One of the most distinguishing features of Berlin is its street art. It’s everywhere. Like literally everywhere. Walking around Berlin is like walking around an outside gallery. You’re wondering around, if you’re anything like me then you’re probably lost, and suddenly- BAM- there it is.
Strictly speaking, it is not all allowed. However, some of it is commissioned. Often you will see murals decorating huge, dull fire walls. These bleak canvases are a throwback to a poorer time and the artwork is generally agreed by landlords, inhabitants and the authorities.
Alexandre Farto is a Portuguese artist whose ‘Go Forth’ series of four images were created for Levi’s “Now is our Time” campaign. They depict images of prominent people in the community. Above is one half of artist duo, Various & Gould. Vhils creates his images by carving into the surface on which he is working.
JR is a French artist who has established the “The Wrinkles of the City” exhibition in cities across the world including Shanghai and L.A. as well as Berlin. The images encapsulate the history of the city through long-time Berliners, depicted in photographs, printed and pasted onto walls around the town.
Belgian street artist Roa is renowned for his huge, detailed, black and white animal murals, which can also be found frequenting London. The images show nature meeting the urban human environment.
The above image was around the corner from my flat, so in a way it reminds me of home.
When back in my actual home of Blighty, I took a wrong turn on the way to work and ended up on the Southbank rather early in the morning. I turned a corner and a familiar image (below) popped up. It was like a little piece of Berlin in London.
The images above and below are by Italian street artist “Blu” and can be found in the east of the city. The artist often tackles political subject matter, with the West Bank being one of the locations where you can find his work. These images are my favourite. The one to the right depicts two figures attempting to remove the other’s mask. Both are forming letters with their fingers, “W” for West Berlin and “E” for East Berlin. In his “East and West” image, Blu brings together the two halves of the city that, before the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, were once so far apart. The image to the left is of a figure adjusting his tie and wearing a gold watch on each wrist which are chained together. “Handcuffs” shows a man who is trapped by his wealth. The Pink Man” is an image that is somewhat hard not to find yourself staring at from the street. It is one giant man made up of multiple bodies of other pink men. The only individual figure depicted is in white and is clinging on to a finger. He looks like he is about to be eaten. The figures are scared and desperately clinging to each other to form the very thing that will destroy them.
El Bocho is one of the most prominent street artists in the city, having moved to Berlin from Frankfurt. His works are not permanently affixed to the cityscape, but instead he works on paper before pasting it up onto walls. Little Lucy is a series of images found across the city; a twist on Czech TV programme, ‘Little Lucy – Fear of the Streets’. It depicts a little girl, unsurprisingly called Lucy, devising ways to kill her cat. No, I don’t know why either. But trying to spot them all becomes somewhat of a challenge. The CCTV cameras are another series of images by El Bocho. These are Kalle and Bernd: “I love a webcam”, “I knew it”. This piece reflects the Berlin public’s feelings towards surveillance – and towards the authorities behind it. El Bocho often depicts images of women with romantic sayings, meant to inspire an urban love story in the viewer.
Os Gemeos are a street artist duo (twins, in fact) from Brazil whose work is often distinguishable by their yellow Simpson-esque figures – chosen because it’s apparently a “positive colour”. The duo developed their distinct style in Sao Paulo and have since absorbed an array of techniques, styles and ideas from subsequent travel.
The East Side Gallery
Ok, so admittedly the images above and below are actually are a gallery. Measuring 1.3km, the stretch of the Berlin Wall is now covered, head-to-toe, in murals. This is one of the most iconic images on the wall: “My God, Help Me to Survive This Deadly Love”. It is by Dmitri Vrubel who painted it in 1990 and restored the image in 2009. It recreates the photograph by Regis Bossu taken in 1979 of the “Fraternal Kiss” between Leonid Brezhnev, of Russia, and Erich Honecker, of Germany, during anniversary celebrations for the creation of the Communist state of East Germany.
Here I would like you to play a little game of spot the difference. Admittedly, it is plainly obvious. In one, the words “Stop Homophobia in Russia” is there and in the other, it is not. These photos were taken only a few days apart and represent what I really love about the street art in Berlin. It is constantly changing and adapting to embody new messages and new meanings.
Still, at the East Side Gallery. On the other side is a photo exhibition, showing different walls and different conflicts all over the world.
I took a free walking tour around the city, focusing on its alternative scene. These tours work on tips so are available on any budget. This image, by French artist Victor Ash, was our big finale so I figured it was an appropriate note to end on. Found in Kreuzberg, the astronaut (aka cosmonaut) floats alone on the side of a wall, reaching outwards. With the Cold War acting as inspiration, Ash represents the space between America and Russia.
Originally written for The Gonzo Project
This article has since been featured by The Responsible Traveler