L'Atelier de l'Europe

Discovering the Council of Europe’s art collection

This podcast gives you a chance to discover the Council of Europe through its art collection. You will learn how the Council of Europe, which was founded just after the Second World War, has traversed the ages and fashioned the Europe of human rights, democracy and the rule of law.

From the Palais de l’Europe, the Council of Europe’s headquarters designed by the architect, Henry Bernard, past the bust of Winston Churchill, a section of the Berlin Wall and some more contemporary works, l’Atelier de l’Europe leads you through the secrets behind the most emblematic items in a collection of some 150 works made up of paintings, tapestries and sculptures.

In a unique dialogue, the podcast combines the accounts of artists and historians with testimonies of diplomats and political leaders and all those who have shaped the history of the Council of Europe..

12 episodes

Back Art tears down walls – Berlin Wall (in French)

The fall of the Berlin Wall symbolised the reunion of Eastern and Western Europe. Over the years, the Wall was taken over by artists and anonymous individuals. These sections were chosen for their emblematic value: beneath a sentence in French, the word Freiheit (freedom) shines through.

Berlin Wall by Christophe-Emmanuel Bouchet, Thierry Noir and anonymous individuals

4 sections

3.60 x 4 m

Donated by Germany, 1990



Marija Pejčinović Burić, Secretary General of the Council of Europe (2019-2024)

Catherine Lalumière, former Secretary General of the Council of Europe (1989-1994)

Élisa Ganivet, doctor of philosophy, art historian and cultural manager

Sound archives: Denis Astagneau, Thierry Noir, Alain Barbaud, Philippe Rochot and Mstislav Rostropovitch

Authors: Charlotte Roux, Antoine Auger, Anne Kropotkine

To find out more:

Élisa Ganivet, Esthétique du mur géopolitique, Les Presses de l’Université du Québec, 2015

Thierry Noir's website


Opening titles: L’Atelier de l'Europe, discovering the Council of Europe’s art collection.

Berlin Wall by Christophe-Emmanuel Bouchet, Thierry Noir and anonymous individuals. 4 sections. Donated by Germany in 1990. With Marija Pejčinović Burić, Catherine Lalumière, Elisa Ganivet, and from the sound archives, the voice of Thierry Noir.

Sound archives - Denis Astagneau
Berlin. The night the gates opened. “Tor auf. Open the gate!” The cry echoed across the wall as thousands of Germans, in the East and the West, heard the extraordinary news: they could go from one side of Germany to the other, virtually unhindered. Last night, at 7 pm, the East German government announced the opening of the border between East and West Germany.

Marija Pejčinović Burić: The fall of the Berlin Wall on 9 November 1989 marked a turning point in the history of the continent and of the Council of Europe, which opened its doors to the former Eastern bloc countries.

Catherine Lalumière: It signalled the end of a divided Europe and of a situation which had overshadowed the continent since the end of the Second World War. It was a time of hope and optimism. When I learned that the Berlin Wall was being torn down and that people were picking bits and pieces out of the rubble, I asked Council of Europe staff to contact the German authorities so that we could get our own slice of history. Today, there is a piece of the Berlin Wall at the European Court of Human Rights.

Élisa Ganivet: In fact, there are four segments, Nos. 125 to 128, which are 3.6 metres high and 4 metres long altogether. As you can see, they feature some of Thierry Noir’s heads. His heads are usually very colourful. These are the first ones he painted, on the outskirts of Kreuzberg, in the mid-80s. They are side on, so you just have a profile view of these grey heads.

Sound archives - Thierry Noir: I adapted my style to the medium, painting large faces on walls, with big eyes, noses, mouths and ears, as simple as that.

Élisa Ganivet: He painted them on top of another piece of graffiti, probably by Christophe Emmanuel Bouchet. Bouchet tended to draw figures, especially of animals, faces and very colourful heads, using pink, blue and sometimes green. So his work is a slab of colour. The two artists often worked together and from about 1986 onwards, they graffitied side by side. On this piece of wall, you can see the words “Le duo d’enfer a encore frappé” (The red-hot duo strikes again). So it really was this pair of Frenchmen graffitiing together in Berlin, in West Berlin to be precise.

Sound archives - Thierry Noir: The wall was not the actual border. It was built about 5 metres in front of the real border line. We always had to watch out that the soldiers didn’t suddenly pop up and arrest us.

Élisa Ganivet: We can see, we can also see the word “Freiheit” (freedom) graffitied underneath: “Freiheit für X”, so freedom for someone.

Sound archives - Thierry Noir: When I arrived in Berlin, I knew nothing about the city, and really, I was surprised the first time that I saw the wall. I had imagined it to be about 10 to 12 metres high, so it seemed small. I realised that the wall was more than just a wall and it was part of a whole system.

Élisa Ganivet: On the night of 12 August 1961, the German Democratic Republic (GDR) began putting up the Berlin Wall to prevent migration to the Western bloc. Berlin, of course, was special because it was a Western enclave within the GDR. It really is the symbol of the Cold War. The Berlin Wall was about 105 kilometres of concrete, but in Berlin itself, it was 43 kilometres long.

Sound archives - Thierry Noir: I had a physical urge to do something about the wall, and the only thing I could do was to paint it. And that changed my life.

Élisa Ganivet: From the ‘80s onwards, artists began staking their claim to the western side of the wall, i.e. from West Germany.

Sound archives - Thierry Noir: And then, people started asking me questions, like was the FBI paying me to make the Berlin Wall beautiful. So I had to stop painting and tell them, no, I lived there, right next to it, and that even if you slapped tonnes of paint on that wall, it would never be beautiful because it had already claimed 130 lives. You can’t make a killing machine beautiful.

Sound archives – [French journalist] Alain Barbaud: Good morning. Today’s news can be summed up in a single headline: the Berlin Wall, the wall of shame, has fallen. Just listen (crowds shouting).

Sound archives - Thierry Noir: From my window, I could see people chipping away at the wall. It was like a gold rush. Everybody wanted a piece of the wall. And that didn’t bother me because I wasn’t going to cry over the sight of the wall coming down.

Élisa Ganivet: So what happened to the wall? Well, it was gradually dismantled, but it took quite a while.

Sound archives - background noise: you can hear people chipping away at the wall and selling bits of it.

Élisa Ganivet: The GDR licensed a company to sell fragments of the wall. So some pieces of the wall were being sold and others donated, for example to the Council of Europe. You can now find bits of it all over the world.

Catherine Lalumière: After the fall of the Berlin Wall, I witnessed the reunification, when the two halves of Germany were reunited and the Iron Curtain was lifted. It was a good time. I saw these countries, formerly part of the communist bloc, turn to join our family of pluralist democracies. They signed the European Convention on Human Rights and became members of the Council of Europe, showing us that ideas can have great power. They can be used to bring down dictators, no less.

Closing credits: That was the Berlin Wall. By Christophe-Emmanuel Bouchet, Thierry Noir and anonymous individuals, a Council of Europe podcast, created by Charlotte Roux, Antoine Auger and Anne Kropotkine. With the current Secretary General of the Council of Europe, Marija Pejčinović Burić, former Secretary General of the Council of Europe, Catherine Lalumière, art historian Elisa Ganivet, and from the sound archives, the voice of Thierry Noir. Other episodes are available on the Council of Europe website.

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7 min 40 23 May 2024
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