I had a show in Amsterdam in 1988. I decided since I was pretty much next door to the Berlin Wall and I had two weeks to spare I should get over to Berlin and paint the wall. The Museum at Checkpoint Charlie provided me with paint and a ladder. Before I started work on the wall the director of the museum had me watch a documentary about the wall that showed a man who was protesting on top of the wall until the East German authorities grabbed him. He hadn’t been seen since. The director explained that the wall was 15 feet inside East Germany and if they captured me there was nothing anyone could do for me.
He told me that if I stood back 15 feet, I was safe from the guards. They could only shoot their rifles crossways, not directly into West Berlin. He also made me understand that they would try to sneak up on me every so often to catch me. He was right. Over the week and a half I worked on the wall they made a few attempts. When I am painting I tend to have little awareness of anything going on around me, which left me vulnerable to attack. And they probably would have caught me had it not been for a group of escaped East German dissidents that had been holding a 24-hour vigil there at Check Point Charlie. They volunteered as look-outs.
I began painting without a design. I started by painting my heart logo about 40 feet away from the opening at Check Point Charlie and worked my way closer to the Check Point every day. The imagery evolved from conversations with people visiting the wall. On the last day I painted some of my creatures reacting to the East German police that stood at the entrance. The local paper photographed me with my mural and printed it in the next day’s paper. That day I bought 10 copies of the paper and went to go look at the wall with an American friend. He wanted me to go with him to visit the East German side, but I was too afraid I would be recognized as the guy who had painted the wall, so I begged off the adventure.
But after a while, he talked me into it. We went and stood in this long tourist line, handing over our passports one by one for review. The guard took our passports and went away into a back room. And then several police came out and grabbed me and my friend, separated us, and put me in a small room. They confiscated my stack of papers and left me alone, I guess to meditate on my stupidity. A couple different policemen came in the room to interrogate me. All they seemed to want to know was why I had so many newspapers. I didn’t want to tell them it was because I was in them.
I told them the papers were for friends back home. After a few hours they kicked me out of their country for attempting to spread propaganda. I guess it never occurred to them to open the newspaper and take a look. Two years later I went back to Berlin on my honeymoon. The portion of the wall that I had painted on was completely gone. But then, so were the guards. And I finally did take a walk through East Berlin.