Graffiti as Remembrance and Protest

The Berlin Wall is an incredible symbol of the divisions that wars uphold long after an armistice is signed. Built sixteen years after WWII ended, the Wall served as a physical separation for Berlin and Germany itself for twenty-eight years. It also created a clear divide between NATO in the west and the Eastern Bloc, further polarizing the democratic and socialist institutions of Europe. The day that we arrived in Berlin we went to the area Potsdamer Platz, only one train stop away from our hotel. In the center of the intersection there was a panel

of the Berlin Wall painted in support of peace in Ukraine and against the Belarusian government and Vladimir Putin. This was far from the only show of support for Ukraine in Berlin, yet I found it particularly striking to use a medium such as the Berlin Wall to demonstrate this political message of peace. I felt this again the next day when exploring the East Side Gallery with several of my colleagues. The Gallery is a mile long stretch of the Berlin Wall that has been turned into a public art gallery, with the entire street side of it lined in various murals. Almost all of these had a political message ingrained in them, whether this was directly stated in the painting or took some digging using the posted informational QR codes. One of these depicts a man jumping over the wall while looking back at a crowd of people, and another had a caption which translates to “Politics is the continuation of war by other means.” Another has a more cartoonish look to it, with characters such as a walking ashtray and a DJ-ing mushroom, meant to depict events in Berlin after the fall of the Wall.  

While I had seen a mural portion of the Berlin Wall before at the University of Virginia, it meant so much more to experience it as it once stood. Using the Berlin Wall as a canvas allows people to express their views of the world around them while combining it with a direct connection to the history of the Wall itself. Messages of peace and celebration as well as of political protest being displayed on something that was built to separate people gave me a sense of hope for how this area has been able to heal. To imagine what it was like for a city and its communities to be separated and later reunited helped resonate just how far Berlin has come in the years since World War II, and what efforts have been made to remember their past, both the good and the bad.