. Over a kilometre long, the gallery consists of over 100 paintings, most of which have been there since 1990. The Wall was over 155 kilometres long when in operation.

The official demolition did not start until June 1990 – seven months after that historic day in November when the border guards began to allow the crowds of people through the barriers. One of my favourite stories of all time is related to this day 9 November 1989 – the spokesman in charge of reading out a statement to the press regarding the change in border controls had not been told exactly when the East Germans would be allowed to cross. Flustered when asked for the timetable, he mistakenly stated that it was effective immediately. This became the lead story on all television news, leading to thousands of people gathering at the Wall, demanding to be allowed through. The confused guards were not able to hold back the tide and thus the physical destruction began months before schedule!

The artwork was created after the fall of the Wall in 1989, when artists from all over the world arrived in the newly open East Berlin and painted expressions of the overcoming of inhumanity. Artwork had always been present on the West side of the wall, but this was the first time that such access had been available on the other side. I imagine the thought of such an impressive ‘blank canvas’ was irresistible!

Rather sadly, some of the gallery has been moved to make way for commercial developments. It is all still available to see, but is no longer part of one stretch of unbroken wall.

In addition, many of the paintings have been damaged by graffiti – it seems some people don’t feel an artistic endeavour is complete without their own personal contribution! There is a project in place to restore the paintings – but it seems the original artists may not all be involved. An attempt to protect the art from further damage is manifest in a new fence, put in place to prevent tourists from adding their art work, or from chipping away pieces of the Wall as souvenirs.

Just a short walk from either Ostbahnhof or Warschauer Strasse railway stations, the east Side Gallery is easy to get to and well worth a visit when in Berlin.

Sarah Jayne


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