“You Need Dirt”

This past week, I and 20 other CIEE students had the great privilege of touring the East Side gallery with the amazing artist and co-founder, Günther Schaefer.

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Gunther and I 🙂

The East Side Gallery is the largest remaining portion of the Berlin Wall. What differentiates the East Side Gallery from all the other graffiti covered areas in Berlin is that it is full of beautiful and powerful paintings by artist from 43 different countries. It is one of the highest trafficked sites in Berlin; everyone has to take a picture in front of the East Side Gallery.

Our obligatory East Side Gallery picture.

We met with Gunther in the early afternoon as he greeted us with a smile. He was more than ready to share his story with us as we walked along the Gallery. Each piece is a powerful depiction, either gives insight into life during the time of the Berlin wall or other hardships going on in the world.

This painting depicts an 18 year old young man named Peter Fetcher. He was the first person shot attempting to cross the wall over to west Berlin.


After walking the length of the wall we finally arrived at Gunther’s piece called “Vaterland (fatherland)” a grand German flag with a blue Jewish star in the middle. It represents a warning against fascist ways of Germany’s past. With pride, Gunther begin to pose in front of his self proclaimed most important piece of work. Gunther told us “Cleanliness is the enemy of art; you need dirt.” You have to get messy, you have to be real. I feel like that quote encapsulates the heart of Berlin.


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The quote that accompanies “Vaterland”

After our tour, Gunther had us all over to his house and studio for coffee and cake. He shared with us more of his art work, specifically from during the time of the fall of the Berlin wall. It was a moving experience to hear him speak about the background of the photos.

Gunther took this photo of an East Side solider the day after the wall fell. the soldier told him after “if this was yesterday, I would have shot you for this”.
Some students admiring Gunthers vast array of work.

As a number of tourist were crowding the wall to get their perfect selfie for Instagram, we had a truly valuable experience listening to Gunther. We were able to see the pieces the way they were meant to be seen, with a deeper meaning. (If you have any spare time I would highly recommend reading about the different pieces and artist 🙂 It was a great honor to be able to meet Gunther and hear his stories. The result of Gunther’s work and dedication to the East Side Gallery will enable it to be preserved as a memorial for years to come.


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