In Berlin, street art is the gift that keeps on giving. Towering over a supermarket car park on the side of the Heinrich-Böll Bibliothek, I found myself staring up at a gigantic mural from German street art duo, Hera and Akut, better known as Herakut. There’s genuine power in seeing such an enormous piece of art in a public space. In this fairly mundane Berlin setting alongside a busy road in a less trendy part of Prenzlauer Berg, it was quite spectacular.
The quote that accompanies the massive piece reads, “Wenn ich wüsste, dass die Welt morgen untergeht, würde ich heute einen Apfelbaum pflanzen” (Even if I knew that the world ended tomorrow, I’d plant an apple tree today) is translated into twenty different languages. It’s a phrase that’s said to have originated with Protestant reformer, Martin Luther, and to have been used by his namesake, Martin Luther King Jr. Neither is apparently verifiable.
In fact, it seems to have first been used in German churches during the Nazi period. An expression of hope in a better future and a determination to forge that future regardless of how hopeless the world seems. It definitely resonates in our world, currently beset by political demagoguery, a pandemic and an escalating climate crisis. Not far away in Moabit is another thoughtful Herakut piece, this one a collaboration with Onur and Wes21.
“As Long As You Are Standing, Give a Hand To Those Who Have Fallen”, seems to be a cry for both compassion and action to save species from extinction. Like many of Herakut’s works there is a spirit of environmental activism in this piece of street art. I’ve come across several works by them in Berlin and there’s something about the size and style of their art that really appeals to me.
Meanwhile, over in Charlottenburg are a couple of enormous whales seemingly floating on the side of an apartment block. It also carries an environmental message about our shared responsibility for other species. Alas, seeing this piece from Swiss duo, Nevercrew, instantly made me think of the whale and bowl of petunias in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I had to remind myself that this is not a laughing matter.
Closer to home in Kreuzberg, I came upon a piece called A Beautiful Mind by artist Tank on the side of another apartment block. This seemed to be a collaboration with one of Berlin’s largest property groups, Deutsche Wohnen, and would be easy to miss as it’s hidden away next to a car park with summer trees blocking the view. Despite its anonymity, this is another sign of the creeping corporatisation of street art.
Our corona-walks around the city have introduced us to quite a few new pieces (new to us at least). In a world where indoor activities are increasingly difficult with social distancing rules, the outdoor venue for street art seems to be thriving still. Long may that continue.