Back in September, I was eager to dive into Berlin’s underground scene. So I signed up for a tour with Alternative Berlin to get a proper introduction.
But I accidentally signed up for a street art tour. I didn’t realize my error until I showed up at the East Side Gallery. Fancy that.
Street art is not something I’ve ever paid a lot of attention to. I just never particularly enjoyed it. But like my guide explained, street art tends to get confused with graffiti an awful lot, so it comes with negative connotations.
Street art = more carefully planned (usually legal and often commissioned) artwork in public spaces. Graffiti usually refers to those ugly tags that jackasses spray paint everywhere (including over beautiful street art) in some shitty attempt to gain notoriety.
I’m clearly not a fan of tagging.
Berlin is a quirky alternative city. And very politically charged. So as you can imagine, there’s a ton of street art.
It’s interesting to note that the tour guides often have to switch up their schedule last minute, because street art is pretty fluid and what’s there one day is often gone the next.
This tour ended up being one of my favourites so far, just by total chance. Here are the stories behind some of Berlin’s more famous street art/artists. I don’t have photos for them all, sadly.
BLU in Berlin
BLU is an Italian street artist who’s most famous for his two Berlin works that don’t actually exist anymore.
At the Curvybrache in Kreuzberg, two black walls stand. Formerly they were covered in two massive murals: a man adjusting his tie while his hands are bound in gold chains, and another featuring two masked men trying to pull off each other’s masks.
(Credit: Flickr CC/Max Noisa.)
Why were they destroyed?
Curvybrache was once a notorious squatters area, housing hundreds of homeless, refugees, rejects, etc. A rich investor who planned to transform the space into fancy apartments bought up the land. People fought for years to control the open space as a way of saying this is our city, we get to make decisions too, and everyone’s tired of gentrification.
Ultimately, the camp mysteriously burned down, and the squatters were forced off. The land is still empty, likely waiting for its value to increase. After the fire, BLU hired painters to paint over the pieces because he didn’t want their iconic status to increase the prices of the apartment rentals. Such is Berlin.
(The painter left two pieces: an extended middle finger, and “CLAIM YOUR CITY.”)
However, you can still see BLU’s artwork around Berlin. Near the Oberbaum Bridge in Kreuzberg is the hella creepy giant pink man made up of various other pink men. It’s a comment on individuality, apparently.
(Credit: Flickr CC/Sarah-Rose)
El Bocho likes to create macabre street art about his character, Little Lucy. This cartoon girl can be seen all over the city in various methods of killing her cat. Yes, you read that right. Whether dear Little Lucy is trying to shoot the cat or dismember it, she’s quite the little hell raiser.
Stenciling is a new-ish kind of graffiti, whereby stencils are prepared in advance and then pasted to public spaces (probably illegally). These take a LOT of work because of the number of stencils required. But the results are beautiful.
Alie Pasquini is one artist who uses stencils beautifully. She tends to target dirty, graffiti-laden pieces like garbage cans and telephone boxes. I guess it’s her way of making Berlin just a little prettier.
Mein Lieber Prost
Mein Lieber Prost gained notoriety in Berlin for tagging buildings with smiley faces all over the place. Keep on the lookout for one while visiting Berlin. They’re everywhere!
The faces aren’t anything special, but I love his story. After getting caught by police a few times while creating graffiti, he racked up some impressive 20,000+ euro fines.
In true Berlin fashion, the community banded together and threw a raging party at one of the nightclubs. And Mein Lieber Prost paid his way out of trouble.
These Brazilian twins are bit of a big deal. They’re known worldwide, and have earned enormous amounts of money for work commissioned in New York City.
Their cartoon caricatures are pretty distinct. In Kreuzberg (yes, again!), you’ll see a five-storey high yellow man on Oppelner Strasse.
Apparently one of the brothers dreamt the night before of living in a world with yellow people. He found out the next morning that his brother had the same dream.
Roland Brueckner and Linda’s Ex
This is another one of my favourite street art stories.
Brueckner started tagging images all over the place in 2002, mourning his breakup with his girlfriend, Linda. There was a lot of angst and general emo attitude.
But Berliners really, really cared about this heartbroken guy and even started reaching out to Linda via local press.
But the whole thing was a darned hoax. Well played, Roland.
I came across what MIGHT be a Jimmy C piece while on my tour. James Cochran is an artist from Australia, and his work is inspired by traditional Aboriginal dot paintings. And so Jimmy C leaves his mark everywhere with his unique drip style painting. Each piece is completed with hundreds of bursts with a spray can.
I can’t seem to find this piece in his online portfolio, but it seems to be his work and he’s spent a lot of time in Berlin. Either way, love the technique.
Then there’s this guy, whose name I can’t recall, or maybe he’s anonymous. At any rate, I can’t find him. He managed to produce this piece near a playground in Kreuzberg. He snuck out here in the middle of the night with only a paint roller attached to a broom handle, and yet created this piece of art from the ground.
So, yeah, safe to say I have a little more respect for street artists these days. There are countless others besides these guys, but now you’ll have an inkling of what to look for.