What remains of the Berlin Wall, a formidable barrier that separated East from West for 28 years until it was pulled down in 1989, is now getting its own barrier to protect it from tourists. A permanent railing is being installed in the German capital to stop visitors from leaving their own historic mark on it—or from taking a little Cold War relic home with them.
In 1990, 119 artists painted the East Side Gallery on a 1.3km-long expanse of the wall, which was designated a heritage site the following year. It is the longest intact stretch to remain standing and has faced threats from property development and vandalism.
Artists’ work on what remains of the Berlin Wall is vulnerable to vandalism—visitors have painted over it and chipped off pieces
The East Side Gallery, visited by as many as 3.5 million tourists a year, is one of Germany’s most popular sights. Kani Alavi, the president of the artists’ initiative that manages the gallery, says the problem is that not all of the visitors respect its heritage status. Some have tried to chisel away pieces, while others have painted on top of the artists’ works. A Pakistani politician even wrote on it with a pen, he says.
“We have had several people arrested and taken to court, and we want to avoid this,” Alavi says. “We have tried to protect it using a construction hoarding but that means you can’t see the art.”
The local authority for Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg district has agreed to erect a railing, nearly a metre high, around 85cm away from the wall on both sides. Signs in several languages forbidding visitors to paint over or break off pieces of the wall will be posted on the railing. Construction is due to begin in summer 2018.
The East Side Gallery was repainted by the original artists in 2009 and was cleaned and repaired in 2015. In 2012, protestors demonstrated at the site as several segments were removed—with the approval of the local authorities—to make way for a new development on the banks of the river Spree.