“Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall,” said the US President Ronald Reagan, during his famous speech in Berlin in 1987.
Only two years later, on the night of November 9, 1989, the Berlin Wall was torn down, and with it, all the ideological and political barriers that for 28 years have materially and cruelly split in two in Berlin and Germany.
In August 1961 the face of the city changed completely: 170 km of concrete wall 10 m high marked the division of the world into two spheres, the American and the Soviet. It was impossible to cross the border, there are at least 136 people died trying to escape to West Berlin. Others used all kinds of means in a desperate attempt to cross the wall: hot air balloons, ultralight aircraft, and false documents with the letterhead of the United Nations are just a few examples.
On November 9, 1989, the words of President Reagan found concreteness when, following the fall of Communism, the leaders of the GDR government announced that East Berliners could cross the border and the wall fell under the blows of Berliners’ hammers and pickaxes. Just 1 km of the wall remained intact and in 1990 artists from all over the world celebrated the reunification of Germany, depicting the remains of the wall with colorful murals, some of which have become world-famous works as “the mortal kiss” that captures the kiss on the mouth of Honecker and Brezhnev, and “Test the best” that depicts the “official” East Germany car that breaks through the wall.
These and much other graffiti make up what is now called the East Side Gallery, a real open-air art gallery, protected by the German government as a monument.
From 1961 to 1989 the city of Berlin was divided by the Wall, a barrier of reinforced concrete 170 km long and 10 meters high, whose function was to separate the western part of the city controlled by the US, UK and France from the east, Democratic-Soviet Germany (DDR). The “anti-fascist protective wall” as it was officially called by the Socialist propaganda, was built to prevent the brain and labor drain from the Soviet sector to the west in search of a more lucrative and more free future, in an attempt to remedy the economic crisis that such migration entailed (between 1949 and 1961 when about 2.6 million East Germans crossed to the West). Today what remains of the Wall is certainly one of the things you must see in Berlin.
The night that forever changed the face of the city
The construction of the Wall happened very quickly, in just one night (12 August 1961) the face of the city changed; shortly entire neighborhoods were split in half and whole families were cruelly divided. The wall not only divided Berlin and the German people, was the symbol of the ideological and political division of the world into two spheres, the American and the Soviet ones. We have to wait 28 years before seeing Germany united again. And during those years, at least 136 people died trying to escape to West Berlin.
November 9, 1989, in the wake of the change in the Soviet Union policy and the new global detente climate, members of the GDR government announced that East Berliners could cross the border. Rapidly thousands of people gathered in front of the east wall, and thousands made their way to the checkpoint, waiting to cross over.
Within a few hours, the hope of Berliners became a joyful reality, the time of separation was over. In the days and weeks after the wall fell under the blows of Berliners’ hammers and pickaxes.
East Side Gallery: what remains of the Berlin Wall
Of the Berlin Wall remains no more than a few fragments. The longest continuous stretch (1.3 km.) Is located in Mühlenstrasse in Friedrichshain, in the former East Berlin, known as the East Side Gallery, the largest open-air exhibition of art in the world but also one of the few pieces of evidence of recent German history.
In 1990, artists of various nationalities equipped with spray and paint cans celebrated the fall of the wall decorating what was left with over one hundred colorful murals. Not just paintings but a veritable hymn to freedom and democracy, the externalization of popular joy and euphoria of those days through colors, slogans, and artistic visions. A work of great historical and the symbolic value placed under a preservation order by the German Government. Among the numerous graffiti, some of these works have become known throughout the world, such as “The Mortal Kiss” depicting the kiss on the mouth that Honecker and Brezhnev exchanged in 1979, and “Test the Best” where a Trabant (the car symbol of former East Germany) breaks through the wall.
Unfortunately, over the years the weather, pollution, the souvenir craze, and writings, have damaged the murals and crumbled the wall. To prevent the complete destruction of this monument to the memory, on the occasion of the twentieth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall (2009), the East Side Gallery has undergone a meticulous renovation that was attended by almost all of the original mural’s creators.
Opening hours: open air
How to reach: Metro Warschauer Strasse (U1, S5, S7, S75), Ostbahnhof (S5, S7)