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Faded Berlin Wall gets makeover

BERLIN (Reuters) - Artists on Tuesday began repainting the largest remaining section of Berlin Wall with the murals they created after the fall of the hated symbol of the Cold War almost 20 years ago.

A 1,300 meter (4,265 ft) stretch of wall, the world's longest open-air art gallery, was decorated by 118 artists from 21 countries in 1990, but has since been damaged by the weather, exhaust fumes, vandals, and souvenir-seeking tourists.

The restoration work is expected to be completed in time for the 20-year anniversary in November of the fall of the wall which once divided communist East Berlin from capitalist west Berlin.

Artist Gerhard Lahr, 70, a children' books illustrator living in East Berlin, recalled the thrill of being allowed to paint a mural on the wall in 1990, where rifle-toting border guards had patrolled only months before.

"Just that we were allowed to go there, it was incredible," he said, as he started to repaint his work "Berlyn" under a cloudless sky.

The gallery was declared a historic monument by the Berlin city government in 1992 and has become one of the city's top tourist attractions.

However, not all of the artists were pleased to learn their original murals on the stretch known as the East Side Gallery would be erased -- and that they would be expected to repaint them.

Russian artist Dmitri Vrubel, who painted the famous image of East German leader Erich Honecker kissing his Soviet counterpart Leonid Brezhnev, has told German media he would not paint the same image as before.

The artists now working on their sections are using transparencies and an overhead projector to ensure their recreations are precise.

Built by communist authorities who described it as an "anti-fascist protective barrier," the Berlin Wall divided the city for 28 years. Scores of people were killed by East German sentries as they tried to escape across it from east to west.

(Reporting by Jacob Comenetz; Editing by Sophie Hares)

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