Cold War Berlin in LA

Continuing our series of Berlin-based stories as news in other parts of the world, we look at the largest chunk of Wall as it stands in LA, manifesting itself as an outdoor canvas for artists from all sides.

Image for Cold War Berlin in LA
Carlos Gonzales

Continuing our series of Berlin-based stories that are in the news in other parts of the world, this month Exberliner looks at how the largest chunk of the Berlin Wall outside of Germany has been turned into an outdoor canvas in Los Angeles’ ‘Miracle Mile’, bringing together German artists from both sides of the divide.

Despite falling more than 21 years ago, the Berlin Wall will always be remembered as a symbol of Cold War paranoia and separation that became a crumbling, graffiti-slathered shrine to German reunification.

But an outdoor exhibition in Los Angeles has taken the Wall out of its geographical context in an attempt to draw connections between the GDR and the consumerists’ paradise that is sunny modern-day Cali.

Sponsored by the California-based Wende Museum, the world’s largest Cold War visual archive, The Surveillance Project is a 12m stretch of the original Wall – the largest segment outside of Germany – set up along Wilshire Boulevard, one of LA’s principal roads.

Running 26km from Grand Avenue in Downtown LA to Ocean Avenue in the City of Santa Monica, Wilshire Boulevard connects five of Los Angeles’s major business districts to each other, including Beverly Hills. It’s the last place you’d expect to find such a huge relic of the Communist-era East.

Yet there it has stood since 2009, but only now has the East side of the wall been turned into a canvas for artists. Two of the people who painted it are Germans, Jasmin Siddiqui and Falk Lehmann – known together as Herakut – born on opposite sides of the Wall.

Lehmann was born in Schmalkalden, in the GDR, in 1977; Siddiqui was born in Frankfurt, West Germany, in 1981.

The two artists will be showing an installation inside the Haus am Lützowplatz in Berlin this August. Their Surveillance Project mural features two pregnant women holding their wombs, “symbols for the secrets our futures hold”, explained Lehmann.

“Surveillance, in all forms, is now part of our everyday life,” said Justinian Jampol, founder and director of the Wende Museum.

“We are watched as much as we watch others. Social media, photography, and technological advancement break down the old paradigm of government/people. We invited street artists from Germany, London, and Los Angeles to contribute artwork that reflects on the legacy of the Cold War and the role of surveillance in our lives, then and now.”

And the exhibition seems to have touched a nerve, showing that the Wall’s symbolic value is as far-reaching as it is potent.

“The ten segments of the Berlin Wall were supposed to be on display at this site for only two weeks, and here we are two years later and they are still here,” said German consul-general, Wolfgang Drautz. “They have now become a familiar site where tourists stop and look at art but also remember history.”