She Is Gone … Berlin Street Art

Berlin is synonymous with street art, and a handful of street artists are famed as much for their relationship with Berlin as they are for their art. That balance has been a little disrupted by initiatives like the Berlin Mural Fest, which brings international artists to paint giant murals on buildings in locations all over town. It has furnished the city with a wealth of dramatic statement pieces that attract visitors from around the world, and which comes with its own app.

I’m slowly making my way around the city to visit some of them. It’s pretty impressive and, for the time-being, this more ‘corporate’ approach seems to co-exist harmoniously with Berlin’s more traditional grassroots approach. Whether that uneasy peace will endure is yet to be seen, but as street art becomes ever more associated with tourism, I’d imagine the backlash in this city is only a matter of time.

Believe in Dog by Fannakapan, Street Art, Berlin

Ricky Lee Gordon, Street Art, Berlin

Underwater Kiss by insane 51, Street Art, Berlin

Snik & Nuno, Street Art, Berlin

We Are by Innerfields, Street Art, Berlin

Berlin has been described, perhaps blasphemously, as “the graffiti Mecca of the urban art world”. It’s certainly hard to think of a city of similar size with such a diverse street art scene. This evolution isn’t  so surprising when you consider that street art was an integral part of the protests against the Berlin Wall. I vividly recall reading the political messages painted on the West of the wall during my first visit in 1988. Years’ later they were selling painted chunks of concrete as souvenirs, regardless of their provenance.

After the wall came down, street art rapidly spread to the former East, as much protest as making the concrete easier to look at. It’s a little weird then, that a city with that sort of heritage spends €35 million a year removing street art to restore the natural beauty of the city – or the grey façades of the post-war, communist-era cityscape, as it’s better known. The ‘tagging’ that blights some neighbourhoods is probably not appreciated by residents, and the city has to act.

On the other side of the coin, one of Berlin’s most loved street artists is El Bocho. As his name suggests, he’s not a local. Originally from Spain, his works have been appearing on Berlin walls for the best part of two decades, and his distinctive portraits of Berlin ‘citizens’ is a homage to the city they love. I’ve only ever come across female ‘citizens’, but there are male versions as well. They are all paper cut-outs, prepared in the studio before being pasted onto walls.

Perhaps El Bocho’s most famous work though, is a series devoted to Little Lucy. Based on a Czechoslovakian TV series called Little Lucy – Fear of the Streets, his Little Lucy is a bit more deranged and psychotic. In his work she is waging a perpetual war against her cat, finding ever more inventive ways to kill it. She appears in one of the images below, her left eye bulging maniacally. As ever, the cat seems to have met a violent end at her hands – literally, in this case.

El Bocho, Street Art, Berlin

El Bocho, Street Art, Berlin

Little Lucy and El Bocho, Street Art, Berlin

El Bocho, Street Art, Berlin

El Bocho, Street Art, Berlin

This is one of the joys of being a street art fan in a city like Berlin, street art narratives can be followed over prolonged periods of time. I’ve been unearthing El Bocho’s work since we arrived, and have found it in other German cities, like Hamburg. His work is a clear example of how a street artist can use the city as a canvass to launch a lucrative mainstream career. His works, like those of Banksy and others, can be bought at not inconsiderable prices.

This is far from the origins of street art, and certainly far from the philosophy of street art deriving its power from representing the margins of society. That’s something to be welcomed in my opinion, but only if there remains space for a new generation of artists to emerge onto our streets.

This is not a tourist attraction … Berlin Street Art

There’s a certain irony to be found in someone painting the wall of a Berlin squat with the phrase, “This is not a tourist attraction” – instantly turning it into a selfie-taking hotspot. A case of unintended consequences, or mischievously self-aware parody of po-faced ‘lifestyle squatters’? Either way, it made me chuckle as we strolled past on a recent walk around the Kreuzberg district during the unusually hot weather Berlin has been enduring.

Natalia Rak, Street Art near Görlitzerpark, Berlin, Germany

Street Art, Berlin, Germany

My head is a jungle by Millo, Street Art, Berlin, Germany

Street Art, Berlin, Germany

Street Art, Berlin, Germany

Formerly one of Berlin’s poorest areas, Kreuzberg has become one of its hippest in recent years, with an ever expanding mass of galleries, restaurants, bars and – the true mark of gentrification – coffee shops, catering to a trend-conscious crowd. The anti-establishment, counterculture, radical reputation of the area may have been lost to Neukölln as the demographics have changed, but it is still one of the best places in the city to spot street art – large and small.

We live on the edge of Kreuzberg and regularly spend time exploring its mix of elegant streets (the area was saved from the worst of the damage inflicted during the Second World War), scruffy parks (Görlitzerpark is home to highly visible drug dealers, but rarely feels unsafe), and lovely squares. On one side of Görlitzerpark is the vibrant Tomorrow Never Come from Polish artist Natalia Rak, which takes up the side of a house overlooking a children’s playground.

Not too far away from here is the quiet weird looking Rounded Heads that sits snuggly in the gap between two buildings – the work of German artist, Nomad. Heading back towards central Berlin along Oranienstrasse we came across the wonderful My Head is a Jungle by Italian street artist, Millo. The last time I saw a piece by the same artist I was in Tblisi. Interestingly, My Head is a Jungle, takes up the opposite side of a building that is also home to another great street art piece by German duo, Herakut.

In between these monumental pieces can be found many smaller artworks adorning a variety of surfaces. I was particularly pleased to discover a work that copied a famous sketch by 19th century artist, Heinrich Zille. We headed towards Alexanderplatz,  where French group, Le Mouvement, had pasted a series of pieces depicting groups of people united under brightly coloured umbrellas – bringing some cheer to what is a fairly low rent area.

Heinrich Zille copy, Street Art, Berlin, Germany

Le Mouvement, Street Art, Berlin, Germany

Le Mouvement, Street Art, Berlin, Germany

Rounded Heads by Nomad, Street Art, Berlin, Germany

Street Art, Berlin, Germany

The internationalisation of street art is a major development, just walking through this one district there were half a dozen nationalities that I could identify – and probably many more of which I’m not aware. It adds an interesting dimension to visiting cities, and it would be tempting to ‘collect’ artists when they create a new work. A street art version of the film, The Big Year, perhaps? Remember, you read it here first.

La Maladie d’Amour … Berlin Street Art

When it comes to street art, Berlin is truly the gift that keeps on giving. The Berlin that has emerged following reunification in 1990 has become synonymous with street art. The city’s revival as one of Europe’s most dynamic capitals has, in part, been forged by its association with cutting-edge street art. Formerly grim neighbourhoods have been revitalised and many are now in different stages of gentrification. For better or worse, street art has been a significant driver behind this trend.

Street Art, Berlin, Germany
Street art, Berlin, Germany
Street art, Berlin, Germany
Street art, Berlin, Germany
Street art, Berlin, Germany
Street art, Berlin, Germany

I’m a little fascinated by the role of street art in communities, and the way it changes perceptions of a neighbourhood – good or bad. The evolution of street art from fringe, barely legal, activity to mainstream culture in which the most famous street artists can command serious money for their work, is a phenomenon. One that begs a number of question. What is street art? How does it differ from graffiti? Who gets to adjudicate on what is art and what is graffiti?

Ugly and alienating, graffiti is viewed by many as vandalism and is strongly associated with crime and anti-social behaviour. Ever since the Broken Windows Theory became popular in the 1980s – which influenced the zero tolerance approach to policing in New York City in the 1990s under the leadership of the increasingly deranged Rudy Giuliani – a debate has raged over whether illicit or illegal street art is socially acceptable. Does it feed the sense of social disorder that leads to increased crime?

Dynamic, attractive and increasingly seen as a ‘must have’ accessory for the modern urban environment, contemporary street art seems a millions miles from the former image of graffiti. It can position a city on the global stage and lure lucrative tourist euros into local businesses. So much so that street art festivals have become popular ways of expressing the modernity and dynamism of an aspiring city. This runs the risk of the corporatisation of street art and the loss of its anti-establishment appeal.

This is especially true in a city like Berlin, where street art is often overtly political, a chain of thought that began when I came across a story of a street art ‘installation’ in a communitiy in the Tegel district. Nicknamed ‘bloody refugee’, it depicts a young girl refugee bloodied and bruised, and standing in a pool of blood. At 42-metres in height, it’s a massive piece that covers the side of an apartment block, and is so life-like that it upset local residents when it was unveiled in 2016. They started a petition to have it removed.

Street art, Berlin, Germany
Street art, Berlin, Germany
Street art by Nomad Clan, Berlin, Germany
Street art, Berlin, Germany
Street art, Berlin, Germany
Captain Berlin, street art, Berlin, Germany

Perhaps the powerful message was more shocking because of the political context of Germay’s acceptance of over a million refugees, but isn’t that the role of art? Especially, perhaps, of street art? It may not be on a par with Picasso’s Guernica, but it cemented for me the idea that street art can and should be challenging, even if it’s hard to view sometimes. I get the feeling that in the rush to be ‘liked’ and ‘accepted’, street art has lost some of its soul. I’ve yet to visit this bit of town, but one day soon hopefully.

Meanwhile, our meanderings around Berlin have brought us face-to-face with plenty of interesting peices of wall art. Some new favourites include the Wolf of Prenzlauer Berg by Argentinian artist, Alaniz, a mural of rabbits burrowing under the Berlin Wall by British artist collective, Nomad Clan, not to mention Captain Berlin, found on the walls of a comic book store.

Free Hard Sex … Berlin Street Art

The sheer variety and artistry of much of Berlin’s street art is remarkable, and perhaps only really matched by the sheer industry of the artists. The recent spring weather has allowed us to unearth more examples of why Berlin is considered one of the best street art spotting cities in the world. While the city has attracted international artists by the score to decorate its cityscape, it was Berlin-based collective, Die Dixons, that recently brought the Mona Lisa here.

Not the enigmatic beer mat-sized Rennaisance masterpiece by Leonardo da Vinci that hangs in The Louvre. But a 30-metre high version that covers the entire side of a hotel close to the river in Berlin’s Friedrichshain neighbourhood. It is claimed that this is the largest reproduction of the Mona Lisa anywhere in the world. It was an arresting sight as walked across the Oberbaumbrücke. Strangely though, it wasn’t the most arresting sight of the day.

Mona Lisa by Die Dixons, Berlin Street Art, Germany

Free Hard Sex, Berlin Street Art, Germany

Berlin Street Art, Germany

Berlin Street Art, Germany

Monkey, Berlin Street Art, Germany

Berlin Street Art, Germany

Designed to attract attention, there was always the possibility that the A4-sized white paper with bold black lettering attached to a lamppost in Kreuzberg was a real advert – this is Berlin after all. I assumed it was a bit of street art creative mischief, but it turned out to be something even more fun. A well designed advert of someone looking for an apartment to share. You have to read between the lines to see the real message, it’s quite brilliant.

I hope that the advertiser found a room to rent, perhaps whoever ripped off one of the small tickets with his phone number? If anyone knows, I need closure on this mystery.

One thing is certain, after our first winter in Berlin I’m glad for the color and humour street art contributes to the physical appearance of the city. Amidst the unrelenting gun-metal grayness of the winter months, I think  Argentinian artist, Alaniz, has a point when he claims street art is a gift to the inhabitants of a city. It may well be the dread of the winter months that has made Berliners so accepting of street art.

The Kreuzberg area around Oranienstrasse where we spotted this piece of genius, is a hotspot for street art, large and small. This is one of Berlin’s big nightlife zones and for decades was considered a hotbed of radical and anarchist politics. Much to the despair of locals, it is experiencing an onslaught gentrification that street art has most likely helped incubate. For the time-being, it’s still a neighbourhood that has an edge to it, but for how much longer is anyone’s guess.

Berlin Street Art, Germany

Berlin Street Art, Germany

Berlin Street Art, Germany

Berlin Street Art, Germany

Berlin Street Art, Germany

The role of street art in gentrification is something that fascinates me, how a counter-culture scene can suddenly be ‘on trend’ and then become mainstream. This made the discovery of several pieces of street art at an outdoor squat (if that isn’t an oxymoron) all the more unusual. Perhaps it was intended as satire. It does make me wonder if a time is coming when street art will fall out of fashion, like all art forms at some point in time?

We remained in Kreuzberg sniffing out other street art, and very soon found ourselves admiring a legendary piece just off Köpenicker Strasse that has been here for several years. The work is by the same Alaniz, this piece depicts a sheep cradled in the arms of death. As bizarre as it is unsettling, it is something of a Berlin classic. Where it fits into the philosophy of giving something back to the community is a little harder to fathom.

Donald eres un Pendejo … Berlin Street Art

If all art is political, some is definitely more political than others. Calling Donald Trump a ‘pendejo’ seems less political and more a description of reality, regardless of whether you choose to be charitable and read the meaning of pendejo as ‘stupid’, or you prefer probably the more accurate interpretation of ‘asshole’ (it can mean much worse!). The huge image of the Berlin Wall falling and then being resurrected as €100 bank notes, is definitely politically provocative in a city where communities are increasingly divided by wealth.

Wall by Blu, Berlin Street Art, Germany

Wall by Blu, Berlin Street Art, Germany

Berlin Street Art, Germany

Berlin Street Art, Germany

Donald eres un Pendejo, Berlin Street Art, Germany

Donald eres un Pendejo, Berlin Street Art, Germany

Berlin Street Art, Germany

Berlin Street Art, Germany

Stop Wars, Berlin Street Art, Germany

Stop Wars, Berlin Street Art, Germany

Coffee, Cupcakes and Contemporary Art, Berlin Street Art, Germany

Coffee, Cupcakes and Contemporary Art, Berlin Street Art, Germany

We came across this latter piece by artist Blu while out on a long walk along the river. I’ve mentioned Blu before, he was one of the artists who painted over a famous piece of his own art as a protest against the corrosive role street art has in the gentrification of communities. His work has a conscience, as well as being eye-catching. Although not as eye-catching as the huge red letters that adorn the former East German, Haus der Statistik, a now derelict building just behind Alexanderplatz.

Those words, ‘Stop Wars’, have now been joined by a second message, ‘On Migration’.  It doesn’t get more political than that in modern-day Germany even if artistic merit is completely missing. The Haus der Statistik would be an eyesore even if not derelict – the East Germans had a penchant for brutally ugly buildings. It was scheduled for demolition, a mercy killing in all honesty, and redevelopment as apartments or offices. Something that is almost as political in Berlin as migration.

The happy news is that after years of community activism the authorities have now decided to turn it into artists studios and affordable housing. The less happy news is that it won’t now be demolished, and the city will need to bear its ugliness for at least another generation. Given the role of artists in this decision, I’m hopeful that art will cover its facade.

On Bülowstrasse recently, I came across some social commentary tucked close to the entrance to a parking garage (I think the location was coincidental). The painting of a pipe-smoking, slightly wild-looking man was accompanied by a speech bubble: Coffee, Cupcakes and Contemporary Art Destroy My Neighbourhood. I didn’t spot any hipster coffee haunts selling overpriced artisanal drinks while people played on MacBooks, but the point is well made even if it’s an odd way of complaining about contemporary art.

Berlin Street Art, Germany

Berlin Street Art, Germany

Berlin Street Art, Germany

Berlin Street Art, Germany

Berlin Kidz, Berlin Street Art, Germany

Berlin Kidz, Berlin Street Art, Germany

Berlin Kidz, Berlin Street Art, Germany

Berlin Kidz, Berlin Street Art, Germany

Berlin Street Art, Germany

Berlin Street Art, Germany

It's My Roof Bitches, Berlin Street Art, Germany

It’s My Roof Bitches, Berlin Street Art, Germany

There is also street art that is political by the very nature of the way it is created. Berlin Kidz are a street art collective that go to extreme, and probably illegal, lengths to paint their enigmatic ‘language’ onto the sides of buildings. Whoever is behind these pieces, they are clearly trained acrobats because some of the locations they reach are truly inaccessible. At least to anyone without a good head for heights and a mountain goat’s sense of balance.

Their work harks back to an earlier age of graffiti artists: unauthorised, unmonetized and distinctly anarchic. Something seemingly belonging to an earlier era in Berlin, one that is disappearing amongst urban renewal.

Attack of the 50 Foot Socialite … Berlin Street Art

A couple of years ago, Conde Nast Traveller called Berlin, “The world’s best street art  spot”, and it’s difficult to argue with that assessment. A myriad of artists from all over the world have been creating a kaleidoscope of street art across Berlin for decades, ranging in size and scale from a sticker on a lamppost to the side of a building. Walking around the streets, we regularly unearth extraordinary artworks. Tristan Eaton’s huge Attack of the 50 Foot Socialite, is just one example.

When it comes to street art, Berlin really is the gift that keeps on giving.

Attack of the 50 Foot Socialite, Berlin Street Art, Germany

Attack of the 50 Foot Socialite, Berlin Street Art, Germany

Israel / Palestine by Shepard Fairey, Berlin Street Art, Germany

Israel / Palestine by Shepard Fairey, Berlin Street Art, Germany

Berlin Street Art, Germany

Berlin Street Art, Germany

Daphne and Apollo by Francisco Bosoletti and Young Jarus, Berlin Street Art

Daphne and Apollo by Francisco Bosoletti and Young Jarus, Berlin Street Art

Street Art Berlin, Germany

Street Art Berlin, Germany

Street Art Berlin, Germany

Street Art Berlin, Germany

There are areas of the city that are well-known street art hotspots. Bulowstrasse and the surrounding streets contain one of the city’s best ‘collections’ of street art, and an hour spent wandering around this district will expose you to some of the best known pieces Berlin has to offer. Such is the density of art in this area that a museum, Urban Nation, dedicated to urban art was opened last year.

I’m not sure that a museum of street artists isn’t a “pop will eat itself” moment, and will herald the much-anticipated end of days for street art. For the time being though, the street art scene is most definitely thriving, although there are rumblings of dark clouds on the horizon. Despite the launch of Berlin’s first Urban Art Week last year, some were already predicting difficult times ahead, as street art inevitably came into conflict with urban development.

The Guardian newspaper highlighted the growing number of building projects that are a direct assault upon the street art traditions of the city. This dates back to the 1970s and a wave of building-sized murals led by Scottish pop art legend, Eduardo Paolozzi, and German artist, Ben Wagin. Both artists have murals on Berlin buildings that are threatened, either with destruction or being obscured by new buildings, the owners of which see little reason for protecting art when there’s money to be made.

These artworks were originally commissioned by a Berlin Senate desperate to brighten up a still war-scarred cityscape. Even in the 1970s though, they foresaw future legal issues and required artists to sign waivers stating that the murals weren’t artworks. Today, that means these historic pieces have no legal protection in the face of Berlin’s rampant development. Perhaps that’s just the nature of the beast though. Should we expect art that is inherently transient to last forever?

A little like the possible fate of the rhino, surviving only in captivity, perhaps there’s a danger that sometime in the future the only way to see street art as we know it today will be in specially curated spaces, or museums as they’re known. A 2018 Aljazeera report stressed the tension between “the dilemma of how to protect cultural treasures while accommodating the growing number of people”. There’s no clear answer to that, but for now, it feels like we’re living through a street art renaissance.

Back on Bulowstrasse I spotted a number of familiar artists, including the blue people who are the trademark of Brazilian artist, Cranio – several of which are hiding behind brick pillars. Every nook and cranny of this area has the potential to hide pieces of art, it will be a place to return to time and again.

Cranio, Street Art Berlin, Germany

Cranio, Street Art Berlin, Germany

Cranio, Street Art Berlin, Germany

Cranio, Street Art Berlin, Germany

Cranio, Street Art Berlin, Germany

Cranio, Street Art Berlin, Germany

Cranio, Street Art Berlin, Germany

Cranio, Street Art Berlin, Germany

Cranio, Street Art Berlin, Germany

Cranio, Street Art Berlin, Germany

Cranio, Street Art Berlin, Germany

Cranio, Street Art Berlin, Germany

Faces … Berlin street art

Kreuzberg, the Berlin neighbourhood famed for multiculturalism and a radical counter culture epitomised by annual May Day riots, is, unsurprisingly, also a hotspot for street art. Rampant gentrification has taken some of the edginess off Kreuzberg’s reputation, but it still retains a gritty underbelly. Exploring the area is fun, especially as it’s home to some very good restaurants. At times it seems like every turn in the street throws up new surprises.

Street art by Graco, Kreuzberg, Berlin

Street art by Graco, Kreuzberg, Berlin

Street art by Graco, Kreuzberg, Berlin

Street art by Graco, Kreuzberg, Berlin

Street art by Graco, Kreuzberg, Berlin

Street art by Graco, Kreuzberg, Berlin

Street art by Graco, Kreuzberg, Berlin

Street art by Graco, Kreuzberg, Berlin

Street art by Graco, Kreuzberg, Berlin

Street art by Graco, Kreuzberg, Berlin

Street art by Graco, Kreuzberg, Berlin

Street art by Graco, Kreuzberg, Berlin

It’s a fascinating area, and one that provides an insight into Berlin’s recent past and its inevitable future. A new international crowd had descended upon Kreuzberg, creating much consternation amongst locals. The changing demographics have driven up prices to a point where even hardcore leftists have migrated to nearby Neukölln. It would be fair to say that much of Kreuzberg is now officially bourgeois, even if many rough edges still exist.

A ten minute walk from our new apartment brought us to Mehringplatz, alongside the Landwehr canal and the unofficial border between between Kreuzberg and Mitte. This was once an elegant Baroque ‘circular square’ known as the Belle-Alliance-Platz. It was completely destroyed during the Second World War, and rebuilt as a dreary complex of social housing in what has traditionally been a poor area. Recent improvements have included the addition of some outstanding pieces of street art.

Just north of Mehringplatz, a set of apartment buildings between Wilhelmstrasse and Friedrichstrasse are resplendent with murals painted by Graco Berlin. Wander through the car park and communal gardens and you’ll come face to face with a couple of dozen portraits of people reflecting the diversity of the area. The ‘faces’ were created by five different street artists but all if them are expressive. It’s not a place that attracts many tourists, so if you visit you’re likely to have this open air gallery to yourself.

Street art by Graco, Kreuzberg, Berlin

Street art by Graco, Kreuzberg, Berlin

Street art by Graco, Kreuzberg, Berlin

Street art by Graco, Kreuzberg, Berlin

Street art by Graco, Kreuzberg, Berlin

Street art by Graco, Kreuzberg, Berlin

Street art by Graco, Kreuzberg, Berlin

Street art by Graco, Kreuzberg, Berlin

Street art by Graco, Kreuzberg, Berlin

Street art by Graco, Kreuzberg, Berlin

Street art by Graco, Kreuzberg, Berlin

Street art by Graco, Kreuzberg, Berlin

Three Wise Monkeys … Berlin street art

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.

Street art, Berlin, Germany

Street art, Berlin, Germany

See no evil, Speak no evil and Hear no evil, street art, Berlin, Germany

See no evil, Speak no evil and Hear no evil, street art, Berlin, Germany

Elephant playing with a balloon by Jadore Tong, Street art, Berlin, Germany

Elephant playing with a balloon by Jadore Tong, Street art, Berlin, Germany

Astronaut Cosmonaut, street art, Berlin, Germany

Astronaut Cosmonaut, street art, Berlin, Germany

Street art, Berlin, Germany

Street art, Berlin, Germany

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.

Street art, Berlin, Germany

Street art, Berlin, Germany

ROA, street art, Berlin, Germany

ROA, street art, Berlin, Germany

Street art, Berlin, Germany

Street art, Berlin, Germany

Street art, Berlin, Germany

Street art, Berlin, Germany

xoooox street art, Berlin, Germany

xoooox street art, Berlin, Germany

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.

My home might be no palace … Berlin street art

A few years ago, in an act of angst-ridden destruction, one of the artists who created a couple of Berlin’s more famous pieces of street art, spent a night painting over them. This he explained, was done as a symbolic gesture against the role the artworks had in aiding and abetting the gentrification of Kreuzberg, an area of the city regarded as a mecca for artists thanks to its cheap housing and counter-culture cool. That ‘coolness’ attracted well-heeled residents and was appropriated by property developers to push up prices.

For those who worry about such things, the green shoots of gentrification are but the harbingers of worse to come: full blown capitalism in the form of high street brands. I recently walked down a street in Kreuzberg on my way to a good Mexican restaurant (an act that itself is probably gentrifying), and overheard someone telling their visiting friends how a Subway in the neighbourhood had been repeatedly vandalised. There was pride in the way he told the story, an emblem of his own coolness. Subway seemed to be selling plenty of sandwiches when I walked past it later.

My home might be no palace, Street Art, Berlin, Germany

My home might be no palace, Street Art, Berlin, Germany

Street Art, Berlin, Germany

Street Art, Berlin, Germany

Don John, Street Art, Berlin, Germany

Don John, Street Art, Berlin, Germany

Street Art, Berlin, Germany

Street Art, Berlin, Germany

Street Art, Berlin, Germany

Street Art, Berlin, Germany

A year before the iconic Kreuzberg art was painted over, British artist, Grayson Perry, stated (probably tongue in cheek) that artists were “the shock troops of gentrification”. It sparked a debate that has yet to subside, and which has become the focus of serious study. Gentrification, the narrative goes, pushes up prices and pushes poorer residents (artists included) out, creating cultural wastelands and become the very opposite of the vibrant neighbourhood that attracted people in the first place.

Worse than this though, neighbourhoods often experience a sort of social apartheid, becoming exclusively for those with the cash. Just take a look at what has happened in parts of London, New York and most other major cities. This is a fate that many fear for Berlin, a city already teeming with hipsters, as more and more digital start ups descend on the city. For many, that is a good thing. Berlin is catching up with the 21st century, but for those who would prefer a different type of change, it is a challenge.

Whether street art is partially to blame is an altogether different question. Against this backdrop, and with a little trepidation that I might be contributing to the social version of coral bleaching, I’ve been photographing random bits of street art as I’ve made my way through the city. It would be fair to say that Berlin doesn’t disappoint. Like many other ‘global’ cities, street artists have been attracted in their droves, Berlin’s unique history making it a strangely glamorous canvas.

That’s not to say it’s all glorious, building-sized pieces that transcend the mundane. The plague of ‘tagging’, a form of street art that I just don’t get and which singularly fails to engage me, is virulent. It depends which bit of Berlin you’re in, but tagging can be found on a lot of buildings. More interesting for me, there are hotspots of more substantial art pieces in several neighbourhoods. These range from the whole side, front or back of buildings, to small sticker art pieces.

Street Art, Berlin, Germany

Street Art, Berlin, Germany

Street Art, Berlin, Germany

Street Art, Berlin, Germany

Street Art, Berlin, Germany

Street Art, Berlin, Germany

Dancing Women, Street Art, Berlin, Germany

Dancing Women, Street Art, Berlin, Germany

Street Art, Berlin, Germany

Street Art, Berlin, Germany

As a newcomer to the city, it’s interesting to explore new areas where there is a strong and creative street art scene. It makes aimless wandering more rewarding and much more fun. I occasionally stop in these neighbourhoods for food or a drink, even to visit the occasional museum. Hopefully this isn’t contributing to malicious changes in the social ecosystem. If it is I apologise, but the real culprits are surely the street artists?