Many parts of Hamburg’s urban landscape can really only be described as “gritty”. That grittiness often comes accompanied by small oases of street art, both the glorious and the mundane. Whole buildings are frequently used as vast canvases, while small scale pieces can be found just about everywhere. The epicentre of the Hamburg’s street art scene seems to be, predictably, in the streets of St. Pauli, coming with a distinctive dose of social consciousness. You don’t have to go too far to find interesting pieces in other areas of the city though.
I saw quite a lot of street art that was anti-gentrification, a pretty huge social issue in every Germany city I visited on this trip, but it seemed especially political in Hamburg. I came across numerous pieces by the same artists, one of the most identifiable being El Bocho, a street artist from Spain now resident in Berlin, whose Citizens pieces could be seen in several places. Another street art ‘brand’, literally in this case, is Afri Cola – an actual fizzy drink produced since the 1930s and still on sale today.
Afri Cola was famed in the 1960s for its provocative advertising campaigns, including a poster that featured some very attractive nuns wearing habits and red lipstick. In fact, I’m not actually sure they were bona fide nuns. It was scandalous at the time, and that 1968 advert gets a reprise as three even sexier nuns towering over the Reeperbahn’s Red Light District. Afri Cola isn’t the only fizzy drink to have taken to the walls to get their ‘message’ across. Fittz Kola is big on street art advertising, including a depiction of Delacroix’s Revolutionary icon, Marianne, near Hamburg station.
Like many ‘global’ cities, Hamburg hosts an art festival, Knotenpunkt, that has a strong emphasis on street art. There are many pieces around the city that come from various editions of the festival. They tend to be statement pieces, with perhaps my favourite piece being Cross-section of a Black Widow by Nychos, an Austrian artist. More than 40 international artists took part in the most recent Knotenpunkt, attracting over 10,000 visitors to the city. Street art is big tourism in the 21st century.
Another great piece was the giant image of three blue people in a river by a waterfall by Sao Paolo-based artist, Cranio. They reminded me of the beings from the film Avatar looming over a small park filled with people chatting and drinking. One artist you can’t miss in the streets is St. Pauli resident, Ray DLC, who paints images depicting the area. You can book tours, like many places, but just wandering the streets in and around St. Pauli offers up reward after reward … and you can stop off in some of the areas many fun cafes and bars as you go.