Twenty five years after the fall of the Iron Curtain, wall art graffiti remains one Berlin’s most famous attractions.
The East Side Gallery , a 1.3 km-long section of the Berlin Wall is one of the largest open air galleries in the world.
It consists of 105 paintings carried out by artists from all over the world on the east side of the Berlin Wall in 1990.
Russian artist Dmitry Vrubel’s 'Fraternal Kiss' between communist leaders Leonid Brezhnev and Erich Honecker is one of the best known.
Euronews caught up with him in Moscow, where he told us the story behind his famous painting.
“We went up to the Wall. There was a small shed with paint. A Scottish girl was standing nearby. She offered me a contract. There were still East German border guards standing on the Wall. They didn’t let me cross over to the West. But later when I started to paint, they gave me water to mix in,” he told us.
Vrubel, who was 29 years old at the time, dreamed of having his work exposed in a gallery. The East Side Gallery was the perfect opportunity. He signed the contract – which was written in German – without even reading it. It took him seven days to finish the artwork. Only later did he realise that he had transferred all his rights to the gallery. But he got what he wanted – global notoriety.
“One morning, I was still in bed, and my friend Alexander Bradovsky came and threw two newspapers at me – Neues Deutschland, the German Communist newspaper, and the Berliner Zeitung. Both headlined with my painting, calling it ‘Bruderkuss’ – the ‘Fraternal Kiss’. That’s where the name comes from,” he said.
The ‘Fraternal Kiss’ started appearing in souvenir shops throughout Berlin and it soon became one of the world’s best-known East Side Gallery artworks.
However, time, vandals and the elements deteriorated it so badly that it eventually had to be erased and painted over again in 2009, along with many other East Side Gallery pieces.
Although it has been interpreted as a political allegory over the past 25 years, the ‘Fraternal Kiss’ is actually rooted in the artist’s troubled love life: “It was linked to my personal life, my relationship with girls. So this work is devoted to love, love, love. To the image of love. At times in our lives, we can all find ourselves stuck between the lips of these kinds of monsters. At the time, the painting refered to problems I was having in my personal life,” he told euronews.
Although he has never touched any royalties for his famous artwork, Dmitri Vrubel believes the fame it brought him is priceless.
He lives in Berlin to this day.
- Hard times for hard rockers under communism
Under the communist dictatorship, artists were always treading a thin line when it came to freedom of expression.
“We were a phenomenon in Hungary at the time, we didn’t fit neatly into a category – as a rock band or a punk band – something happened there that meant we didn’t fit into this manipulated society,” he says.
Their foul-mouthed language, strange sense of humour and deviation from official standards did not appeal to Hungary’s communist rulers.
The band was gradually banned and placed under secret service surveillance, while building up a massive fan base, especially among working class youths.
“We always told the authorities: ‘Oh, sorry, we didn’t know it was not allowed to say that’, but it was very hard to make them believe that, they knew that we meant it. And many times, I saw on the face of the interrogating officer that deep inside, he agreed with me, but couldn’t be on my side,” says Feró Nagy.
During live performances of one of their most famous songs ‘Térden állva’ – ‘Down on your knees’ – band members and the audience would kneel down. At some concerts, however, a handful of people would fail to to so. When intelligence reports were made public years later, it turned out they were secret agents.
Band members often thought of leaving the country, but it was impossible at the time.
“We started taking English lessons, and in the meantime, we also worked as cleaners because we couldn’t make a living out of playing music,” explains Feró Nagy. “But as soon as the regime found out we were learning English, they realised we wanted to leave, so they took my passport.”
After the fall of the Iron Curtain, Beatrice experienced a second wave of popularity. Despite a number of break-ups and new line-ups, it remains, to this day, one of Hungary’s most enduring rock bands.
“We became very popular at the time, even in the smallest villages at least 2,000 people turned out for our concerts, we were doing well but we were not good, we simply became trendy… music history is paved with stories like ours,” says Feró Nagy.
His memoirs, published in 2005, reveal all about the musician, his life, his band and its troubles with Hungary’s communist authorities following the release of secret documents after the fall of the Iron Curtain.