The Story of Keith Haring’s Courageous Berlin Wall Mural (Which Is Now Lost to History)
In the mid-1980s, the director of the Checkpoint Charlie Museum, a man named Rainer Hildebrandt, extended an invitation to Keith Haring to come to Berlin and use the Wall for his canvas. When Haring received word of the invitation, he was touring Europe and was eager to exercise his agitprop instincts in a world-historical manner by attempting to “destroy the wall by painting it,” which in a way was exactly what ended up happening, not to overstate Haring’s importance to that process. In order to prepare for Haring’s visit, employees of the Checkpoint Charlie Museum painted a hundred-meter stretch of the wall yellow according to Haring’s instructions. The next day, October 23, 1986, Haring “completed the mural in somewhere between four and six hours,” which is pretty remarkable when you think about it, even though Haring’s ability to work quickly was surely honed by his years defacing the walls in the New York subway system in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
According to Haring, “I decided on a subject, which is a continuous interlocking chain of human figures, who are connected at their hands and their feet—the chain obviously representing the unity of people as against the idea of the wall. I paint this in the colors of the German flag—black, red and yellow.” Haring called the provocation a “humanistic gesture” as well as ‘‘a political and subversive act—an attempt to psychologically destroy the wall by painting it.’’ As the New York Times reported the next day,