The life close to the Berlin Wall during the Eighties, by Thierry Noir.

One had told me a lot of stories about Berlin.

At that time many artists went to West-Berlin: David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Nina Hagen, and all the German New Wave. I said to myself: “Why do they all go to Berlin and not to Lyon where I was at this time? So I have to find it by myself, just to go there and see why.”

Then I left France by train, on January 21st, 1982, from Lyon to Berlin. I did not had a return ticket with me, if yes I would have returned maybe immediately back to France, because when I arrived at 6a.m. after 21 hours of train at the West-Berlin train station “Bahnhof Zoo”, my first impressions were the smell of the urine inside the station and the cold and grey morning. I could not understand a word. I was really frightened.

I had no round trip ticket, so I remained.

At the end of one week, I realized that everyone around me was an artist. Then, when somebody asked me if I were artist too, I say to him: “YES! Of course”. I did not want to be the idiot of the village or to lose my face, perhaps that the others would have not spoken to me anymore if I had said: “NO”.

I said to everybody that I am a multi-talented person. I can do everything: I can sing, play guitar, roll me on the floor, write poems, play drums and of course paint.

It was like I felt into a big box of creativity which was West-Berlin at that time. Indeed, at that time, to protect yourself from the artificial life of West-Berlin, surrounded by a wall, it was necessary to be creative. With the help of this creativity you could feel alive and not fall into a sort of soft melancholy.

I arrived in Berlin in January 1982 but I started to paint the wall at the end of April 1984.

People believed that I was paid by the city of Berlin to decorate the neighborhood. Very often I had to stop to paint and explain that even if one paints hundreds of kilos of paintings on the Berlin Wall, the wall will be never beautiful because over 100 persons died already. Some people believed that I came purposely from France, for one weekend, to make the city more pleasant for the tourists.

Gradually the passers-by understood what I wanted to say but with difficulties, because the complete covering of the Wall with paintings was something new in Berlin. Everything that is new disturbs a little.

When I arrived to Berlin, I did not know anything about the city and the first time I saw the wall, I found it small.

I said myself: “What! This is the Berlin Wall!” I had in my mind a 10 meters wall, but in fact it was only 3.60 meters high.

I understood later that the power of this wall lay in its width. It was a machine to kill, and very well organized: a band of ground of approximately 50 meters broad, the death strip, closed by 2 walls, one in the east which could be seen in a distance and one in the west which could be touched and painted.

When I was young, with my parents, in Lyon, we used to go every Sunday inside a zoological park, the “Parc de la Tête d’Or”, to see some animals.

Every Sunday, we looked at the crocodile which never moved. I ask myself: “Why this crocodile never moves? Maybe it is just a plastic toy.”

But one time, the crocodile failed to bite the foot of a guard who brought to it something to eat. Everyone howled and I realized that a crocodile is a very dangerous animal. I remembered this history subsequently and noticed that the Berlin Wall was similar as a crocodile.

I never saw something spectacular happened along the wall, I never saw the soldiers shooting or arresting somebody during that time, but then one morning one could read in the newspapers that two people had died while trying to escape to the west.

In the beginning, I painted the wall with Christophe Bouchet at night. However, after three weeks, in May 1984, during the turning of a TV report with the television of Berlin, we were so much photographed by the frontier guards of the GDR that after that day I decided to paint when I wanted to, without paying any attention about the time.

I tried to paint the wall in very symbolic places, like Potsdamer Platz or Checkpoint Charlie. I painted the Berlin Wall to make it fall, but without never insulting or throwing painting to the East-German soldiers who guarded it. Because I never left or threw remainders nor garbage over the wall, the guards ignore me most of the time.

Between April 1984 and the end of the wall in November 1989 I painted with Christophe Bouchet and Kiddy Citny approximately 5 kilometers of the Berlin Wall which had a 45 kilometers length between East and West Berlin.

I painted, with small rollers, large frescos under the motto: “two ideas; three colors, one mixes the whole and the painting is finished”.

With this receipt you can change the world in 10 minutes.

Most of the Germans just ignore the wall at that time. It was maybe a taboo inside their lives. They came just once a while with relatives or friends, to show them the wall and that was all for the rest of the year. Some of them made even a detour not to drive by near the wall. The German artists did not want to paint the wall.

November 9th, 1989 around 11 p.m., while returning at home, I fell into a big traffic jam near “Checkpoint Charlie”. I remained there until 4a.m. to look at this immense moment of intense joy.

Then, in the following weeks I could paint the backside of the wall while passing through the holes which people made while typing with gravers and hammers to recover pieces of the wall.

Even when it rained people wedged an umbrella under an arm and continued to strike the Berlin wall. It was a sort of gold rush. All was possible. A new city was discovered. There were techno clubs all around the city.

The Eighties were finished.

Thierry Noir