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Part II: UNESCO Forced to Consider Street Art as Cultural Heritage

By Center for Art Law.

On March 27th, four sections of the East Side Gallery were destroyed
to make way for a high-end construction project.  Preservationists are
calling on UNESCO to protect the remaining street art the
longest remaining section of the Berlin Wall.

UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova is a strong believer that cultural heritage can be a unifying factor following war.  The “cultural heritage effect” has yet to prove itself at recent sites of conflict, particularly in Syria and Mali. In Berlin, however, street art on the remaining sections of the Berlin Wall has proved to be a unifying force.  Almost 25 years after the fall of the wall, Germany is still coming to terms with its communist past.  This was demonstrated passionately this March when sections of the East Side Gallery were removed to create access to luxury high-rise apartment.

The East Side Gallery was created in 1989 by artists from East and West Germany.  Over the years, it has become a site of remembrance and reflection.  Some have even argued that the street art murals are a better memorial to Germany’s communist era than Checkpoint Charlie or the Brandenburg Gate.

Dmitri Vrubel, My God, help me to survive this deadly love, 1991.
Street art on the Berlin Wall.

In early March, a developer was granted permission to remove four sections of the wall by the State Monuments Office and the Supreme Heritage Authority.  Soon after, protesters gathered in front of the East Side Gallery to prevent its destruction. On March 17, six thousand protesters, joined by “Baywatch” star David Hasselhoff, temporary stopped construction on the site. However, during the early hours of March 27, four sections were removed under the cover of darkness, guarded by 250 police officers.  

Birgit Kinder, Test the Best, 1989. 
Located on the East Side Gallery.

Axel Klausmeier, director of the Berlin Wall Foundation, told the press: “There is a wider consciousness for the wall and its cultural significance. [At the time of reunification] it was impossible to imagine thousands of people standing in front of the wall demonstrating to keep it.” The destruction of these portions of the East Side Gallery has galvanized a movement to preserve the remaining street art.  Preservationists, led by Leo Schmidt, are calling on UNESCO to protect the site and grant it World Heritage status.  This is the first time that UNESCO will be asked to consider street art as cultural property.  UNESCO’s decision on whether to grant World Heritage status could establish a new precedent.  It has the potential to usher in a new era with a wider understanding of cultural heritage.