“The [border soldiers] thought, here come some crazy people with empty buckets and want to cross from East to West and haven’t even got any papers on them.”

Interview 2021

Günther Schaefer trained as a photographer and offset printer in Frankfurt am Main and worked as a commercial photographer in Germany and the United States. He is now known for his art photography. He moved to Berlin in 1989 and lived there until his death in December 2023. His work “Vaterland” (Fatherland) was one of the first to be painted in the East Side Gallery.

Günther Schaefer in the interview

Über sein Bild und die antisemitischen Angriffe

Who is Günther Schaefer?

Crossing border controls for painting water

Expropriation along the border strip at the Thuringian-Bavarian border

Fall of the Wall: from Queens, NYC, via Frankfurt to Berlin

Invitation to paint for the East Side Gallery and compensation from the GDR

Press conference and border regime after the Wall opening

"Vaterland" and the significance of 9 November

Facing antisemitic comment while painting the Wall

"Vaterland": a dynamic painting

Monument or ruin? First renovation in 1996/1997

"The East Side Gallery is…"

“There was something disconcerting about it, because these people had suddenly become friendly overnight, they didn’t have any machine guns anymore, no Kalashnikovs, and had started grinning overnight. And there was something absurd, dishonest, about that.”

Interview 2021

Günther Schaefer’s Wall painting “Vaterland” (Fatherland) marked both the 50th anniversary of the night of pogroms on 9 November 1938 and the fall of the Wall in 1989. The painting has been often defaced with politically motivated and antisemitic slogans and Schaefer has cleaned and restored it over 60 times. Later he added the words “Time Bomb” to commemorate the victims of racist attacks in post-unification Germany. He integrated the Palestinian flag for a time in 2004 to take a stand against violence in the Middle East. Israeli artist Varda Carmeli added the text on the left.

Günther Schaefer, Vaterland, 1997
Günther Schaefer, Vaterland, 1997

Schaefer was born in eastern Bavaria (West Germany), close to the border with Thuringia (East Germany). In 1989 he was living in New York. When he heard that the Wall was open, he left for Berlin, where he still lives today. He gained international renown for his black-and-white photographs of the fall of the Wall and his long-term photographic projects. In 1996 Schaefer was a founding member of the artists’ intiative Künstlerinitiative East Side Gallery e.V.


„Vaterland“ is part of the online-tour: Fall of the Wall in 1989

all artworks