Dimitri Wrubel painted the Fraternal Kiss on the Berlin Wall in 1990. The motif became a symbol for peace, love and crossing all kinds of borders. Erich Honecker and Leonid Brezhnev, the two leaders of the socialist fraternal parties, press their fleshy lips together in the mural, their heads tilted, their eyes closed.
Countless tourists have photographed themselves in front of this motif at the East Side Gallery, kissed and hugged in front of it. The fraternal kiss on the gray concrete wall became a symbol of Berlin and went around the world. It’s on postcards and t-shirts. Wrubel originally copied the picture from a postcard himself. This showed Honecker and Brezhnev in a socialist embrace on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the GDR in 1979.
If Dimitri Wrubel had copyrighted his painting on the Berlin Wall, he could have gotten rich off it. He thought it was good that things went differently, as you can read in interviews. When the East Side Gallery was renovated in 2009 to mark the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, Wrubel repainted his icon. It took three weeks to fill the segment of the Wall with the kissing politicians again.
Quick prayers after Corona disease
“My God. Help me. To survive this deadly love”, these words frame the work of art on the wall in Russian and in German. At the time, Wrubel related the saying to a personal story, his grueling love for two women. In the past few days, Wrubel’s friends and acquaintances have sent prayers to heaven for Wrubel, his wife Viktoria Timofeeva had asked for it on social media. Dimitri Wrubel fell ill with Covid-19 a few weeks ago and had to be artificially ventilated and connected to dialysis. As a result of the Covid-19 disease, there was a heart condition and a stroke.
In the posts and tweets from Wrubel’s environment one can read that nobody had expected such a catastrophic course of the disease. “I’m going to cough a bit, I have mild Covid,” a journalist friend quoted him as saying in a Twitter post.
Vrubel was born in Moscow in 1960. His parents were engineers, he grew up in an intellectual, dissident household. He began to paint as a teenager and studied at the artistic and graphic faculty of the Lenin Institute in Moscow. Anyone who wanted to exhibit in the Soviet Union in the 1970s and 1980s was often only able to do so privately. That’s what Wrubel did too, he held exhibitions in his apartment and studio.
In the year of reunification in 1990 he came to Berlin to take part in an exhibition. When he found out about the possibility of painting the Berlin Wall on Mühlenstraße, he applied to the East Side Gallery with two motifs: “Brotherly kiss” and “Thank you, Andrei Sakharov”, both of which he was allowed to implement and was one of 118 participants artists. Wrubel painted many more pictures of politicians. In the photo-realistic comic style he combined politics and private life in search of universal truths, combined with literary and other quotations he often provided satirical comments on the present.
In the open studio you could watch Dimitri Wrubel painting
Vrubel, who also painted in a duo with Viktoria Timofeeva, found his motifs in the news or on the Internet. He painted Waldimir Putin, Angela Merkel, Thilo Sarrazin, but also photos of private people, with a precise sense of the zeitgeist. He has lived with his family in Berlin since 2010 and got to know the lengthy immigration procedure. Anyone who wanted could look over his shoulder while painting. Together with his wife, Wrubel ran an open studio on the grounds of the Kulturbrauerei; They called it “brother art”.
The fact that Dimitri Wrubel made a name for himself with an open-air work of art on the Berlin Wall fits in with his radically democratic view of art: his credo was that art must be accessible to everyone. He spread his art over the Internet, auctioned it off on Facebook for little money, and printed some in large numbers.
Art for everyone, that’s what the program of the Pirate Party says, which he and Timofeeva joined in 2012. Wrubel called his approach “Art 3.0”, art should be a social tool, stimulate the development of problem neighborhoods in Berlin, help with the integration of migrants. Now his mission will have to go on without him. Dimitri Vrubel has died.