Exploring Berlin’s thriving street art scene

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Berlin’s street art is famous worldwide. Some even call it the “mecca of the urban art world”. And there may not be a more famous landmark covered in street art than the East Side Gallery. But how did it get there? Is it legal? Let’s take a look.

One of the most famous spots of the East Side Gallery, depicting Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev and East German leader Erich Honecker sharing a kiss.
One of the most famous spots of the East Side Gallery, depicting Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev and East German leader Erich Honecker sharing a kiss.

The development of Berlin’s street art scene 

Visiting Berlin today, there are relics and memories left from its era of separation. Communist-style architecture still lingers on the east side of the city, Checkpoint Charlie is a one of the city’s most visited tourist locations, and there are markings of where the Wall once cut through the city scape.

Let’s go back about 50 years, to the 1960s…

At this time, the part of Western Germany that ran up against the Wall was run down, full of abandoned and bombed out buildings; rubble and debris littered the streets. The early settlers of this area were “outsiders”. They were draft resisters, anarchist punks, squatters, Turkish immigrants, among others.

When the artists turned to the Wall as their canvas, the West German government put up not resistance. This allowed it to flourish with urban artwork. By the end of the 1970s, graffiti artists began using more innovative tools like stencils and spray paint cans.

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The Berlin Wall in 1986. Source.

The 1980s brought more color, globalization and design to the Wall. There were political statements not just about Germany, but the whole world. Every inch of the wall was covered with the unrest of the times. One of the most famous artists of the 80s, Thierry Noir, was the first to put his cartoon graffiti on the western side of the Wall.

When the Wall fell, this opened up new doors. Artists from West Berlin moved in swiftly, covering all the areas that the military had so proudly controlled. Eastern artists began to join them—finally able to express themselves in a way that was impossible previously.

Berlin’s street art scene today

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Today, Berlin’s urban landscape is covered in elaborate street art creations. Some of the world’s most famous—and infamous—artists call the city home. It’s not technically legal, but the authorities don’t seem to take too much notice.

Or, if they do, it tends to be more focused on gang related tagging. This is probably partly to do with the fact Berlin has been named a UNESCO City of Design. Or maybe, it’s because the street art attracts interested tourists, bringing more money to the city.

Recently, street art in Berlin has also become more mainstream. Even some of the most “elusive” artists are selling their work in galleries. In addition, when Berlin was given the title of “City of Design”, many shop owners commissioned artists to paint murals on the front of their buildings.

Mural created by the artist Blu depicting two men ripping each other's masks off. Source.
Mural created by the artist Blu depicting two men ripping each other’s masks off. Source.

An artist named Blu, created one of the most famous. It depicts two men trying to rip each other’s masks off and symbolizes Berlin’s struggles during the first few years of reunification.

Some of the other famous artists to grace the city’s walls include: El Bocho, XOOOOX, Evol, Alias and Mein Lieber Prost. Here’s a few samples of their work:

Berlin Street Art: El Bocho's character "Little Lucy" is frequently depicted in his designs. Source.
El Bocho’s character “Little Lucy” is frequently depicted in his designs. Source.
The artists known as XOOOOX says his work pays homage to the fashion world. Source.
The artists known as XOOOOX says his work pays homage to the fashion world. Source.
Alias's work is usually dark and somber. Source.
Alias’s work is usually dark and somber. Source.
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