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Spray-painted Berlin Wall - art or vandalism?

A section of the Berlin Wall displayed next to Cheonggye Stream is covered with graffiti. / Yonhap

By Lee Suh-yoon

New graffiti has appeared on a section of the Berlin Wall on display next to Cheonggye Stream in downtown Seoul.

The 28-year-old artist surnamed Jung, who did this, claimed on a now-deleted Instagram post the graffiti holds a goodwill message promoting peace on the Korean Peninsula.

But some criticized his actions, saying he deliberately damaged a gift Germany gave to Seoul in 2005. Berlin gave the wall segments to wish for the two Koreas' reunification.

Controversy arose with both sides scratching their heads and asking: Is it art or vandalism?

As the police have launched an investigation into the matter, Jung-gu Office wants the public to see Jung's action as vandalism.

The district office manages the gift owned by the city government. Police summoned both Jung-gu officials and the artist for questioning earlier this week.

"The previous markings on the wall are no longer distinguishable," said Shin Seong-yeong, a district official. The wall previously bore traces of graffiti dating back to when it divided Berlin.

"Though it is not an officially registered as a cultural monument, it still holds significant meaning. The person who did this lacks historical consciousness."

Last Friday, Jung, whose pseudonym is HIDEYES, covered the concrete slabs with fluorescent stripes and white patterns of the Korean flag. Also, at the bottom, he wrote: "SAVE OUR PLANET."

According to Jung, the graffiti presents a message of freedom to the "present and future of Korea, the last divided nation."

Jung says he was inspired by the East Side Gallery, an open-air mural display painted on the remnants of the Berlin Wall, during his visit to Berlin 15 years ago.

Jung, however, apologized for his action.

"I'm sorry, it won't happen again," he said on his social media account. "I would also like to apologize to other hard-working graffiti artists for worsening social perception toward graffiti."

Jung's intentions may be good. But some are not impressed.

"It is impossible to guess the meaning of his graffiti. It looks like junk," an Instagram user posted.

The graffiti artist's signature (left) is on the east side of the Berlin Wall section. / Yonhap

On Cheong Wa Dae's website, a public petitions calling for Jung to be punished for vandalizing the wall reached over 11,000 signatures.

"This is not art, it an act of commercial self-branding and advertising that erases cultural heritage," one petitioner wrote on the website.

Another petitioner who claimed to be a German living in Korea also denounced Jung's actions.

"Generally, I do not consider graffiti as a crime. But in this particular case, there needs to be punishment," the petitioner said. "The Berlin Wall remnants are a historical monument and a symbol of Germany's peaceful revolution."