The East Side Gallery is a 3/4 mile (1.3 km) section of the Berlin Wall painted with over 100 murals on the east side, where prettifying had been strictly verboten before 1989. In 1990 after the rest of the wall came down, artists from all over the world came to Berlin to paint the east side canvas.
It was meant to be a beautiful symbol of human rights and world freedom, but over the years the concrete rotted, the walls cracked and crumbled, the murals were peeling. Long tracts of the wall had to be rebuilt from the rebar up, so some paintings had to be completely redone, this time in water-resistant acrylic.
On Friday, in concert with the city-wide Fall of the Wall celebrations, 90 artists from the original 118 returned to repaint, restore and conserve 106 of the murals.
The artists “have conveyed a second time their genuine euphoria from 1990,” said Kani Alavi, who heads the East Side Gallery Artists’ Association and was a driving force behind the restoration.
“Twenty years after the fall of the wall, the East Side Gallery stands for democracy and human rights,” he said.
“Every (artist) had his own perceptions on the fall of the wall,” Wowereit said. “I think this international nature, these different points of view and this variety are a secret of the success of this great open-air exhibition.”
The event was not without controversy. Some of the artists weren’t thrilled to have to remake images that have become iconic. Earlier this year Dmitri Vrubel, painter of the awesome mural of Erich Honecker and Leonid Brezhnev kissing, expressed dismay that his much-duplicated image was paved over and that he never got a cut of said duplications.
I’m not sure how much of a leg he has to stand on given that his mural is actually an iconic picture taken by French photographer Régis Bossu in 1979.
In 1979, Régis was sent to East Berlin to photograph the festivities of the 30th anniversary of the Deutsche Demokratische Republik — East Germany — featuring its guest of honor, Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev, the most powerful man in the Eastern bloc.
When Brezhnev finished his speech, East German President Erich Honnecker opened his arms to congratulate him with a big kiss, a normal ritual for socialist buddies. A dozen photographers opened a fire of flashes. Régis, standing in the back row, had his camera equipped with a 80-200 mm telephoto lens. He pressed the shutter release of his Nikon camera at the decisive moment and caught the embrace as a close-up on Kodak Tri-X black-and-white film.
Major magazines used it immediately. Paris Match played it prominently on double pages and labeled it like a painting: “The Kiss.”
Eleven years later, Vrubel, saw “The Kiss” in an old Paris Match and used it as a model for his painting on the remains of a section of the Berlin Wall.
The East Side Gallery restoration project invited Bossu to the unveiling of the restored wall Friday. He and Vrubel posed for pictures, spoke unintelligibly to each other, and basked in the light of the new “after a photograph by Régis Bossu” credit under the mural.