18 Oct 2008

Bid to rescue Berlin Wall artwork

6:05 am on 18 October 2008

Restoration is underway on an art gallery section of the Berlin Wall.

Until 1989, the wall divided East and West Germany. It was built to prevent people escaping from Soviet-controlled East Berlin to the West.

Organisers say the East Side Gallery is a tribute to those who died, and hope work will be complete by 2009 - the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

The wall fell on 9 November, 1989, in a powerful sign of the impending collapse of the Soviet Union.

The following year, Berlin invited 118 international artists to decorate the remaining section of the wall with colourful murals - many of them depicting the story behind the structure.

Images, such as an East German Trabant car crashing through the brickwork, have become a staple of tourist photographs and an important part of Berlin's heritage.

But the curators of the East Side Gallery say the 106 paintings created two decades ago are now barely recognisable.

Weather, pollution, time and souvenir hunters armed with chisels have left the wall "extremely deteriorated".

Anniversary target date

Work on the 2.2 millon euro project began on Wednesday and organisers hope the 1.3km gallery will be restored to former glory by 9 November next year.

Construction of the Berlin Wall began in 1961, in an attempt to stop the flow of millions of people from East to West.

The original barbed wire barrier was gradually replaced with 5m concrete panels and eventually extended 165km along the border, 45km of it cutting through Berlin.

About 1,065 people were killed trying to escape from East Germany, scores of them at the Berlin Wall.