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GraffitiundWritingsanderEastSideGallery

Daniel Kensbock spray painting his work on the West Side Gallery in 1992. He still has the shoes and jacket he was wearing that day, 2021

"The Wall was such a scary thing; then it became our canvas. […] When the Wall fell, it was so satisfying to be able to scribble on it."

Erik Mahnkopf from East Berlin remembering spraying in 1990, 2021

In the GDR, painting or merely touching the Berlin Wall was forbidden. There were no spray cans. kids painted and scribbled on tables, benches and chairs at school and in inconspicuous places, but not in public space. In West Berlin, graffiti was also forbidden, but people did it. The Berlin Wall in West Berlin was covered in large murals and political slogans. After the Wall fell, the graffiti scene experienced a boom. In the reunited city, people began spraying graffiti on every open surface available. The relics of the Berlin Wall had a special appeal since they were now accessible from the East Berlin side as well. Graffiti artists and sprayers from all over the world left their mark on the Berlin Wall, which had long become a symbol of freedom and the peaceful end to the SED dictatorship. The back of the East Side Gallery on Mühlenstraße, which was painted white, was also covered in graffiti. And just like that, without permission, art was created. Although the graffiti on the back of the Wall was almost as famous as the East Side Gallery murals, it was not preserved. However, the artworks from both sides were preserved on postcards which were sent from Berlin-Friedrichshain in the 1990s.

Picture by “Steak” and the “CAF-Crew” on the West Side Gallery, 1993
Picture by “Steak” and the “CAF-Crew” on the West Side Gallery, 1993

In the 1990s, graffiti on the back of the East Side Gallery was a Berlin tourist attraction; like the murals on the East Side Gallery, they were also printed on postcards.

Contemporary witnesses remember

Graffiti takes over the Wall
Erik Mahnkopf and Daniel Kensbock

What is Style Writing?
Erik Mahnkopf and Daniel Kensbock

Appropriating free spaces, appropriating the city
Erik Mahnkopf and Daniel Kensbock

Motivation for spraying graffiti
Erik Mahnkopf and Daniel Kensbock

Kreuzberg's image in the rest of West Berlin
Erik Mahnkopf and Daniel Kensbock

Open spaces along the East Side Gallery: Parties, graffiti, trailer camp
Erik Mahnkopf and Daniel Kensbock

Gangs in the West, far-rightists in the East
Erik Mahnkopf and Daniel Kensbock

Open spaces after the fall of the Wall
Erik Mahnkopf and Daniel Kensbock

Additional information:

The Graffiti Lobby Berlin curates graffiti on the “North Side Gallery” in Berlin-Mitte: https://www.graffiti-lobby-berlin.de/41.html

Podcast with the first generation of sprayers after 1989: https://ilovegraffiti.de/blog/2020/11/24/podcast-038-graffiti-in-berlin-vor-und-nach-dem-mauerfall-skume-bas2-von-den-ghettostars/

Book recommendation: Peter Stelzig (ed.): Decades vol. 1, 1990-2000, Graffiti Writing in Berlin, Berlin 2021

Overview of topics