The story of the Berlin Wall
In the early hours of Sunday the 13th august 1961, began the construction of the Berlin wall. It’s not possible to build a 160 km long wall in one day, so the GDR soldiers surrounded west-Berlin with barbed wire fences. They started during the summer of 1961 to replace the temporary fence into a rough wall made from breeze-blocks. The first generation of the wall.
After 5 years, the wall was already 25 km long with 210 observation towers, all around west-Berlin. The soldiers worked and transformed the Berlin wall until the beginning of the eighties, into a perfect border built to stay at least 100 years. It was a system which allowed them to fit the prefabricated concrete segments into each other. Like a huge Lego. This perfection of the wall (the fourth generation) was at the same time a sort of mutation in the city. They had built the longest screen in the world.
The perfection of this frontier was at the same time, through the graffiti on the concrete wall, a reflection of its absurdity. In fact at the beginning of the Berlin wall and until the end of the seventies, the bad quality of the stone blocks and after, the first concrete segments, prevented automatically the artists, from doing any paintings. The few graffiti were big words written in white, not so easy to read on the stones. At the beginning of the eighties, on the wall of the fourth generation, the people wrote their names, then words or phrases, mostly political slogans, then came the paintings. At historical places such as Potsdamerplatz, Checkpoint Charlie, Brandenburger Tor, and in Kreuzberg, those graffiti changed the Berlin wall into a tourist attraction This was new because before nobody wanted to see the wall or even buy postcards or souvenirs of it. After April 1984, Thierry Noir and Christophe Bouchet covered the wall, more than 3 meters high, from top to bottom, with shiny colors, trying to paint as quick as possible.
Noir and Bouchet, 2 young French men, who had been living 2 years close to the Berlin wall, felt the need to do something against this boring wall. A sort of physical reaction against the pressure of the daily life near the Berlin wall. The back of their house at Mariannenplatz was five meters front of the wall. Their house was the first squatted house on December the 4th, 1971. It was called the “Georg von Rauch house” dedicated to the demonstrator killed by the police, the same day. The city hall of Berlin after years of hard fighting, legalized the house in 1978 to make a youth center, where it was possible to live, to work, to play music, and to paint. The wall was built, 3 meters beyond the official border, so the east-German soldiers were allowed to arrest any person standing near the wall. To paint the wall was absolutely forbidden, so the painters had to be quick, always painting with one eye, the other watching for soldiers. It was important not to paint alone, in isolated areas, or near the little doors of concrete integrated in the prefabricated segments. Here it was dangerous to paint the wall. From the very beginning of the murals of Thierry Noir and Christophe Bouchet, people ask immediately a lot of questions. That’s how they realized that they had started something special, and to stop would bring one more question: “Why did you stop painting the Berlin wall?” The most frequent question was: “Why did they want to make the wall beautiful? Why did they want to ornament the Berlin wall?” They answered each time: “We are not trying to make the wall beautiful because in fact it’s absolutely impossible. 80 persons have being killed trying to jump over the Berlin wall, to escape to west-Berlin, so you can cover that wall with hundred of kilos of color, it will stay the same.
One bloody monster, one old crocodile who from time to time wakes, eats somebody up, and falls again back to sleep until the next time”. The paintings on the Berlin wall always had an exceptional touch. It was always one extra emotion in the air which transformed every wall painting into a strong political act. Noir and Bouchet used to paint the wall with friends like Kiddy Citny, or with different people whom they met near the wall. In fact often the passers-by wanted, as well, to paint something on the wall but didn’t know exactly how to begin. They were happy to be told what to paint, which color to use. Quickly those murals had reached one kilometer long.
At Mariannenplatz, Potsdamerplatz, Checkpoint Charlie, and Waldemarstrasse, the paintings became an important symbol of Berlins charm and character. The city hall of Berlin used the wall-paintings to do publicity for Berlin in the tourist booklets. The wall painters experienced a lot of difficulties because of the forbidden act of art. They have paid a high price, not to be allowed to visit East-Berlin or for Bouchet not to pass the transit to go to West Germany. They have paid with their body the right to make one real revolutionary act: To paint the Berlin wall, to transform it, to make it ridiculous, to help to destroy it.
Their colors have eaten away the concrete segments like acid, trying to bore enormous holes through it so that the monster will fall down. Noir and Bouchet in may 1984, screwed into the wall an urinal, a washbasin, a cellar door, and a pair of shoes. They have shown to the people that this mythical wall was not at all built for ever.
The requisites, ridiculous on the Berlin wall, were after a couple of weeks, noticed by the east-German soldiers, meticulously photographed, taken down, and confiscated. The wall painters wanted to cover the wall with colors to wrap it up with paintings, to make it luminous to show it like a mutation in the city, mutation in the art and in the nature. In the no man’s land behind the wall lived hundred of rabbits. It was possible to see them clearly jumping around at Potsdamerplatz. The mutation in the art, has changed Berlin into one of most important cities in the world. Many artists wanted to meet each other in this wall-city, feeling instinctively that Berlin had that something special which gave the desire to be creative. It created in Berlin an atmosphere of urgency which gave the artists the feeling of trying to survive and create (through art) for themselves and later for Berlin.
After 1987, teenagers 13 and 14 years old, with a couple of spray cans joined this artistic vigor. Suddenly the wall was transformed, at some places, into a jungle of graffiti. The work of Noir and Bouchet, begun in 1984 became a normality. The people who had insulted them at the beginning, were more and more rare. Something was changing in Berlin. After July 1989 and of course after the 9th of November, the murals on the wall were growing quickly in numbers. Then after began the cutting off of the wall, everybody wanted to have a little piece of it. The holes in the wall became bigger and bigger, so big that Thierry Noir could pass through them to the other side, to paint the back side of the Berlin wall. Only quick paintings were possible until the east German soldiers noticed him and obliged him to go back to the west. It was funny to play with the nerves of the east German soldiers, the same soldiers who since years had put pressure on the shoulders of the wall painters. It was not at all a revenge, but it was just time to show them that one era was finished. The best place for that was behind the Reichstag. The holes in the wall were suddenly numerous and large. Thierry Noir with only a black spray can, played cat and mouse for hours with the soldiers. He could show his style, from years of wall-painting. To paint a lot of big heads, one after the other, very quick. A sort of kilometer-art that allowed him to cover a considerable amount of surface in a short period of time. The soldiers were now on the right side to appreciate the work of Thierry Noir.
The last segments of the wall were taken away in august 1990. Noir who has begun to paint his first paintings on the Berlin wall, had no regrets to see the wall gone. The permanent noises of the hammers on the concrete were really horrible. Suddenly, the town was changing, everything was bigger, more place to move. It was time to discover another town, where all was to begin. After the end of the wall, the wall-paintings became from one day to an another, something sacred, with an incalculable value. The passers-by, the Berliners, the people from all over the world wanted to save for themselves a little part of that wall. In any weather, in the morning or in the night, you could hear the hammers resonating on the concrete. A modern gold rush. That’s why the soldiers at the end of January 1990, took away the whole length of the wall along the Waldemarstrasse, in Kreuzberg. Curiously, this part of the wall was not destroyed by the passers-by, because on that piece of land, 3 meters wide, between the pavement and the wall, lived by many young people in caravans and old buses. All those people were evicted after 1983, from the squats of Berlin.
So they found a new way to continue to live their lives. The police of west-Berlin weren’t allowed to enter that piece of land. This was the reason why passers-by avid for stones of the wall, couldn’t break that part of the Berlin. They immediately got into trouble with the people who were living in the caravans.
The segments were taken away in a quite good state, numbered, and photographed. A catalogue was printed, with 81 segments (33 painted by Thierry Noir and 12 by Kiddy Citny). The auction was in Monaco, on Saturday the 23rd of June 1990, and made with the 2 names: 1,5 millions of euros. Christophe Bouchet hadn’t painted on that part of the wall. Noir and Citny decided to sue the sellers of the wall who were making a lot of money at their expense. The money, planned to help the east Berlin hospital Charité, was gone. The photographer of the catalogue got for the copyright of his photos: 25000 euros. The scandal was complete. After they had won the first instance on the 6th of December 1990, and the right to ask where the money had gone, they lost that right on the second instance, the 7th of January 1993. The federal court of Germany decided on the 23rd of February 1995, to give the rights back to the wall painters. They had the right to ask a reasonable part of the sale of the wall segments. One example for every artist after that unique case.
– Thierry Noir