Berlin’s street art scene

Berlin has been described as “the graffiti Mecca of the urban art world.” If you’re planning a pilgrimage, here’s some background info:

History

The city’s graffiti scene grew up in West Berlin in the early 1980s. People started drawing pro-peace messages on the Berlin wall, and later all over that side of the city. The ‘pieces’ of graffiti gradually became more elaborate, and street artists started using spray paint and stencils to create real art.

There was no real graffiti scene in East Berlin at the time, because paint wasn’t widely available and artists risked the wrath of the Stasi if caught. However, when the Wall fell in 1989, the East quickly became covered with murals and spray-paintings.

Popularity

Unauthorised graffiti is illegal in Berlin, but the scene is still thriving, and some people commission artists to paint on their buildings. You can see street art all over the city, but the twin districts of Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg are the two best-decorated areas.

Street art in Berlin

Festival

The Stroke Art fair attracts tens of thousands of visitors each year. As well as graffiti, there are exhibitions of digital art and photography. During the festival artists paint live and there is a huge art studio open to everyone.

In 2012, four European artists will be painting Citroen DS3 cars in a graffiti style, and visitors to the art fair will be able to take a 30-minute guided tour in the cars, driving past some of the city’s best graffiti.

Walking tours

Every Monday, Friday and Saturday at 12pm, a group meets outside Starbucks in Alexanderplatz for the Alternative Berlin Tour and Workshop. This is a walk around the back streets of Berlin, seeing some of the city’s best street art up close, and listening to tour guides as they explain culture jamming, graffiti history, and the unwritten rules of the art.

Afterwards, there’s a street art workshop, and participants get to make their own examples to take home. The whole thing lasts three and a half hours, and costs €15. Homemade graffiti from these sessions has furnished apartments in all parts of Berlin and if you arrange to stay at someone’s house you may well see an example on the mantelpiece.

Artists

El Bocho

A mysterious figure who pastes posters on city walls at night, El Bocho specialises in drawings of women’s faces, security cameras, and a cat called Little Lucy who comes up with various creative ways to kill mice.

Blu

Though based in Italy, Blu paints huge murals on walls all over Europe. The Kreuzburg district has a couple of his satirical murals – one is of a wealthy-looking businessman wearing handcuffs made of gold. The other shows two people pulling each other’s masks off, which is apparently meant to be symbolic of the reunification of Berlin.

Linda’s Ex

Linda’s Ex put up a series of posters around Berlin in 2003. They showed a depressed looking man, with captions about a mysterious Linda. There was much speculation about who the artist was, and what had happened between him and Linda. People called into a radio station to discuss the mystery, and held public meetings. However, the painter, Roland Brueckner, later came forward and admitted there was no Linda.

Xooox

Xooox makes weird sculptures from rusty metal, and street paintings of elegant women with a thought bubble of jumbled ‘X’s and ‘O’s. But what does it mean?

Image: thanks to Merje Shaw, http://www.flickr.com/people/brilith/