Graffiti is freedom

The city of Berlin today is a fusion of the silence and degradation of inhumane horrors and the ripe opinions of contemporary nuevo fashionistas.  The Cold War Wall was a representation of the battle between evil, oppression, and communism on the East side juxtaposed with Western capitalism, opportunity, and plenty on the other. 

For twenty-eight years, East Berliners were separated from their families, lovers, and employers, leaving them living in a kind of prison by a bold, tyrannical, despotic regime standing still in time.  To those trapped on the wrong side by fate, West Berlin seemed a mystical wonderland.

Today, the border fortification is no longer muted; its paint has a lot to say, as do the thousands of tourists quenching their curiosity about what happened here almost sixty years ago.  In clear defiance of the communist government that once ruled with a somber veil over East Germany, a colorful, vibrant representation of unadulterated human emotion has bloomed.  Transparent broken hearts, bold political statements, and sometimes freakish kaleidoscope dreams float across the concrete barricade for all to contemplate. 

The creative methods used around the city to inspire include writing with fire extinguishers to reach high above the ground, where wall rent is cheap but hard to get to.  These expressions know no borders and have no rules.  Styrofoam art was attached to buildings, trash cans, and walls in empty lots and junkyards.  Graffiti tape was used to create the illusion of a flowing dress and geometric shapes where straight lines and precise angles add a two- or three-dimensional experience.  From flowers, butterflies, and poetry to hardcore mazes of devil's imagery, the range of artistic drive is unlimited.  And so it goes, with impassioned interaction between ardent street artists contrasted against angry gang members voicing their dismay at commercial life in a society that does not accept them. 

It is common to find huge murals paid for by advertising agencies promoting a product, a point of view, a chuckle, or the hope for a revolution.  Graffiti, on the other hand, is forbidden and illegal.  It can result in jail time and large fines, depending on the size of the art, which is literally measured to determine the size of fines. 

There are a few locations where the Wall still stands.  The East Side Gallery's unmasking of east and west somehow humanized the enemy on the other side.  In 1988, a mural was commissioned to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Kristallnacht pogrom, when thousands of Jewish residents were murdered and their homes and businesses destroyed by the Nazis.  As a sign of unity between Germany and Israel, the German flag was painted with a superimposed blue Star of David in the center.  The artist stated that he has painted over anti-Semitic vandalism 51 times.

A portrait from a 1979 photo of Soviet Leonid Brezhnev kissing hard-line East German Communist leader Eric Honecker is a humiliating and grotesque depiction of both leaders displaying their military prowess in a tender public moment called "Fraternal Kiss."  The painting screams, "My God, help me survive this deadly love." 

Other political statements include a drawing of the Statue of Liberty holding the Brandenburg Gate, the Kremlin blown by the wind, and "The Adventures of Khashoggi Game of Power," with the Saudi king and crown prince next to coffins. 

From a distance of just a few yards, lives were defined by freedom or oppression.  Once dark, quiet, and seemingly lifeless, freedom-seekers were shot attempting to escape over the Wall. 

Little white space on the Wall is left for personal contemplation as attitudes, opinions, and emotions force their way into the atmosphere.  Colors slash the air, reinforcing the need to finally and simply be heard.  The Wall has become a memorial for old rebels and young artists whose self-expression and meaning are shared with others who may be thirsty for their own. 

Now the Berlin Wall is a symbol to remind the world that freedom cannot be taken for granted.  Since COVID-19, the loss of individual rights has created a dangerous precedent that must be reversed.  Complacency is the enemy of individual freedom. 

May communism remain only as a reminder of how easy it is to lose what is cherished most.  The Berlin Wall serves as a history lesson that the colorful murals of sunshine, butterflies, and blooming flowers can easily be repainted gray. 

Images: Valerie Greenfeld.

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