The Berlin Wall was finally opened in 1989 and demolished by 1992, effectively lifting the Iron Curtain that had divided Europe for decades. This appeared to be a major blow to walls, and yet more than two decades later, walls are still with us. Why?
1. The Berlin Wall was only one wall: In the late 1980s, there were many walls in the world, and the Berlin Wall was not all of them. Instead, it was just one of them. The long-term consequences of this fact were far-reaching and various, but the most significant was that when the Berlin Wall was destroyed, only one wall was destroyed.
2. Not all walls are connected to each other: Though the Berlin Wall was very long, it was not so long that it joined up with all other walls in the world. If this had been so, there’s a chance that demolishing the Berlin Wall would have ended walls forever, and today we’d be living in a world without walls. But it was not to be.
Rudi Meisel was one of the very few West German photographers to cross the Berlin Wall into East Germany, using his lens to capture authentic street life in the GDR – despite the best efforts of censors.
Keith Haring painting a mural on The Berlin Wall. October 23, 1986. Photos by Tseng Kwong Chi.
Keith Haring had been invited
the Director of the Checkpoint Charlie Museum to paint the mural. He began shortly after 10 A.M., Since the first six feet of land on the Western side belong to the East, he was not just defacing property of the East German Government, he was entering that country without a visa. A West Berlin policeman used a megaphone to warn him of the fact. But Haring continued, sporadically leaping back onto Western soil when East German border guards looked as if they were about to arrest him.
After 90 minutes, he had completed a third of his mural. He painted an interlocking chain of red and black human forms on a bright yellow background. The colors were those of the East and West German flags.
The artist gave interviews to West German television and radio reporters as he worked and signed autographs. “It’s a humanistic gesture, more than anything else,” said Haring, who called his work “a political and subversive act - an attempt to psychologically destroy the wall by painting it.’‘Asked whether the event was merely a publicity stunt to draw attention to himself, he said, ’'The main objective here is that it is not an insignificant act that goes unnoticed. The entire world should know that it happened, reinforcing its political significance.”
Haring completed the mural shortly after 4 P.M., He denied that it was aimed specifically against East Germany. “It’s for people and it doesn’t matter which side of the wall they’re on. It’s about both sides coming together.”
By the next day, however, someone painted large sections of the mural grey and quickly, other artists painted graffiti on the hundred-metre section that Haring had used. Within months there was very little left to see.
Peter Fechter, an 18 year old bricklayer, lies dying at the foot of the Berlin Wall in full view of witnesses, after he was shot by East German border guards while trying to escape over the wall near Checkpoint Charlie, 17th August 1962.