Berlin Wall gallery gets anniversary facelift


June 18, 2010 Updated Apr 14, 2009 at 1:12 PM EDT

Restoration work began Tuesday on murals painted on the longest remaining stretch of the Berlin Wall, 20 years after the Cold War barrier fell, organisers said.

Completed in 1990, the 1.3-kilometre-long (0.8-mile-long) East Side Gallery is covered with paintings by 118 artists from around the world, inspired by the tumultuous emotions that marked the end of Germany's division.

But the concrete slabs running along the Spree River, which are a tourist magnet, have crumbled under the onslaught of weather, pollution, graffiti artists and plain neglect.

One of the most famous works captures Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev and the long-time leader of East Germany's communist regime Eric Honecker sharing a passionate kiss.

Kani Alavi, the head of the artists' association at the East Side Gallery, which calls itself the world's largest open-air art gallery, said four of the original artists had set to work and another 82 had pledged to participate.

"They will paint the same motifs as they did in 1990 and that is a major victory for us," he said. "If they did not, we would probably not have the chance to preserve its authenticity."

The retouching work is to be wrapped up in November, in time for the anniversary celebrations of communist East Germany's decision to open the border on November 9, 1989 amid a peaceful popular uprising.

"I am excited and am particularly happy that the Wall will be restored like a historical monument," said Rose-Marie Schinzler, who painted two of the works.

But some artists have refused to join in the effort and are demanding 15,000 euros (19,900 dollars) in compensation instead of the 3,000 euros on offer, arguing that they have not received a fair share of the Gallery's earnings over the years.

"We simply want total financial transparency for the artists," Bodo Sperling, who said he leads a group of about a dozen artists boycotting the restoration, told AFP.

The despised Wall was erected in 1961 by the communist regime of East Germany to stop a mass exodus of its citizens.

Of the 155 kilometres of grey concrete that cut off West Berlin from its hinterland for 28 years and made East Germans prisoners of their own country, only about three kilometres in total is still standing.

It was chiseled apart by Germans from East and West euphoric over the opening of the border in 1989 and large slabs were sold off to foreign buyers.

Two decades on, visitors to the city centre often search in vain for the Wall and can rarely differentiate between the former East and West, both of which have seen a dramatic construction boom since the barrier was torn down.

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