New York City is home to five sections of the Berlin Wall, the 12-foot high concrete barrier between East and West Germany that stood for 28 years. The pieces here in New York stand in very different types of locations, from a office lobby, to an aircraft carrier, inside Ripley’s Believe it or Not, and in parks. The Berlin Wall piece that stands in the United Nations Sculpture Garden is harder to come by – the large park is not typically opened to the public. It contains gifts from many member countries of the UN, and this three-slab section was gifted from Germany in 2002, presented by the President of the German Bundestag, Wolfgang Thierse to then-UN Secretary General Kofi Annan.
At the ceremony, Annan said, “The Berlin Wall was an offence to the human spirit. It not only marked the division of Germany and Europe, but also expressed, in a uniquely horrible way, the propensity of human beings to erect walls and borders, and then glare across them, hearts filled with hate, minds full of fear and distrust, all the while numb to the notion that there might be a better way.”
The Berlin Wall section is painted on both sides. The side facing the East River is entitled Trophy of Civil Rights and depicts two people reaching over the top of the wall to embrace each other. It is believed that this painting was made between 1989 and 1990, following the fall of the Berlin Wall. The other side of the wall, facing 1st Avenue, is a graffiti work made German artist Kani Alavi, who has painted other sections along the wall’s East Side Gallery as one of the leaders of the initiative to retain the remnant section of the wall as an open-air gallery.
Construction of the Berlin Wall began in the heat of the Cold War on August 13, 1961, motivated by a fear from East German communist leaders of a mass exodus into the Federal Republic of Germany. Over two hundred people died trying to cross the Berlin Wall, which was only officially penetrable with documentation at certain spots, like the infamous Checkpoint Charlie. Thousands more attempted to cross and were imprisoned with long sentences.
The Berlin Wall sections that are scattered around the world are meant as a testament to an ultimately failed policy and has particular poignancy today as walls are being re-constructed everywhere around the globe. You can check out more sections of the Berlin Wall in New York City here with this guide.