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East Side Gallery

DW staff (jc)August 6, 2008

For 28 years, Berliners dreamed of tearing down the Wall. Now, the largest remaining stretch of it is to be touched up to preserve art works against weather damage and vandalism. But how long can it stay spic and span?

East Side Gallery art work
This picture of two old men kissing is one of the gallery's famous imagesImage: dpa

Berlin's Muehlenstrasse -- a four-lane thoroughfare largely devoid of buildings and full of speeding traffic -- isn't the sort of street that would usually attract a lot of tourists. But some half a million visitors come every year to look at the East Side Gallery, a 1,316-meter stretch of reconstituted Berlin Wall.

The "gallery," which was originally set up in 1990 after the fall of East German Communism, features works by 118 artists from 21 countries -- many of them chipped by the elements and obscured by graffiti.

As of October, however, those artists have been invited to come to Berlin to restore their works and spruce up one of the German capital's most unlikely tourist attractions.

Around half of the two million euros ($3.1 million) needed for the renovations come from the EU, the German government and the city. The rest is covered by lottery funds.

Iranian Organizer, German history

Iranian born artist Kani Alavi, chairman of the artists association for the East Side Gallery, poses in front of his painting
Among the works to be restored is Alavi's ownImage: AP

The project is the brainchild of an artists' initiative headed by Iranian Kani Alavi, who has lived in Berlin since 1980 and whose work is also immortalized on the harsh concrete remnants of Communism.

Ironically, the east-facing gallery represents what the wall looked like from the West, since residents of Communist East Germany were forbidden from even touching, let alone decorating it.

Equally ironically, one of the problems for the gallery is people picking at it to hack out souvenirs -- disregarding signs posted to inform visitors that they were standing before a piece of history.

Picture on East Side Gallery
The ugly bits of graffiti will be removed -- but will vandals respect the monument?Image: www.flickr.com/chrisnicolson

"We tried that, but someone stole the signs -- they work well as souvenirs, too," Alavi told Berlin's Tagesspiegel newspaper.

This isn't the first gallery renovation.

In 2000, a German paint company sponsored the restoration of some 40 meters of original art works, but this is the first time the gallery as a whole has been scheduled for a touch-up.

If all goes to plan, work will be finished by November 9, 2009 -- in time to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the opening of the Berlin Wall.