Riddled with graffiti and street art that’s forever being erased, covered, added to or otherwise altered, the landscape of Berlin is constantly changing.
Street art is a perplexing thing. Its very essence is, when stripped down to the rafters, unsanctioned forms of graffiti and yet, in the modern day, street art is widely accepted as a statement segregating art from a high profile piece of work. Take the record-breaking painting by Jean-Michel Basquiat, which fetched a hefty $110.5 million dollar sum a few years ago. Factors such as these cannot permeate the world of street art, mainly because the work is not down on a canvas, but, like Banksy’s famed Flower Thrower image, on the side of a brick courtyard in Berlin.
Most of the time even, street artists such as the renowned Banksy remain hidden from the public eye in some Daft Punk levels on anonymity. When hidden identity is taken into account, the real question regarding street art does not revolve around the fable surrounding the person that made the image, but when the artist’s image or life is stripped away from the piece, what the piece says about the world it was conspired in?
Despite being frowned upon by the Berlin police department, Berlin took off in the current era as a hub for street art and colourful graffiti. Even more so, Berlin’s street art is the shining beacon of the craft descending into the cloud of censorship and the fight against the powers that be in the modern world. And in the case of Berlin, Germany’s largest city, its street art is just as diverse and nuanced, if not more, than any other major western city.
A difference of cataclysmic proportions and a darkened past from an age not long ago, Berlin’s street art often directly reflects the schism (AKA Berlin Wall) that split the city into two distinct halves from 1949 up until 1990. As the wall’s western façade was the reflection of western values: freedom, individuality, and all that invisible stuff that’s really important to a society, East Berlin’s side reflected the sentiments of the Soviet Union and its bone-crushing crimes against the human race.
This is reflected loud and clear with not only Banksy’s flower thrower image, which depicts a rioter throwing a bouquet of flowers similar to the form of throwing a Molotov cocktail, but through other works as well, such as these five variations of the Statue of Liberty that was painted on the Berlin Wall in 1986. Unlike any other city of Western proportion, the Berlin Wall, its Westside covered with emblematic and inspiring art and its Eastside bare as a jail cell, reveal the artistic power and prevalence that street art holds in the modern day.
The former city mayor once described the German capital as “poor and sexy,” and the graffiti and street art that characterizes the urban areas fit just right into this slogan. It’s not just the product of unruly gangs, it’s a form of expression and an important component of Berlin’s underground art and culture scene, which contributes to the uniqueness and creativity that defines the quirky Berlin.
The Berlin Wall’s symbolic importance even transitioned into its literal placement in museums across the world, such as the Newseum in Washington D.C ., so as to introduce more people to the world of anti-censorship and brazen defiance of a corrupt society. Phrases like, “ACT UP!” and “Step by Step!” boldly scribed onto the Newseum section of the wall pull off the same sentiment, as well.
What’s even more beautiful about the city’s craftsmanship is the international fame that Berlin gained from it. Artists such as El Bocho, a Spanish born artist living in Berlin, has wrangled with the Berlin art scene for years with his mixture of bizarre humour and feminine exploration. His most famous running piece named Little Lucy, which usually depicts a caricatured little girl torturing her cat, has become the Baby Milo-like signature image of the Spanish artist and a popular tourist scene for avid street art fans visiting Berlin.
It’s a hard pressing issue to not explore Banksy in Berlin as well since the flower thrower image is such a strong sentiment of the artist’s work. As Banksy’s flower thrower reminds us that a probable alternative to violence and indiscretion can be achieved, perhaps the message of Banksy and other street artists has gone too far into the thirst for a commercialized product, with Banksy’s famous images specifically being emblazoned on mugs and t-shirts and even Justin Bieber’s forearm.
At least the literal street art of Berlin can’t be sold for 110 million dollars in some Basquiat style of notoriety: not unless someone of hulk-like proportions rips an entire brick wall from the ground and gives it to Sotheby’s for auction.
Words by Sam Farrell – Shop our essentials in the LYFSTYL store now.