March 2013


My thoughts on the East Side Gallery

I realize, as I write this, that I am not about to post something that many of my Berlin friends will like, but I feel like saying it anyway.

But first — the East Side Gallery, a 1.3 kilometer long piece of the Berlin wall, is going to have a 22 meter piece taken out so that luxury apartments can be built.

So here it goes:

While on balance, I think it would be better for the East Side Gallery to stay intact, I honestly wouldn’t notice if 22 meters of it vanished.

Actually, I lie. I wouldn’t notice if the entire thing vanished because I never go over there. From my perspective, the area is a bleak, depressing, awful area. It’s not that luxury apartments will improve it, it’s that the area is, at this point, unable to be saved without some major surgery. What that surgery should consist of exactly, I’m unable to say, but I doubt that luxury apartments are the answer.

I’ve walked the length of the East Side Gallery at least once, and I’ve returned there with visiting friends once or twice (at least once that I can think of), and I’ve never really enjoyed myself. Right next to the wall runs a street – Mühlenstraße – and it’s a busy street. The sidewalk isn’t that wide and you’re not really able to step away from the wall any distance to view and appreciate the “art” that is painted upon its surface.

On the other side of Mühlenstraße there are surface parking lots and the comically oversized, for its surroundings, O2 World – a multipurpose arena that hosts Berlin’s professional basketball and ice hockey teams, as well as the venue for music performances of questionable value but large audiences (for example, Justin Bieber). I’ve been inside the O2 World once (two years ago!) for an ice hockey game (it was totally fun!). That’s the only time I’ve ever been near that place voluntarily.

I wouldn’t choose to walk down Mühlenstraße again unless I absolutely positively had to because it’s not a pleasant walk – neither in the winter when winds whip through at speeds that remind me of rural Wyoming nor in the summer when the narrow sidewalk gets hot and uncomfortable – a wall with no breaks on one side and traffic whizzing by on the other.

But when I think about history, I suppose it’s important to save pieces of the Berlin Wall in order to help us remember and communicate what it was like in Berlin during the Cold War. Pieces like, for example, the Berlin Wall Memorial along Bernauer Strasse. While it is incomplete, it does preserve the width of the death strip, along with a guard tower, and a visitor’s center. That’s the piece I now take my guests to visit.

Which brings me back to my thoughts: I suppose it’d be better if the East Side Gallery were left in one piece – because, uh… it’s better than the current proposed alternative.

I’ll admit that it’s not really a strong argument.


If you want to follow somebody who wants to save the East Side Gallery, and who is actively working to do so, check out Der Irische Berliner. His twitter feed, @IrishBerliner has many interesting links and photographs of related to the ongoing demonstrations and preservation efforts.

1 comment to My thoughts on the East Side Gallery

  • MT

    At least one time because we went there — on the way to the famous hockey game. I guess it *has* been two years ago. Hmmm.