On a frozen January day, the brightly-coloured futuristic traveller emblazoned across the entire side of a block of apartments on a quiet residential street in Berlin’s Prenzlauer Berg, stopped me in my tracks. It’s not so much the size, although this mural must be 50 metres high, it’s more that our traveller looks like they have passed through time and space just to plunge their arm through a fourth floor apartment wall to reach into another dimension.
It made me want to know what was on the other side of the wall. The dramatic appearance of a hole in the space-time continuum in residential Berlin is the work of Spanish street artist, Deih XLF. I’ve seen one of his other artworks in Berlin, a similar building-sized rendering of another being that looks like they have stepped out of a sci-fi movie. This is not surprising when you know that Deih XLF also works as an illustrator for comic books.
This is comic book writ extra large. It made me wonder if a whole story could be told using the sides of buildings like they were pages from a comic book. If that futuristic vision ever comes true in Berlin, it will likely be the doing of the same people behind the ‘Prenzlauer Berg traveller’. This was part of Urban Nation‘s One Wall project, which is responsible for many of the most epic street art pieces in Berlin.
It’s a sign of the acceptance and influence of street art and artists in the modern city landscape. Initiatives like One Wall can be found in ‘international’ cities around the world, and increasingly street art is shaping how we think of cities. Tourism initiatives promote it because it adds prestige, property developers buy into it because it adds value to neighbourhoods, and corporate interests are investing in it because it’s brand appropriate.
This trend has raised the standard of street art (the space between graffiti and art?), but what began as underground, anti-establishment protest, is creeping towards corporatisation. As our cityscapes are being bent towards serving other interests, is there a risk we’ll start to see official, approved street art, reflecting only the mores of the day? It would be a shame to lose the element of surprise that makes it so special.
It would be a double shame if street art became the preserve of the few and not accessible to anyone with a can of spray paint and an idea. As it is, and as the streets of Berlin can attest, we are currently living though a street art golden age. I visited some street art hotspots close to Hackescher Markt and Prenzlauer Berg that I’d not been to for several months. There was an array of new work by new artists.
Mostly these were smaller works, stickers and wheatpaste posters, but also some larger pieces. Like the mural by Deih XLF, these weren’t always new (just new to me). It’s remarkable what can be achieved during a lockdown – street art has always been a socially distanced activity, I suppose. Now that few other options are available during this strict lockdown, I’m glad to be living in a major street art city.
Just to one side of Hackescher Markt is a hof of old Berlin buildings covered from head to toe in graffiti. It also houses a famous mural of Anne Frank. I’ve often seen this in photos of Berlin, and despite having been into this hof before, I’ve never seen the image. It sits at the entrance to the Anne Frank Center and is, it’s said, one of the very few pieces of street art never to get graffitied over.