La Maladie d’Amour … Berlin Street Art

When it comes to street art, Berlin is truly the gift that keeps on giving. The Berlin that has emerged following reunification in 1990 has become synonymous with street art. The city’s revival as one of Europe’s most dynamic capitals has, in part, been forged by its association with cutting-edge street art. Formerly grim neighbourhoods have been revitalised and many are now in different stages of gentrification. For better or worse, street art has been a significant driver behind this trend.

Street Art, Berlin, Germany
Street art, Berlin, Germany
Street art, Berlin, Germany
Street art, Berlin, Germany
Street art, Berlin, Germany
Street art, Berlin, Germany

I’m a little fascinated by the role of street art in communities, and the way it changes perceptions of a neighbourhood – good or bad. The evolution of street art from fringe, barely legal, activity to mainstream culture in which the most famous street artists can command serious money for their work, is a phenomenon. One that begs a number of question. What is street art? How does it differ from graffiti? Who gets to adjudicate on what is art and what is graffiti?

Ugly and alienating, graffiti is viewed by many as vandalism and is strongly associated with crime and anti-social behaviour. Ever since the Broken Windows Theory became popular in the 1980s – which influenced the zero tolerance approach to policing in New York City in the 1990s under the leadership of the increasingly deranged Rudy Giuliani – a debate has raged over whether illicit or illegal street art is socially acceptable. Does it feed the sense of social disorder that leads to increased crime?

Dynamic, attractive and increasingly seen as a ‘must have’ accessory for the modern urban environment, contemporary street art seems a millions miles from the former image of graffiti. It can position a city on the global stage and lure lucrative tourist euros into local businesses. So much so that street art festivals have become popular ways of expressing the modernity and dynamism of an aspiring city. This runs the risk of the corporatisation of street art and the loss of its anti-establishment appeal.

This is especially true in a city like Berlin, where street art is often overtly political, a chain of thought that began when I came across a story of a street art ‘installation’ in a communitiy in the Tegel district. Nicknamed ‘bloody refugee’, it depicts a young girl refugee bloodied and bruised, and standing in a pool of blood. At 42-metres in height, it’s a massive piece that covers the side of an apartment block, and is so life-like that it upset local residents when it was unveiled in 2016. They started a petition to have it removed.

Street art, Berlin, Germany
Street art, Berlin, Germany
Street art by Nomad Clan, Berlin, Germany
Street art, Berlin, Germany
Street art, Berlin, Germany
Captain Berlin, street art, Berlin, Germany

Perhaps the powerful message was more shocking because of the political context of Germay’s acceptance of over a million refugees, but isn’t that the role of art? Especially, perhaps, of street art? It may not be on a par with Picasso’s Guernica, but it cemented for me the idea that street art can and should be challenging, even if it’s hard to view sometimes. I get the feeling that in the rush to be ‘liked’ and ‘accepted’, street art has lost some of its soul. I’ve yet to visit this bit of town, but one day soon hopefully.

Meanwhile, our meanderings around Berlin have brought us face-to-face with plenty of interesting peices of wall art. Some new favourites include the Wolf of Prenzlauer Berg by Argentinian artist, Alaniz, a mural of rabbits burrowing under the Berlin Wall by British artist collective, Nomad Clan, not to mention Captain Berlin, found on the walls of a comic book store.

15 thoughts on “La Maladie d’Amour … Berlin Street Art

  1. Fantastic. I think I would go bat-crazy if I were to return now to Berlin. 🙂
    (No street art when I went 8-10 years ago.)
    I’m not sure Street art should be “labeled”. Or categorized. To me, the simple fact that I can see so many expressions in so many different countries is just the sign that art is alive again. I’ve probably mentioned a 100 times, that to me Art was dead, killed by Picasso, the Cubists, Pollock and Duchamp. What more could be done after them? Julian Freud? But Street art to day? It is a renewal. Surely schools will emerge. Feuds too. But after a lull of 50 years, Art is again representing the world. Whatever world that is.
    Viel dank for the post, Paul.

    • I think there already are schools, and feuds. I remember in London, Banksy paintings being ‘vandalised’ by other artists who were supporting a street artist called King Robbo. I used to live in Shoreditch, which was fertile ground for their work. I know a lot of people don’t necessarily view it as art, but street art is pretty creative these days, and very accessible – especially in Berlin!
      From a sweltering Europe … hope all’s well Brian.

        • Alas, I think you might be underestimating Hunt, his track record is a litany idiocy. I actually believe it to be real idiocy, as opposed to Johnson’s amicable clown routine. We peaked at 39C, it was unbearable but still some way below France and Spain.

        • Well, for the heat, you’ve been to Africa, right? Some training. AS far as Hunt is concerned, you most certainly know better. But how low have sunk when all the choice left is between an idiot and a clown? Shakespeare comes to mind, but I couldn’t tell which play. Richard III comes to mind, but I’m not sure…

        • Perhaps Lear? Although I think the court jester ended up being wise, while Lear was the fool. So maybe not an exact parallel! Things are at a pretty low ebb across the whole of British politics. I look on with despair as Nigel Farage and his cohort of fantasists behave like imbeciles (or maybe imbecilic children) in the European Parliament, and Boris/Hunt try to outdo each other in a frenzy of idiocy. Worse is the singular lack of opposition. Yes, a very low ebb.

        • Rock bottom, one of your compatriots has said… My – greater – concern is that this is a worldwide phenomenon, at least of the few countries I know well enough… Have a nice week-end Paul

        • Honestly Brian, if I thought we’d hit the bottom I’d be relieved. We will descend quite some way yet, I just hope that when we come to our senses Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump won’t be featured on stamps, or worse, banknotes. Hope all’s well with you?

        • Hi Brian, glad to hear you’re back in Paris – I hope the sight of Notre Dame isn’t too painful. I’ll probably be in the in autumn, currently in Spain exploring Galicia for the first time. Absolutely beautiful place. Take care, and hope all’s well, Paul

        • Hi Paul. All well thank you. 39C today. 42 planned for tomorrow! I’ve put the wine in the fidge. 🙂 Galicia should be nice. And you speak Spanish if I recall. Already gone “thrice” to ND. It’s actually all right. It was a very near call. They are indeed working. At a somewhat quicker pace than the usual French bureaucratic “canter”. They’re supporting the arc-boutants with wood. As you probably know this wonderful middle ages technical innovation is what allowed Gothic architecture to soar. (Mainstay in English?) If a couple had burned or crumbled the entire cathedral would have gone down. So I think they are working well.
          Buen viaje en “Eshpaña”, hombre!

  2. I’m fascinated – as you seem to be – by the whole street art phenomenon and how it seems especially prevalent in former Eastern Bloc countries. Certainly the first place I encountered it in large quantities was in Kiev, and needless to say you can now download a guide to the street art of Kiev should you so wish.

  3. Yes, I also believe any art must not always be pretty, but carry a strong message. Let’s not sanitize everything.
    That said, I have sympathy for those who have no option but to look at a challenging work out their window.

    • I agree, the community should feel like they have some ownership of the public space, but I’m glad that art as provocative as that can still get ‘permission’ to be created.

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