BERLIN (Reuters) - Murals on the largest remaining section of the Berlin Wall, the world's longest open-air art gallery, are to undergo emergency restoration to save them from decay, an organizer said on Thursday.
Most of the 160 km (100 mile)-long wall was torn down after crowds scaled or smashed through it in November 1989 and the East German communist state collapsed.
But 118 artists from 22 countries flocked to Berlin in 1990 to paint murals on a surviving 1,300-meter (4,300ft) stretch of the once-forbidding concrete barrier.
Since then, paint has faded, the concrete has been eroded by the elements and some panels have been defaced by graffiti.
"If we don't restore it now it'll be too late," said Kani Alavi of the East Side Gallery Artists' Association which has organized the 2.2 million-euro ($3-million) restoration.
"We want to remove and repaint each image," he said. "We have gone to a lot of effort to track down the artists."
Organizers have found about 80 percent of the 118 and are trying to reach the rest.
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.
Many of the East Side Gallery's 106 murals were inspired by the collapse of communism. One of the most famous is the "Brotherly Kiss," showing former East German leader Erich Honecker kissing Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev.
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.
Construction workers and artists began restoration work on Wednesday and aim to complete it by November 9, 2009 -- the 20th anniversary of the Wall being breached.
Reporting by Josie Cox; editing by Andrew Roche