Artists demand OK to rebuild part of Berlin Wall

BERLIN (Reuters) - Politicians and artists urged Berlin’s authorities on Monday to let them rebuild the longest surviving section of the Berlin Wall before it decays beyond recognition as a reminder of the city’s grim history.

A young man peeps through a Berlin Wall memorial at Bernauer Strasse in Berlin August 13, 2007. Politicians and artists urged Berlin's authorities on Monday to let them rebuild the longest surviving section of the Berlin Wall before it decays beyond recognition as a reminder of the city's grim history. REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschke

In the spring of 1990, when most of the city was itching to tear down its most hated symbol, 118 artists from 24 countries flocked to Berlin to paint murals on a 1,300 meter (1,500 yard) section of the wall, turning it into the East Side Gallery.

Exactly 46 years after the Wall was built around capitalist West Berlin -- ostensibly to protect communist easterners from its influence, but in fact to prevent them fleeing there -- the gaudy Gallery is now one of Berlin’s top tourist attractions.

But the steel reinforcing the inside of the wall is rusting, and wind, rain and pollution -- alongside years of vandalism -- have left many of the works all but unrecognizable.

Some 3 million euros ($4 million) have been raised to pay for the reconstruction, but the city authorities have yet to give the go-ahead.

“The wall is in a deplorable condition,” said Joerg Flaemig, a local development official. “To make sure the East Side Gallery stays standing, it needs to be completely rebuilt.”

Many of the Gallery’s 106 murals inspired by the collapse of communist East Germany became instant icons, known throughout the world. But in the euphoria of the moment, little attention was paid to the future.

The famous painting of East German leader Erich Honecker and Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev exchanging a fraternal communist kiss is pockmarked with holes, and a crack runs the length of Brezhnev’s face.

Repairs to the structure of the wall would mean that the murals would be destroyed and have to be repainted.

Kani Alavi, co-founder of the East Side Gallery Artists’ Association, is impatient for work to start.

“I wish the authorities would stop dragging their feet. We must maintain the Wall as a document for future generations, to bring the terrible history alive.”

He wants to get as many as possible of the original artists, some of whom are ageing, back to duplicate their paintings.

“As a tourist attraction, it’s like Berlin’s Eiffel Tower,” said Frederique Brilloux, 43, a French musician visiting the gallery. “It’s an important piece of history and should be looked after properly.”

But most Berliners appear to object to the restoration of such a detested symbol. A survey conducted by the capital’s Tagesspiegel newspaper suggested only 27 percent are in favor.