12 June 2010

Berlin Wall: A Perfect Canvas to paint Freedom

"Berlin Wall is a 28-mile-long scar through the heart of a one of the bigest European capitals and souls of the German people. For 28 years it had stood as the symbol of the division of Europe and the world, of Communist suppression, of the xenophobia of a regime that had to lock its people in lest they be tempted by another, freer life. After it’s fall it became a symbol of peacefull revolution and the failure of regimentation to suppress the human yearning for freedom. But Berlin Wall is also the longest canvas in the world, painted over and over by countless artists in order to express creativity, resistance and freedom of tought."

Early years

The construction of the Berlin wall began in the early hours of Sunday the 13th august 1961. It was a desperate and effective move by the GDR (German Democratic Republic) to stop East Berliners escaping from the Soviet-controlled East German state into the West of the city, which was occupied by the Americans, British and French.

It wasn’t possible to build a 160 km long wall in one day, so the GDR soldiers surrounded west-Berlin with barbed wire fences. They started during the summer of 1961 to replace the temporary fence into a rough wall made from breeze-blocks. After 5 years, the wall was already 25 km long with 210 observation towers, all around west-Berlin. The soldiers worked and transformed the Berlin wall until the beginning of the eighties, into a perfect border built to stay at least 100 years.

At the beginning of the eighties, on the wall of the last generation, the people wrote their names, then words or phrases, mostly political slogans, and then came the paintings. Nobody wanted to see the gray and dull wall, or even buy postcards or souvenirs of it. Thierry Noir and Christophe Bouchet, 2 young French men, who had been living 2 years close to the Berlin wall, felt the need to do something against this boring wall. So, on April 1984, they covered the wall, more than 3 meters high, from top to bottom, with shiny colors, trying to paint as quick as possible. A sort of physical reaction against the pressure of the daily life near the Berlin wall.

To paint the wall was absolutely forbidden, so the painters had to be quick, always painting with one eye, the other watching for soldiers. It was important not to paint alone, in isolated areas, or near the little doors of concrete integrated in the prefabricated segments. Here it was dangerous to paint the wall. From the very beginning of the murals of Thierry Noir and Christophe Bouchet, people ask immediately a lot of questions. The most frequent question was: “Why did they want to make the wall beautiful? Why did they want to ornament the Berlin wall?” They answered each time: “We are not trying to make the wall beautiful because in fact it’s absolutely impossible. 80 persons have being killed trying to jump over the Berlin wall, to escape to west-Berlin, so you can cover that wall with hundred of kilos of color, it will stay the same. One bloody monster, one old crocodile who from time to time wakes, eats somebody up, and falls again back to sleep until the next time”. The paintings on the Berlin wall always had an exceptional touch. It was always one extra emotion in the air which transformed every wall painting into a strong political act.

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The fall of the Berlin wall

After 1987, teenagers 13 and 14 years old, with a couple of spray cans joined this artistic vigor. Suddenly the wall was transformed, at some places, into a jungle of graffiti. The work of Noir and Bouchet, begun in 1984, became a normality. The people who had insulted them at the beginning, were more and more rare. Something was changing in Berlin.

After the 9th of November 1989, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the murals on the wall were growing quickly in numbers. Soon after began the cutting off of the wall, so everybody wanted to have a little piece of it. The holes in the wall became bigger and bigger, so big that Thierry Noir could pass through them to the other side, to paint the back side of the Berlin wall. The soldiers were now on the right side to appreciate the work of Thierry Noir. The last segments of the wall were taken away in august 1990. Noir who has begun to paint his first paintings on the Berlin wall, had no regrets to see the wall gone. Suddenly, the town was changing, everything was bigger, more place to move. It was time to discover another town, where all was to begin. After the end of the wall, the wall-paintings became from one day to an another, something sacred, with an incalculable value. The passers-by, the Berliners, the people from all over the world wanted to save for themselves a little part of that wall. In any weather, in the morning or in the night, you could hear the hammers resonating on the concrete. A modern gold rush.

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The Berlin wall today

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20th anniversary of the fall

Year 2009 marked the 20th anniversary of the Peaceful Revolution and the fall of the Berlin Wall. These events triggered drastic changes around the world, marking the end of the Cold War and of the division of Europe.The fall of the Berlin Wall – a new beginning in Germany and Europe – was celebrated with a huge ‘Festival of Freedom’ on both sides of the Brandenburg Gate. Accompanied by guests from around the world, with contemporary witnesses as well as public personalities, Berliners celebrated this unforgettable historical event. The highlight of this event was the multimedia staging of the symbolic fall of the Wall using a ‘domino effect’. Scores of young people were involved in the preparations for this historic event. They designed oversized stones which on this day, together with prominent artists, cultural figures and politicians, were caused to come tumbling down.

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Although Berlin wall has fallen and for it’s great part it physically disappeared, it is good that some of it’s painted parts are left up to remind us and the following generations that the flame of freedom is inextinguishable.

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