One of Thierry Noir's distinctive head paintings on the Berlin Wall. Photograph: Bojan Brecelj/Bojan Brecelj/Corbis
The concrete has been scrubbed, the graffiti removed, the metal de-rusted and now Thierry Noir, the first artist to paint on the Berlin Wall, is set to start all over again.
Noir, a Frenchman who risked his life in 1984 to paint the first major works of art on the barrier that then separated the communist east from the capitalist west of Germany's capital, is now organising the restoration of his paintings as well as those of around 120 other artists. Noir's giant naive art images were immortalised in Wim Wenders's 1987 film Wings of Desire where Noir, playing himself on a ladder propped against the wall with his paintbrushes in hand, waves to an angel played by Bruno Ganz.
This summer the surviving 1,300 metres of the wall is to be scrubbed clean and then repainted by the same artists who turned it into a giant work of art in the heady weeks after Berliners flooded across border posts in November 1989, rendering the wall, built in 1961 as a "protective barrier against fascism", redundant.
"We need to restore it to protect it for future generations," Noir said. "The wall will never be a thing of beauty, and nor should it. Too many people died because of it. It is there to remind a future generation of what happened."
Noir, who says he personally painted about three miles of the wall with his trademark figures, has devoted years to tracking down lumps taken by people as mementos or sold by dealers. "I found two big blocks being used as urinals in a Las Vegas casino. It's disgusting. The wall is a work of art and a historical monument."
The artists - from 21 different countries - who painted the wall 20 years ago have been painstakingly traced and paid to return to Berlin to re-create their works once the wall, badly damaged by years of vandalism, exhaust fumes, harsh weather and souvenir hunters, has been resurfaced.
Gerhard Lahr, 70, a children's book illustrator living in east Berlin, was the first artist to start work last week. About 60 others will work through the summer to have the wall ready for an official opening and celebrations in November. Lahr remembered the thrill in 1990 of painting on the wall, where armed 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 wall was declared a historic monument by the Berlin city government in 1992 and has become one of the city's top tourist attractions. The restoration, paid for with lottery funds, involves the use of transparencies and an overhead projector to ensure that the original works, such as Birgit Kinder's famous painting of a Trabant, the classic East German-made car, are accurately re-created.
However, not all of the artists were pleased to learn that the original murals on the stretch known as the East Side Gallery would be erased - and that they would be expected to repaint them. The Russian artist Dmitri Vrubel, who painted the famous image of the East German leader Erich Honecker kissing his Soviet counterpart, Leonid Brezhnev, has told German media he would not paint the same image as before.
"I have no problem with the East Side Gallery being renovated," Vrubel insisted, "but I can't simply come back and paint the same thing over again, it would be a completely new picture."
Noir this weekend dismissed the Russian artist, whose "kiss" painting has graced T-shirts, coffee mugs and posters in bedsits across Europe for decades, as a publicity-seeker. "Vrubel is just trying to boost his media profile or something. I really don't understand his attitude," he said, explaining that the ˆ3,000 (£2,640) payment for the work was not "compensation" but a fee.
Other artists have complained about the proposed scale of remuneration. "We are professionals, not Sunday painters," Bodo Sperling, a member of the collective which is leading the resistance, said. "We want ˆ15,000 (£13,200)." But Noir's real concern is the rapid gentrification of the area around the remaining section of wall. A massive arena has been built and plans have been drawn up to give the rundown area a facelift, turning it into an upmarket residential and commercial development.
"It is disgusting. There are enormous advertising hoardings that overshadow the wall entirely. We are just kneeling before the god of money," he told the Observer. At least 98 people were killed trying to cross the wall, although the actual number of deaths is still unknown. Research is still being done to confirm other possible cases. "We need to remember what happened here or the same things will happen again, just worse," said Noir.