Understandably, a lot of people hate graffiti, mainly because it takes the form of the pointless defacement of public or private property with little more than large and ugly "tags," carried out by people who are - usually - fairly talentless (check me out, going all Daily Mail on you). But it's true that most graffiti artists don't have the undeniable talent of the elite posse which includes Banksy, King Robbo or Ben Eine. Incidentally, they don't like pointless graffiti either, calling talentless graffiti artists "toys." But on a recent visit to Berlin, I saw some quite extraordinary graffiti which I stood and looked at for a good hour. Why? Because there was about 1.3 kilometres of it all in a row.
The East Side Gallery is, in fact, a 1.3km-long section of the Berlin Wall which features the paintings of over 100 artists. When the Wall came down in 1989, artists from all over the world rushed to Berlin to adorn the east side of this incredible memorial with political (or anti-political) images, making it the biggest open-air gallery in the world.
Over time, and almost inevitably, a lot of the graffiti has been damaged...by graffiti, as much as natural erosion, which is more than a little ironic. Restoration work started back in 2000, but it was only in 2009 that, armed with more durable paint, 86 of the original artists returned to restore their paintings (the others having declined - in some cases, apparently, because of the "small" 3,000 payment). Three years on and the East Side Gallery is in relatively good nick - although there is obviously the odd scrawl here and there from tourists; a bit like the walls of Abbey Road Studios in London NW8.
Founded by the members of the Federal Association of Artists BBK, Bodo Sperling, Barbara Greul Aschanta, Jorg Kubitzki and David Monti, the plethora of artists who helped to create the East Side Gallery have contributed the good, the bad, the ugly and the downright surreal. One has to admit, the talent does vary quite considerably.
Below are some of my favourite images, so let's start with the one that continues to draw the biggest crowd and the largest number of cameras and smartphones. Entitled My God, Help Me to Survive This Deadly Love, but also known colloquially as the Fraternal Kiss, this mural measuring nearly five metres across by Dmitri Vrubel depicts Leonid Brezhnev (General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union) and Erich Honecker (General Secretary of the Socialist Unity Party in the German Democratic Republic) locked in an embrace. This is not fictional, though. Far from it - it's actually a reproduction of a photograph that captured this very moment during the 30th anniversary celebration of the foundation of the German Democratic Republic back in 1979:
The East Side Gallery is indeed an extraordinary tourist attraction and one which is arguably very important to preserve. After all - and I don't mean this to sound crass - there is quite enough bland concrete in what was East Berlin...
Ashley is a blogger, copywriter and editor.