When the sun hits it, the colours of Layer by Layer, an immense six-story high piece of art adorning the entire side of a building close to the Tagesspiegel newspaper building, glow amongst grey Berlin offices. The penetrating gaze of the child who’s about to launch a seagull from their arm is what really catches the attention though. The child is made up of multiple ‘layers’ of different people representing multiple nationalities. A comment on the multicultural city? Or the refugee crisis perhaps?
Read into it what you will, this is just one of many epic pieces from Urban Nation’s One Wall project, which can be found dotted around diverse neighbourhoods in Berlin. The idea is that these huge artworks connect people to the urban landscape in which they live. A more obvious outcome is probably creeping gentrification.
Berlin’s street art scene has come a long way since the days when people graffitied one side of the Berlin Wall with messages of hope and despair. Urban Nation is one of the driving forces behind the city’s ever-inventive street art. The One Wall project has been bringing artists to Berlin to paint giant murals since 2014. The results are pretty spectacular.
The beautiful We Are Many, But Allways One by New Yorker, ELLE, stands as tall as the neighbouring trees in nearby Görlitzer Park. A little like Layer by Layer, it’s a mosaic of different pieces of people. This time, famous women, real and imagined. I’m fairly sure I recognise a couple of the people that make up the face that looms over pedestrians below. If you recognise anyone, let me know!
One of the best parts of One Wall, is that they are often to be found in neighbourhoods and on streets that the average tourist, or Berlin resident for that matter, is unlikely to wander down by chance. If you want to see some of the most impressive street art the city has to offer, you have to work for it – and probably get a day pass for the public transport system.
The Urban Nation website has a handy map to help find artworks, but they are only the most visible part of Berlin’s street art scene. Wander almost anywhere and you’ll find a vast array of pieces. I spent a morning plodding the streets close to home, and came across Person to Person near Moritzplatz. Heading to ‘street art alley’, Bülowstrasse, where Urban Nation is headquartered, I ended my tour in the underrated Schöneberg district. You get plenty of exercise as a street art enthusiast.
En route, I came across a couple of stencils of a black and white cat, I’ve seen others since. Despite my best efforts, I’ve not been able to unearth the name of the artist, but these amusing cats sitting on top of unlikely things (some of which clearly get removed afterwards), seem likely to be feature of Berlin’s streets for a while. There were a few animal-related pieces on my walk, including a polar bear climate refugee, A. A. Milne’s Tigger and a rat from French artist, Blek le Rat.
In Schöneberg, I was meandering my way towards my favourite burger joint, when a bright yellow wall caught my eye. Covering the entire side of a building next to a playground, a baffling scene of contemporary Berlin kids graffitiing a broken wall while watched by children who seemed to come from an earlier century appeared. An owl flew overhead. No idea what it’s supposed to represent, but it was a fun final wall of the day.