Berlin’s Changing Face: 30 Years Since the Fall of the Wall

Berlin’s Changing Face: 30 Years Since the Fall of the Wall

On the 30th anniversary of the Berlin Wall coming down, the German capital continues to prove that culture and identity are intrinsically linked. A city of makers and shakers, Berlin’s creative landscape is constantly evolving.

years since the fall of the Berlin Wall, the city is once
again reflecting upon its inescapable past. Few places have such
loaded and evocative connotations in the common psyche yet one
could spend months exploring the city and only just scratch the
surface of its weighty history.

The anniversary presents both an opportunity for the young to
learn and for the older generation to tender a reality check. The
whole thing could be unbearable, a hangover of the “wall sickness”
suffered by those who lived under its shadow. But the city embodies
a rebellious streak, a steadfast determination to stand up for the
values of freedom and democracy.

Berlin is a city of makers, and a society that is responsive to
creativity. It is through freedom of expression that it finds
meaning in life, and holds perceptions to account. One of the most
iconic examples is Thierry Noir, who moved to a West Berlin squat
overlooking the wall in 1982.

He had a clear view of the patrolling guards and tells me, “Life
by the wall was melancholic… there was no nature, no trees, only
sand and watchtowers…” so he would paint giant, colourful murals
of cartoon-like profiles on the wall as an act of defiance, to make
it ridiculous and help destroy it. Now considered a forerunner of
modern street art, Thierry’s work can be taken as both a form of
artistic expression and of political commentary.

He explains how the subculture was very strong at the time,
attracting many alternative characters. “During the Allied
occupation of West Berlin, no German soldiers were allowed to
enter. It was easy for young people from West Germany who refused
to join the army to come and escape army duties. It was a hard time
to live, with very little money, but all of the people who were
artists then are still artists now – that movement was very

Thierry still lives in Berlin, and continues to paint. For the
anniversary, he has collaborated with Hackney street artist STIK on
a new artwork for the Imperial War Museum in London, called WALL.
On original pieces of the wall, the pair have painted figures
facing towards each other, the past engaging with the present.

When I ask him what the work means to him, he tells me we need
to open our eyes to all the walls still standing around the world,
often given new names to minimise the effects: separation line,
peace border, green line, and the list goes on. “When you paint
outside you change the city. The colour brings a smile to people’s
faces, one second of happiness… but the younger generation must
not think the Berlin Wall was an art project. It was a deadly

His words echo in my head as I walk along the East Side Gallery,
where teenagers pose for photos in front of murals commissioned 10
years ago on one of the few remaining strips of the wall. As I
dodge the electric scooters littering the pavement, I come to
realise it’s a fine line we tread between reflection and being
thankful to be free and alive now, a line that we are all
navigating. In a moment of levity the next day, I try out a scooter
through the Tiergarten, whizzing through the autumnal woods and
coming out to face the imposing Brandenburg Gate.

What strikes me is how blissfully easily one can pass between
East and West now. As we take a private bicycle tour along the old
route of the wall, guided by academic Dr Lauren Van Vuuren, it’s
sometimes hard to tell which side we are on.

Lauren shows us one of the few remaining watchtowers, bought and
turned into a museum by the brother of Gunter Litfin, the first
victim of the wall who was shot trying to cross the nearby river. A
block of flats has gone up around it and it obscures their view,
but that’s partly the point.

Streets that were once drab and oppressive are now yummy mummy
territory, and the rents have crept up. Silver birch trees grow on
the former death strip, nature coming back in stark contrast to
other areas that have been deliberately left bare.

“There is no blueprint for how Germany should grow together. The
process of reunification is ongoing and it will take another two
generations for life to seem normal,” explains Wolfram Putz from
Graft architects. One of the most forward-thinking minds in Berlin,
Wolfram is at the heart of the discourse on the regeneration and
reconstruction of the city.

One could argue the art scene now defines Berlin to a
considerable extent but its essence is shifting as time goes by.
“Where once there were two authenticities, the official and the
underground, now the counter culture is becoming professionalised,”
he continues. “I’m working on a big project with a co-operative
which has been doing clubs. They came as squatters but have now
turned 40, bought the land and want to do something good there for
the community.”

Wolfram does what he can to help heal the physical and mental
divide, with a residential project at Checkpoint Charlie just one
of Graft’s many projects bridging the gap. The firm also put
together a profound exhibition for the German Pavilion at the
Architecture Biennale in Venice last year: Unbuilding Walls, and
designed the Urban Nation Museum, the world’s first museum of urban
contemporary art.

He talks of the great optimism when the wall came down, “Those
two months will never come back. It was like the end of the Great
War. There was a feeling of lightness and connectivity to all other
humans.” Yet with new media, we are all connected much more easily
nowadays. And creativity continues to thrive in the cultural