Today was a day that I was extremely excited for, getting to see the East Side Gallery. It was a bit colder out than usual so we tried to bundle up for a long day outside. We took the train to meet Mr. Gunther Shaefer, the man who is responsible for what is now known as the East Side Gallery. We approached the wall and I was stunned by the vastness of it. I didn’t expect the wall to be as big as it was with so many beautiful and different pieces of art on it. I asked Mr. Shaefer how much space each artist gets and he said on average 10 meters but some wanted less which made it easier to give other artists more if they wanted it. It was so many special pieces of art put into one place and it shows a unique artistic view on oppression and what was happening when the wall collapsed. All the concepts were fresh wounds put straight on the wall as other parts of it were crumbling. Mr. Shaefer said they thought that they would paint parts of the wall and it would collapse like everywhere else, and he was shocked when the city protected it as a monument. What is beautiful to me is that these artists put all their feelings into a 10 meter painting without the thought of getting recognition for their work, and to me that is what a true artist is.

A lot of the paintings we saw while walking beside the gallery with Mr. Shaefer showed paintings of what the artists actually saw as the boarders opened. There were images of people rushing over the gate, or people on ladders trying to get a glimpse of their relatives on the other side of the wall. All of these seemed to be very literal and gave a glimpse into how the life around the Berlin Wall really was. Others were more abstract or symbolic. Two stood out to me in particular, the first one was a thumbs up with a ring around the thumb connected with a chain to a bracelet around the wrist. I think this symbolizes the kind of oppression man forces upon himself, and on the surface everything looks good but in reality it will hurt everyone. In the next painting I found interesting, the artist put multiple handprints all over the wall. She left room for people to trace their handprints around hers, and this is the only painting on the wall that doesn’t have to be cleaned of graffiti because the graffiti is supposed to be there. I think this represents a sort of solidarity between people, especially with the unification of the East and West after the fall of the wall. As we got to the end of the wall one of the last pictures was of a German flag that was overlapped by an Israeli flag. This was particularly interesting to me because I am very interested in the Arab Israeli conflict and Israel as a nation in general. I learned that the man who painted it was also the man who was giving us the tour. I was extremely excited that such a talented man was giving us the tour. The whole concept of this painting is wonderful to me, the fact that it is so simple yet it gets such a response from people. He mentioned that every year he has to restore the painting numerous times due to anti-Semitic graffiti from neo-Nazis and other hate groups. It shows that anti-Semitism is still very alive in Germany and it is really powerful to think that no matter how many times it has been vandalized he is going to keep restoring it. I also think this painting is politically controversial because of the Arab-Israeli conflict and the fact that some people don’t support Israel as a nation due to the mistreatment of the Palestinians. No matter what your political beliefs are this image is one that I hold separate from the others on the berlin wall due to the fact that it doesn’t so much focus on the fall of the wall and the separation of the East and the West, it focuses more on the aftermath of the Holocaust and Germanys relationship with the Jews. It’s a beautiful and unique piece and I really enjoyed the tour through the East Side Gallery.

We had the opportunity to visit Mr. Schaefer’s personal studio. When we came in the first thing he showed us before we were able to walk around on our own was a collage of things he collected from the fall of the wall. There were pieces of the wall, a sign that said Halt! And other fragments like barbed wire. It is a piece of history frozen in time on his wall and it was wonderful. After he showed us that piece he gave us free reign to look at all his work around the studio. The first thing that caught my eye was the same German flag with the Israeli flag over it, but this time it was made with paint chips from the original piece done on the wall. He collected the fragments every time he had to repaint the flag due to graffiti. There were also paintbrushes that he used framing the flag with what looked like newspaper clippings wrapping them. In the center of the Star of David there were words saying something along the lines of “never forget.” One of the newspaper articles that I remember distinctly talked about the Hitlergross – the Nazi salute that was done at Mr. Schaefer’s artwork by neo-Nazis who are against the state of Israel. The next piece of art that caught my eye were photographs of Cristo and Jean Claude’s work in “wrapping monuments” and one of their most famous pieces was the wrapping of the Reichstag in Berlin. They wrap the monuments in a metallic cloth, I’m not sure exactly what the material is but it’s rare, and this forces people who pass the monument daily to acknowledge it because otherwise they wouldn’t. To me this is ingenious, I struggled with the idea that people pass by these important monuments in their daily life and they don’t even acknowledge, obviously the idea of that bothered someone else as well. Mr. Schaefer told a story about how Bill Clinton tried to get a piece of this fabric during his presidency and the artists refused, and somehow Mr. Schaefer ended up with four pieces, he is quite the opportunist. The last piece of work I noticed is the one that I find most interesting. I am a religion major and I not only study the positive things that religion can do for people, but I also study what happenes when organized religion can go terribly wrong. There is a photograph on his wall of the destruction at Waco, Texas. He pulled fragments of wood out of the mess and put it into the shape of a cross with different saying about religion on the cross and it really showed what can happen when there is a deadly mixture of religion in the hands of someone that is power-hungry and charismatic. So many people can be taken advantage of when they hunger for someone to follow, and for something to believe in. This piece really pulled at my heart because it shows what kind of destruction can happen when religion is abused, and I thought it was a hauntingly accurate description of the events at Waco, Texas, yet it is a piece that gives you a sort of hope. Mr. Schaefer was very kind letting us into his studio, and he was also generous enough to sign copies of the book most of us bought of his work. He is a very talented and wonderful person and I won’t soon forget this experience.

After we thanked Mr. Schaefer for inviting us over, we went to lunch, and then took taxis to the Berlin Wall Memorial. I think at this point everyone was dragging their feet because of the cold, I think this was the coldest day so far on the trip. Once we got there we wasted no time and went straight out to where the wall used to be. Our tour guide showed us many different spots and showed pictures of what the area we were standing in would have looked like if we were there during the time the wall was standing. We approached a place where there were pictures of people who died due to the wall. The first thing I noticed was that there were a handful of children in that wall, and there was no way that a five year old tried to jump over it. She explained to us that some children drowned when they would play by the river that separated the East from the West. The children from the West would fall into the river and they couldn’t swim. Because the river was considered part of the East, Westerners couldn’t jump in to save them due to the fear of being shot, and Eastern officials did nothing. This was a horrifying image, the idea of being so scared for your life and so helpless that you can’t do anything but watch as someone drowns. Not to mention the numerous photos of men and women who tried to flee the east to get to a better life in the West. Can you imagine how life must have been in the East to risk being shot to get to the other side? At this point in the tour the tour guide asked us if we wanted to go back due to the weather and we said yes, it had been a long day in the freezing cold and we wanted to cut it a bit short, the tour was extremely interesting and not to mention sad. Today was an extremely interesting and informative day, and I am glad to have had the opportunity to see all these things.