When the wall tumbled down

When news broke on Nov. 9, 1989, about the collapse of the Berlin Wall, German chanteuse Ute Lemper was nearly 4,000 miles away, sitting in a taxi in New York.

“I was in shock,” she said. “The wall had become almost normal. Nobody ever thought it would come down. It had kept us divided for so long . . . and finally it was gone. I wanted to return to Berlin immediately. I wanted to celebrate.”

Twenty years later, she’s getting the chance to do just that -- in Los Angeles.

As part of the Wende Museum’s “A Wall Across Wilshire” event, Lemper will perform “Ghosts of Berlin,” a song she wrote expressing her memories of Berlin during the final years of the Cold War.


“A Wall Across Wilshire,” a symbolic re-creation of the wall that once separated East and West Berlin, will be temporarily erected across Wilshire near the Los Angeles County Museum of Art shortly before midnight on Sunday. It will join the museum’s “Wall Along Wilshire -- Eastside Gallery West,” a 40-foot section of the original Berlin Wall that will be on view in front of the 5900 Wilshire Blvd. building through Nov. 14.

Festivities, which will begin at 11 p.m., will include films, recorded music, dignitaries and special guests. At midnight, the mayor of Berlin, Klaus Wowereit, will deliver a message from that city over a big screen, and the Wilshire barrier will be emblematically toppled.

“The Berlin Wall has become so much more than a wall,” said Justinian Jampol, the museum’s executive director and founder. “It means different things to different people. We want people to reflect on that.”

Sections of the temporary barricade will be painted by muralist Shepard Fairey -- best known for his Barack Obama “Hope” poster -- along with graffiti artists working with ArtStorm LA and arts students at the Otis College of Art and Design, USC and CalArts; sections of the wall will be sold at auction with proceeds supporting the Wende Museum.


The affair is part of the Wall Project, which commemorates the 20th anniversary of the collapse of the Berlin Wall. The project is made up of two parts: The “Wall Across Wilshire” and its adjunct, the “Wall Along Wilshire -- Eastside Gallery West.” The sections of the original wall will feature paintings by L.A. muralist Kent Twitchell and Berlin-based Thierry Noir.

“When the wall fell down, there was this jubilation and expectation that things would be sort of perfect again, even though that past perfection never existed,” Jampol said.

“But that didn’t happen. There remained this state of mind -- ‘Die Mauer im Kopf’ [wall in the head]. It’s something we have been interested in, which is not only the preservation of history but its contemporary and present implications and uses. The ‘Wall Project’ fit perfectly in these terms.”

The project involves the Culver City-based Wende Museum and Archive of the Cold War, Los Angeles, the German consulate general in Los Angeles and other partners.


Two decades may have passed since the historic collapse -- which ended the Cold War in Eastern Europe and the separation of Germany -- but, for Lemper, it’s like it just happened yesterday,

“It remains an important date for me,” she said. “And I hope people continue to recognize its symbolic significance. The memories of the wall should not be erased. You can’t forget about the past. There’s too much pain.”