Kreuzberg, Berlin: Street Art
The last two days I decided to escape the art of the bourgeois and set off to seek art in the streets. Heading to the neighborhood of Kreuzberg, I wanted to see where the real people eat, live, and create. It is a poor community in Berlin, made up of artists, students, and immigrants. Surprisingly, it only takes me one train to get there, and I hop on the U1, starting in the ritzy area of Kurfurstendamn, where I am staying. I leave behind more than Chanel, stepping into an entirely different state of mind, as I arrive in one of the poorest neighborhoods in Berlin. It feels worlds away from the posh living of the Ku’Damm, and here the shopping bags are traded for backpacks. Yet there is an electricity that sparks the air that is notably missing from the polished world of the rich. The obvious disdain for tourist and money is graffitied everywhere with obscenities on these old, gorgeous, historical buildings. There is no Starbucks here.
This was an extremely isolated area of West Berlin in the 1970s, quickly becoming one of the poorest. The area had government regulated rent, which attracted immigrants and artists while keeping the investors out. This has resulted in the creation of a unique community. Independent Mom and Pop stores take over, or rather I should say never let any corporations in. Second hand clothing and vinyl stores, Turkish and Vietnamese small restaurants, and real people – artists and writers, tattoos and piercings, where everywhere. It was an odd world, another one I didn’t quite fit into. While I am a starving artist myself, I have always had running water, have had a mortgage for 10 years now, and for the first time, I was actually a little embarrassed to be taking pictures with my iphone. Here, I am obviously part of the system, something these residents refuse to partake in, existing in their own dream world, creating their own society, and living by their own rules. Yet, when I head back into Kurfurstendamm, they know there I clearly can’t afford to shop at Louis Vuitton.
I spent two days exploring these streets. Kreuzberg is like the dark alley most tourists won’t go down, filled with the dangerous unknown. But while no one is there to welcome you, at the same time no one will bother you either. I just grabbed a beer and made myself at home. There is no searching for the street art, it is welcomed by the residents and is everywhere. The imagery used on the streets differs greatly from what is hung on the museum and gallery walls that you begin to forget here. Untainted by the traditional ideals – stenciling, papering the wall, and placing your stickers everywhere are common techniques these artists utilize to spread their thoughts and ideas throughout Berlin. My exploration took me deeper into this private universe. I have seen plenty of art in the streets in my travels, but never quite paid attention, studying it, they way I was here. Much more impressive than mere tagging, I kept going, wanting to see more. While the techniques varied, what remained the same was the unified freedom of expression.
Stenciling is an extremely popular method because it can be completed in seconds while having the time to design the image. With graffiti, time is always of the essence.
Papering on the walls is one the quickest methods that allows the most details, since the piece is ready in advance. The paper piece, glue, brush, and some darkness is all that is required for a rapid installation.
The wall murals were truly amazing! Several stories high, I can’t even begin to imagine how a piece that large is completed. I saw several pieces that have been included in graffiti books but found so many more than I had never seen referenced in pictures before. I love that I just kept stumbling upon these amazing, huge art works as I explored further into this hidden world. I wonder how many artists it took to create such a monumental piece and how long they spent making it. I’m assuming to complete a project that large they must have the cooperation of the building owner, or at least the residents.
These artists really earned my respect. While there were a few pieces done on store fronts, the majority of the graffiti pieces were done to spread their ideas and love of art. It is common knowledge most artists don’t receive any regular type of compensation for the creation of art and this stands even more so for the artists of the street. This brings up another issue, the anonymity
Kreuzberg, Berlin, Germany
of the artist, typically hiding behind an alias. Yes, it is illegal in Berlin to vandalize public property. But obviously ignored in certain parts of the city, such as Kreuzberg. Some artists are recognized by their style without a tag. Though in the UK, Banksy comes to mind. He may be the most anonymous public figure, making a “documentary” that was nominated for an Academy Award, “Exit the Gift Shop”, where he blurred his face the entire time. However, there is also Good Ol’ Texas boy, Ron English, an important, preceding figure to Banksy. English differs greatly in the fact that it is very easy to find an image of his face just by googling his name. Yet both artists leave their tongue in cheek opinions in the public, for all to see, comment on, and sometimes add to or alter their art.
But none of these issues have put a cap on the expression that explodes from the neighborhood of Kreuzberg. Paint, paper, glue, stickers, doilies, fake fur…if you can make it stick or paint it, anything goes, anything becomes a canvas. This excursion was very inspirational to me. I am constantly trying to get fresh ideas and renew my thoughts on art. I left with a lot to think about, which directions I can take my art. My head is still trying to process everything I saw and experienced there. This will definitely be a regular stop for me anytime I am in Berlin from now on.