There’s a certain irony to be found in someone painting the wall of a Berlin squat with the phrase, “This is not a tourist attraction” – instantly turning it into a selfie-taking hotspot. A case of unintended consequences, or mischievously self-aware parody of po-faced ‘lifestyle squatters’? Either way, it made me chuckle as we strolled past on a recent walk around the Kreuzberg district during the unusually hot weather Berlin has been enduring.
Formerly one of Berlin’s poorest areas, Kreuzberg has become one of its hippest in recent years, with an ever expanding mass of galleries, restaurants, bars and – the true mark of gentrification – coffee shops, catering to a trend-conscious crowd. The anti-establishment, counterculture, radical reputation of the area may have been lost to Neukölln as the demographics have changed, but it is still one of the best places in the city to spot street art – large and small.
We live on the edge of Kreuzberg and regularly spend time exploring its mix of elegant streets (the area was saved from the worst of the damage inflicted during the Second World War), scruffy parks (Görlitzerpark is home to highly visible drug dealers, but rarely feels unsafe), and lovely squares. On one side of Görlitzerpark is the vibrant Tomorrow Never Come from Polish artist Natalia Rak, which takes up the side of a house overlooking a children’s playground.
Not too far away from here is the quiet weird looking Rounded Heads that sits snuggly in the gap between two buildings – the work of German artist, Nomad. Heading back towards central Berlin along Oranienstrasse we came across the wonderful My Head is a Jungle by Italian street artist, Millo. The last time I saw a piece by the same artist I was in Tblisi. Interestingly, My Head is a Jungle, takes up the opposite side of a building that is also home to another great street art piece by German duo, Herakut.
In between these monumental pieces can be found many smaller artworks adorning a variety of surfaces. I was particularly pleased to discover a work that copied a famous sketch by 19th century artist, Heinrich Zille. We headed towards Alexanderplatz, where French group, Le Mouvement, had pasted a series of pieces depicting groups of people united under brightly coloured umbrellas – bringing some cheer to what is a fairly low rent area.
The internationalisation of street art is a major development, just walking through this one district there were half a dozen nationalities that I could identify – and probably many more of which I’m not aware. It adds an interesting dimension to visiting cities, and it would be tempting to ‘collect’ artists when they create a new work. A street art version of the film, The Big Year, perhaps? Remember, you read it here first.