A couple of years ago, Conde Nast Traveller called Berlin, “The world’s best street art spot”, and it’s difficult to argue with that assessment. A myriad of artists from all over the world have been creating a kaleidoscope of street art across Berlin for decades, ranging in size and scale from a sticker on a lamppost to the side of a building. Walking around the streets, we regularly unearth extraordinary artworks. Tristan Eaton’s huge Attack of the 50 Foot Socialite, is just one example.
When it comes to street art, Berlin really is the gift that keeps on giving.
There are areas of the city that are well-known street art hotspots. Bulowstrasse and the surrounding streets contain one of the city’s best ‘collections’ of street art, and an hour spent wandering around this district will expose you to some of the best known pieces Berlin has to offer. Such is the density of art in this area that a museum, Urban Nation, dedicated to urban art was opened last year.
I’m not sure that a museum of street artists isn’t a “pop will eat itself” moment, and will herald the much-anticipated end of days for street art. For the time being though, the street art scene is most definitely thriving, although there are rumblings of dark clouds on the horizon. Despite the launch of Berlin’s first Urban Art Week last year, some were already predicting difficult times ahead, as street art inevitably came into conflict with urban development.
The Guardian newspaper highlighted the growing number of building projects that are a direct assault upon the street art traditions of the city. This dates back to the 1970s and a wave of building-sized murals led by Scottish pop art legend, Eduardo Paolozzi, and German artist, Ben Wagin. Both artists have murals on Berlin buildings that are threatened, either with destruction or being obscured by new buildings, the owners of which see little reason for protecting art when there’s money to be made.
These artworks were originally commissioned by a Berlin Senate desperate to brighten up a still war-scarred cityscape. Even in the 1970s though, they foresaw future legal issues and required artists to sign waivers stating that the murals weren’t artworks. Today, that means these historic pieces have no legal protection in the face of Berlin’s rampant development. Perhaps that’s just the nature of the beast though. Should we expect art that is inherently transient to last forever?
A little like the possible fate of the rhino, surviving only in captivity, perhaps there’s a danger that sometime in the future the only way to see street art as we know it today will be in specially curated spaces, or museums as they’re known. A 2018 Aljazeera report stressed the tension between “the dilemma of how to protect cultural treasures while accommodating the growing number of people”. There’s no clear answer to that, but for now, it feels like we’re living through a street art renaissance.
Back on Bulowstrasse I spotted a number of familiar artists, including the blue people who are the trademark of Brazilian artist, Cranio – several of which are hiding behind brick pillars. Every nook and cranny of this area has the potential to hide pieces of art, it will be a place to return to time and again.