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Berlin Wall: East Side Gallery

The East Side Gallery is a 1.3 km-long section of border wall on the northern bank of the river Spree. In January 1990, artists began painting murals on this wall section, drawing international attention. A sequence of large-scale murals emerged, some of which replicated the famous murals from the Kreuzberg (i.e., Western) side of the wall, while others formulated quite different visual statements. Birgit Kinder's Trabbi breaking through the wall and Dmitrij Wrubel's "brotherly kiss" became world famous as a result of numerous reproductions. The ensemble officially opened as the "East Side Gallery" in September 1990.

Why the Wall was built

Until 1961 East German citizen were allowed to travel to West Berlin. Travelling to West Germany became difficult after closing the border between East and West Germany in 1952. The Wall was erected in 1961 because more than 2.6 million East Germans escaped to West Berlin or West Germany from 1949 to 1961 (total population of East Germany was about 17 million!).

The life in the West was much better than in the East after 1948. West Germany including West Berlin had got financial help through the Marshallplan from the USA. In East Germany a communist system was established and many people had to suffer under repressions of the Communist party.

In May 1952 the open border (Zonengrenze) between East and West Germany was closed by the East German government. In the years after 1952 it became more difficult and dangerous to escape to the West over this border. However, the sectorial borders between East and West Berlin were not closed. Many East German citizen went to East Berlin and from there to West Berlin. Once arrived in West Berlin they stayed there or were fled out to West Germany.

The East German government saw no other way to prevent from escaping to the West via Berlin than closing the border between East and West Berlin on August 13, 1961

During an official visit to Germany, John F. Kennedy made a short stop in Berlin on 26th June 1963. After inspecting the Wall from on top of a platform at Checkpoint Charlie, outside Schöneberg City Hall, he made an electrifying speech to a huge crowd that had come out to see this guardian of freedom. He described West Berlin as "An island of freedom in a sea of communism" and entranced the people by saying: " All free men, wherever they may live, are citizens of Berlin. And therefore, as a free man, I take pride in the words: Ich bin ein Berliner (I am a Berliner) ".

Every U.S. president after him dutifully visited Berlin, and in 1987, Ronald Reagan asked Gorbachev to open the Brandenburg Gate and tear down the wall if he truly believed in freedom:

"General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization: Come here to this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!"
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