BERLIN (AP) _ Bulldozers will be chewing up the Berlin Wall for months to come, but if a group of artists has its way, sections of the old Cold War barrier will travel the world to be exhibited as murals.
A year after the wall was opened last Nov. 9 and astounded the world, one of the most prominent stretches still standing is decorated with 90 huge paintings, each about 50 feet long and 11 1/2 feet tall.
The East Side Gallery, as the display of wall paintings is called, sprang into being last January and the final painting was finished in October. The work of German artist Georg-Lutz Rauschebart, it shows Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev turning the Communist hammer-and-sickle symbol upside down and parting the wall.
Several Russian artists are represented. One by Dmitri Vrubel is a pensive portrait of the late Andrei Sakharov, the Soviet dissident and Nobel Peace Prize winner, labeled simply ″Thanks.″
An impressionistic turmoil of blue and yellow on a black background by Japanese artist Kikue Miyatake is titled ″Paradise out of Darkness.″
Some paintings are cartoons, some are political satire, many are on environmental topics or on the theme of division - the message that the Berlin Wall stood for in its 28 years separating West Berlin from its surroundings in Communist East Germany.
The paintings stretch for 4,491 feet along Muehlen Street in the former East Berlin. The gray back of the wall facing the Spree River has signs beckoning visitors to come over and see the political art, and buy posters, T- shirts and postcards.
″We know only that we can stay until the end of March,″ said Annett Tyra, who operates the gallery shop. ″Everything else is quite uncertain.″
The artists behind the venture hope to take a few representative sections of the wall - each weighing several tons - to New York, Japan and elsewhere to be exhibited, Ms. Tyra said, but sponsorship money was still to be raised.
An East Berliner, Ms. Tyra said the wall stood right next to her house and she had long accepted it as a ″terrible normality.″
When the beleaguered East German Communist government bowed to a popular revolution and ended travel restrictions last Nov. 9, in effect dooming the wall, Ms. Tyra said, ″I had to pinch myself to make sure I wasn’t dreaming.″
A year later, she finds East Berliners show little interest in the wall gallery and also are not as idealistic about the future as she had hoped.
″People are forgetting the ideals and thinking only of cars and money,″ she said. ″We need to remember the background and the reasons for this. We see only foreigners and West Berliners coming to see the paintings.″
Petra Reetz, spokeswoman for the office demolishing the wall inside Berlin, said she expected the East Side Gallery wall sections could continue to stand. She said 81 percent of the downtown wall had been taken down as of the end of October, leaving only 2.1 miles standing within the city.
Authorities are making slower progress in dismantling the 81 miles of wall that stood on the rural side of West Berlin.