The following year on 9 November 1989, totally unexpectedly and unbelievably the Berlin Wall fell.

For many people it had impacted their life as a motif of repression, restriction and resistance.  But my personal close encounter with the concrete border happened during that time of universal triumph and euphoria when I received an invitation as one of a group of international artists to make a painting on the previously inaccessible eastern part of the Wall.  The creation of the East Side Gallery as it became known was a 1.3km stretch of the Berlin Wall covered with 105 paintings and it represented a very precise moment and significant symbol of liberalization.

My painting Joint Venture illustrates the reunification in a symbolic format.  It depicts two mask-like heads representing the two Germanys lying side by side, seemingly strange bedfellows, with lines crisscrossing from one head to the other to suggest communication, exchange and partnership.  On each side with little stitch-like marks I ‘attached’ what I felt was the reality,  

a series of small figures, bending and stretching to suit their new situation.  Having come to West Berlin from the small village of Fairlie on the west coast of Scotland, hardly able to express myself, I empathized with the increasing demise and anxieties of the East Germans, as every GDR citizen struggled to find their bearings within unaccustomed structures of life.

As the artists painted, the Wall around was being dismantled.  We never expected our paintings to survive, but it has become the longest remaining part of the Wall and in the early nineties it was put under a protection order and became a listed memorial.

Over the ensuing years it became run down from the effects of pollution and ‘wall peckers’ which paralleled the aftermath effect of unification on people of the former GDR; a period of bereavement that manifested as a time of nostalgia.

In 2009 on the twentieth anniversary of the Fall of the Wall, the Berlin Senate allocated 2.5 million Euros for the East Side Gallery to be structurally renovated and the artists were brought back to repaint their murals.  As one of Berlin’s major events for the 20 years after celebrations, there was great international media attention, we were visited by celebrities and politicians and the East Side Gallery was officially re-opened by Berlin’s Mayor Klaus Wowereit.

Particularly interesting for me during this time was the reaction of most former East Germans, who it seemed really didn’t want to know during the 10th or 15th anniversary.  The attitude towards the East Side Gallery at that time, its ambiguous presence tainted by its history, was in direct contrast to the interest during the 20th anniversary.  During the renovation I had a notable conversation with Franzisca Bruehns, one of the conservationists.  She said that as a young girl in East Berlin she could see the Wall, a dominating part of her life, from her bedroom window.  She told me that now her mother was very proud of the fact that she, Franzisca, was involved in the restoration of the longest remaining part of the Wall.  Perhaps the brightly repainted murals functioned symbolically as a plaster over a wound, in some ways mitigating the residual power and memory of the Wall’s original function.

During the same year and as a response to renovating Joint Venture I decided to make an almost identical replica in terms of scale and content but in my Atelier which allowed intimate time for reflection.  It was an eponymous re-statement made especially for a group exhibition Der Geschmack von Wolken (The Taste of Clouds) in Der Kunstraum Potsdam in the former GDR.  The theme of the exhibition was intended to provoke thought and discourse and I further augmented my painting by inviting guests at the opening to inscribe their individual comments about reunification on the painting, echoing the graffiti on my Wall painting.  In turn it acted as a kind of visitor’s book for the exhibition.

In the following year, 2010 I was invited as a guest to participate in the 180th Annual exhibition at the Royal Scottish Academy, Edinburgh, which dealt with the theme of the expressive artist and social involvement.  Re-statement seemed a fitting demonstration of the role of the artist in a community that is continually faced with socio-political challenges.  But it was more personal than that.  My creative journey began in my native Scotland but it was during the years residing in Berlin that my work reached a height of social interaction. The Royal Scottish Academy exhibition provided me with the opportunity to bring my experiences of the Berlin Wall home.

Margaret Hunter is a painter and sculptor working between Berlin and the UK