Stickers around Alexander Platz. Signs of underground activity.
The German capital is arguably the most “bombed” (slang for graffiti covered) city in Europe. An unstoppable sense of freedom and desire of comunication has crossed Berlin since the fall of the Wall. The roots of graffiti culture can be traced back to West Berlin in the early 1980s, when the American-occupied sector was the reluctant melting pot of anarchist punks, Turkish immigrants and West German draft resisters. Kreuzberg, a neighborhood surrounded on three sides by the Berlin Wall, blossomed particularly well, with miles of wall space and little police scrutiny.
The first so-called writers were heavily influenced by the New York City scene. Works about the time, like the 1983 film “Style Wars” by Tony Silver and Henry Chalfant, and the 1984 book “Subway Art” by Mr. Chalfant and Martha Cooper, enjoyed a cult following.
Little Lucy by El Bocho. This mural “saga” sees a nice little girl named Lucy trying to kill her cat, in many funny ways. El Bocho is well known in Berlin for his paste-ups and cut-outs.
But while the west face of the Berlin Wall was blanketed with graffiti, the east face was orderly and gray. The notorious Stasi police kept graffiti under wraps, and writers in East Berlin risked imprisonment or worse if they were caught red - handed with spray cans - assuming they could even get their hands on paint.
This partially covered poster could say nothing if you don’t know the “saga” of Linda’s Ex. The artist (Linda’s ex boyfriend) has left many love declaration and sad messages for Linda, asking her to get together again and more romantic stuff… but it’s all for art sake: there is no Linda and no broken hearts. Still, Berlin felt great partecipation to these love messages, with lot of irony too.
All that changed, of course, with the fall of the wall in 1989, which opened up vast new blank walls virtually overnight. Artists, musicians and young people flooded East Berlin, heralding a shift in the youth culture from west to east. The pockmarked walls of Mitte, Friedrichshain and other gray neighborhoods were soon carpeted in colorful squiggles.
RALLITO X, from Spain, to Berlin. The number of people that here have left a visual sign is simply amazing. It seems that anyone did something on the walls. There is so much on the street that being artistically different would mean not to be on street art at all.
Various & Gould
Berlin today appears tollerant and pro-graffiti. Berlin seems the pole of attraction for an entire generation of artists, from big names to beginners, of any field. Berlin is alternative indeed. A hardcore capital of fun if you want, but not at all the type of fun you could see in an amusement park.
Since 1986, the Cologne-based artist Thomas Baumgärtel has been stenciling Warhol-like yellow bananas outside his favorite galleries. Several hundred galleries have received the yellow seal of approval, offering gallery hoppers a highly regarded rating guide to the city’s art scene.
Why Graffiti are everywhere, is it legal? The police were painfully slow to respond to graffiti, and a special task force formed in the early 1990s remains largely ineffectual. Graffiti may be vandalism, but it is also celebrated as street art and even regarded as an integral component of Berliner Strassenkultur. It’s hard to disagree: today’s art and street art are contributing to the capital fame, calling troups of tourists and large events.
The simple and iconic smile by Prost. Paste-ups are in a grey area: it is illegal but tollerated. That’s why is so widely used.
Graffiti culture and street art has entered the galleries network in a natural way, here in Berlin. Galleries like Circleculture, a stark storefront in Mitte, regularly exhibit internationally known street artists like Anton Unai, who often works with objects he finds on the street, and Shepard Fairey, the creator of “Obey, Giant” and, most recently, a popular poster of Barack Obama.
Rents are still low in the eastern part, making the area desiderable for students, artists, young families, from around the world. The spaces available are greater than the demand and this keeps the prices affordable for anyone. The art scene enjoyed a fast grow, and a great number of indipendent shops and art galleries have opened in the former east Berlin.
The italian artist Blu is well considered by the authorities. Several massive murals are found in the Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg districts.
The city today has a great offer of art and culture and great is still the demand. There is something for everyone: fashion designers, sculptors, photographers, painters, dj’s, any classes and courses, no profit project and commercial activities, underground or main stream. There is Berlin for anyone, and a shop too.
Big walls, big commecials. The advertisement agencies are recruiting the graffiti artists to conquer a new public.
If you are looking for design, particular - indipendent - shops and art galleries (street art too) the areas where you should head are Friedrichshain, Kreuzberg, Mitte, Prenzlauer Berg. But you can find a spot of “multiculti” life basically anywhere in Berlin.
Higher and bigger. Political fight, also rooftop.
The residents of these areas (kieze or Kietz) identify strongly with their neighborhoods, and this is particularly evidend in street art, graphic art, communication. A great sense of belonging that are keeping the citizen active on any public issue - first of all, the gentrification.
Today the Berlin wall is a tourist attraction, famous for being all decorated, but probably overrated. Artistically speaking, the best murals are everywhere else but not here.
This is why a good slice of Berlin’s street art is politically, socially and enviromentally aware. So, fun and tollerance, but also with a message.
The street-photographer “Jr”
By Vlady Art.