I spent a week in Berlin, and pretty much most of that was spent searching for street art. It’s hardly a challenge in Berlin, but that doesn’t mean it’s not fun.
Berlin must be the most incredible city on this planet when it comes to street art. It’s everywhere, and it’s unbelievably transient. This is because a lot of the street art there is in the form of paste-ups and stickers – although don’t be disappointed, as a) there’s a hell of a lot of ‘normal’ graffiti and other amazing stuff and b) the paste-ups are pretty awesome. Berlin also hosts a number of spaces around the city where the graffiti is changed on a regular basis – every couple of months – and these spaces are legal, designated for this purpose.
More interesting were the random little alleyways that are covered in so many layers of various types of street art [I’d never known there were so many types before getting to Berlin] that you get the impression that this is all that’s holding the walls up.
One thing I loved about Berlin street art is that there are a lot of stories attached. There are a bunch of prominent artists whose work is quite recognisable once you’ve seen a few of their pieces. There’s one guy who apparently spends six hours a day painting the number six all around the city, and has already painted more than six hundred thousand of them. While is is perhaps not art of the highest calibre, it is kind of fun to spot the sixes everywhere.
Another guy, known as El Bocho, is best known for his Little Lucy paste-ups around the city. Little Lucy was a kid’s TV show, and the character Lucy had a cat she loved. In El Bocho’s paste-ups however, Lucy is constantly killing or hurting the cat – putting it in a washing machine, carrying its broken body in a suitcase, or just hanging it. There are hanging cat paste-ups everywhere in Berlin. Despite my love of cats, I do wish I’d bought a t-shirt…
The other story that was brilliant is that of Linda’s Ex. In 2003, posters started appearing all over Berlin with drawings of a sad guy bemoaning the loss of his girlfriend Linda. Some posters said that Linda’s Ex would be waiting for her at a certain bar every Tuesday and Saturday nights; others looked as though he was ready to kill himself in despair. As the posters spread and more and more Berliners became aware of the poor heartbroken artist referred to as ‘Linda’s Ex’, the public started getting involved. People felt that Linda’s Ex needed help, and they wrote to newspapers and called radio stations – some trying to get Linda to come forward and take back the man who loved her so much; others warning her off him. The more that local people became involved, the more posters appeared. After twelve months, Linda’s Ex – an artist called Roland Brueckner – came forward and admitted that there was no Linda. It was all a hoax, an experiment to see whether street art could affect and involve people. Unfortunately, given the transience of Berlin’s street art, almost all Linda posters have gone or have been covered over. There’s still part of one to be found in a little alley with a name I’ve forgotten [or never knew, I can’t remember], but if you’re interested in Linda’s Ex, you can see a number of the posters at http://lindas-ex.blogspot.com/.
Another artist, known as Alias, does amazing paste-ups and paintings of people and models, as well as one of my favourites – a little boy sitting on a bomb. A lot of Alias’ work is very realistic, in contrast with the cartoon style pieces of a number of other artists.
I really like the fact that the street art in Berlin is so temporary. It means that there is constantly new work and new pieces, and while that means that if you are looking for a specific piece it may be long gone, it also means that the art is being constantly renewed and rejuvenated. Some pieces certainly aren’t going anywhere soon – I doubt anyone would be be game to paint over the astronaut on the side of a building.
Besides, it means that if [when?] I return to Berlin, there will be plenty of new and exciting street art for me to hunt down. Why climb the Reichstag when I could do that? [You also don’t have to book online, three days in advance, to look at street art.]