The weather in Berlin has been so good we’ve been doing very little beyond exploring various neighbourhoods. Recently we spent a lazy day wandering the fascinating streets of Kruezberg, where we spotted a group of people staring up at a building. There is something hardwired in human nature that attracts random strangers to odd scenes like this, a deep-seated voyeurism and need to know. Almost unconsciously, we found ourselves drawn to investigate what was mysteriously holding their attention.
It turned out that this was a guided tour of Berlin street art, and they were looking at one of the city’s most famous pieces. Inspired by the Cold War-era Space Race, Victor Ash’s Astronaut Cosmonaut has been adorning the side of a Kruezberg house for over a decade. I imagine there might have been some disappointed street art tourists, since part of this massive piece of stencil-work was covered by a banner strung across the building and announcing a protest march.
It seemed to fit with the counter-culture Kruezberg backdrop. It turns out that street art tours are big business, because a little further along the street was another tour group looking at another wall. Across the road yet another group was doing the same. If aliens landed in Kreuzberg on the average weekend day they might get a confused view of what humanity did with its spare time. Mind you, any aliens that landed on earth these days would probably flee back whence they came.
We hadn’t intended to do our own unguided street art tour, but fate would have it that wherever we wandered there were some interesting works scattered around. Not far from the Astronaut Cosmonaut was a large piece by Belgian street artist Roa, who I’ve now come across in streets as far apart as Perth in Western Australia, Antwerp in his native Belgium, and Buenos Aires in Argentina. He gets around, and this collection of semi-dead looking animals ‘hanging’ from a rooftop was one of the less pleasant I’ve seen.
There’s a lot of street art of varying degrees of artistic merit in and around the slightly sketchy Kottbusser Tor area, where on a hot Saturday a large gang of Berlin’s ‘dogs on strings tribe’ were drinking beer. We made our way along Ritterstrasse where we were stopped in our tracks by a massive triptych of the three wise monkeys – or at least of (sadly former) President Obama, Chancellor Merkel and Dictator-in-Chief Vald Putin – doing their very best see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil pose.
We came across several pieces by the artist, XOOOOX, each piece adorned with Xs and Os. Always of glamorous women, they’re statements about the superficiality of the fashion and beauty industry, and can be found pretty much everywhere across the city, with many examples in Kreuzberg. It was a fun day meandering through the streets, I’m sure we missed a lot of pieces by not going on a tour, but we can revisit almost any time we like. Almost back home, we made a couple of final exciting discoveries.
A squat we came upon not far from where we live, had the rather disturbing image of a masturbating sabre-waving Nazi being sucked into a vortex. Hot on his heels is a man holding a Mercedes Benz car ornament. I have a feeling this represents the final days of the military-industrial-capitalist complex. Not the most subtle, and arresting for all the wrong reasons, but their point is inescapable. No pun intended. Thankfully, nearby is a massive painting of an elephant holding a balloon of planet earth in its trunk. Perfect for chasing away the mental images of onanism.