Conversations on the Periphery 1: Wall on Wall

I began this post in November, on the anniversary of the end of the “Antifaschistischer Schutzwand” (“anti-fascist protective wall”) better known as the Berlin Wall. In the summer of 1980, during a research visit to East Berlin, I spent a great deal of time looking at the wall. Oddly I never photographed it, but it crept into some of my photographs anyway. A bit of blurry wall appears among the trees in the background of the Brandenburg Gate. The gate itself is behind a barrier patrolled by a soldier.

Borda Gdns Cuernavaca 1977After I crossed the checkpoint it took decades for me to look back. I don’t recall seeing the bright graffiti on the west side of the wall.


This image was taken in 1986 by Thierry Noir at Bethaniendamm in Berlin-Kreuzberg. Licensed by Creative Commons*

But for at least some West Berliners the colorful wall to one side and a park on the other must have made for a pleasant place to walk a dog.  No one painted on the east side of the wall; you could not get close enough.

Eventually the wall came to me. Pieces of it travel widely around the world. The artists Vid Ingelevics and Blake Fitzpatrick have been documenting its wandering as part of a continuing investigation. You can access their website, Freedom Rocks, here. One of them hacked off a small piece and gave it to me.

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My piece of the Berlin Wall, left, helps decorate my office window sill. The other piece was given to me by Naomi Safran-Hon, an Israeli artist who once used “stones” like this during a critique to destroy the domestic spaces conjured in her beautiful cement and lace paintings.

The longest portion of the Berlin Wall still in place in 2013 was a 1.3 km segment known as the East Side Gallery. This huge outdoor gallery acts as a memorial for the wall that once divided Berlin, and even more for the euphoric moment when it came down. Both sides are painted.20130709_Berlin-EastSideGallery_0151That summer, the photographer Kai Wiedenhofer mounted an exhibition at the East Side Gallery. “Wall on Wall” focused on other separation walls world-wide, like the one in Melilla on the border between Spain and Morocco:

20130709_Berlin-EastSideGallery_0152lvlfltAnd Israel’s “separation fence.”



Blake Fitzpatrick photographs a panel of “Wall on Wall,” by Kai Wiedenhöfer, showing the “Separation Fence.”

In Palestine, the wall (it is not a “fence” after all) winds its way back and forth through the landscape

Project_20140605_0375-crpfltcuts off patches of land

20150311-IMG_4829crpcrvcontexpand dominates the view from picture windows.


Studying in the library. Al Quds University, Palestine.

But here, unlike in East Germany, you can approach the wall. Once in a while you can see through it – sometimes only to glimpse more wall on the other side.

Project_20140605_0338-lvlcrvbalfltYou can try to listen through narrow openings


Max Budovitch tries to hear a loudspeaker on the other side of the wall.

And in Palestine, unlike in East Berlin, you can paint on it.

Project_20140605_0347-lvlsatfltInternational artists cover the wall with murals and graffiti. They express support for the Palestinian cause in English, Spanish, French German, Korean . . .



The Brooklyn-based artists of this mural, How and Nosm (Raoul and Davide Perre, German-Spanish identical twins), spent two weeks in Palestine under the auspices of the charity Medical Aid for Palestine.


The  artist Vince Seven, usually identified as French, but sometimes as Palestinian, painted this mural of Leila Khaled, PFLP member and hijacker

equating it with other causes 20150316-IMG_5278-lvlfltand old campaigns of resistance.  In 1968, during a police riot outside of the Democratic Convention in Chicago, demonstrators chanted “The Whole World is Watching.” Under a pair of watchful eyes in the center of this picture, the wall repeats that slogan.

20150311-IMG_4861lvlfltand paraphrases it here:

Project_20140605_0397Some of the world watches in close-up, helping a tourist industry to take shape.


A dove by the famous street artist, Banksy

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20150311-IMG_4855crvfltA “Wall Museum” organized by the Arab Educational Institute (AEI), an NGO, displays dreams by Palestinian women.  Read more here under “Wall Museum.”

Project_20140605_0343-lvlfltThe “Wall Museum” is a venue for Palestinian voices to be heard, but in English. I am hardly the first to observe that the international cacaphony of “conflict tourists” drowns out Palestinian discourse on the wall. Internationals seem to address one another, and perhaps this is the point. The messages implore the international community to do whatever they can to end the occupation and tear down the wall and, while they are at it, end other forms of discrimination in other parts of the world. Foreign visitors hire guides in Bethlehem to show them the famous murals by Banksy or they sign up for group tours of the wall. It is easy to scan the internet for photographs of the murals, or to buy books about them. Anthropologists have studied the images and talked to locals about them. A bibliography will follow eventually.

But when we pull back to look at the wall in its own neighborhood . . .

2014-06-05 10.22.58we understand why not many locals care to stroll near it – even by the section of the wall most popular to tourists, the one near Bethlehem.

People park cars along it, pile refuse.




Project_20140605_0371lvlfltMarooned structures and bits of commerce near the wall


Project_20140605_0351lvlcrvfltmake it seem more desolate.

Project_20140605_0406lvlcrvfltctrfltPeople move through a checkpoint located near this part of the wall.


20150311-IMG_4826crp  20150311-IMG_4811crp

 Once they leave, they do not turn back to look

but sometime in the future they will.


* source: “selbst fotografiert”. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons –

All other photographs and text © Margaret Olin 2015

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