On the streets of Berlin.

25 Oct

There is no universal definition for street art. However, growing up on the leafy suburban streets of Sydney’s North, my experience of street art was limited to pubescent teenage boys ‘tagging’ their names on or misspelling phrases, ‘F**k the Sistem’ on train station platforms. Of note was the North Shore ‘gang’ called GFF (Gordon Freedom Fighters). They tagged stations, schools, shops…I call them a ‘gang’ in inverted commas, as I bet their mum’s still packed their lunches and their greatest weapon was probably an empty bottle of Moet stolen from their dad’s cellar. Nevertheless, I’ve always been fascinated by colourful street murals and images. Melbourne is always a great place to perve on some street art. But even better…I was lucky enough to be able to go to Berlin. A street art lovers dream.


Berlin is a city plagued a history of tension & unrest. It is no wonder that street art permeates every nook and cranny – it is the physically and visual manifestation of the years of suppression.


Street art is not limited to tagging and spray can graffiti. It goes deeper, much deeper. There is such a variety of techniques used- pasting, stickers, stencils, sculptures, guerilla art, street installations and flash mobbing. Street art refers to the contemporary public-space artwork, as opposed to the traditional graffiti and vandalism.


There are differences of opinion, as to what constitutes street art .

My own opinion and perspective was formed after walking the streets of Berlin. For me, what constitutes street art is a purposeful creative expression that aims to engage viewers and communicate socially relevant themes in ways that are informed (as opposed to vandalism which is conducted in a destructive context). I guess, ultimately, what constitutes ‘good’ street art is, of course, in the eye of the beholder.


To get a comprehensive insight and understanding of the street art in Berlin, we embarked on a street art tour, run by Alternative Street art Tours (NB:- I highly recommend this if you are travelling to Berlin – it was a highlight of my trip: http://www.alternativeberlin.com/). The tour was led by two street artists (who were slightly nuts, one guide spent the entire tour watching the pavement and pushing us out of the way to ensure we didn’t step in any dog mess!) We learnt about the historical context of street art.


My favourite part of the tour was hearing the Linda story. To illustrate the impact of street art on Berlin’s citizens, we were told he story of the Linda campaign. An artist who wrote poignant love letters all over the city to his ex Linda, asking her to come back to him.  Each poster featured this sad looking boy and asked the same question – “Where’s Linda?”. At first, people either ignored the posters or were mildly curious. Nort before long, it captured the imagination of sympathetic Berliners who were eager to see the couple united. The campaign continued for a year until the artist finally came forwarded and admitted it was an art project, to see how people would react. It really made me realize the power of street art – it has the power to connect people to a cause. It has the power to transcend the art form and influence behaviour.


Street art is democratic – It is done by the people, for the people. It is not limited to high class art galleries. It is there for everyone to see. Street art is illegal in Berlin. Street artists to risk getting fined & arrested…but I guess that just heightens its appeal. We were told stories of guys getting their arms chopped of my moving trains whilst they try and ‘bomb’ them (NB:- Bombing, is when crews get together and try and pray whole trains or buildings in their colours and tags).Losing your arm in the name of art – dedication.


Street is art is also not limited to 2D. Some of it is interactive and allows people to get involved. More over, what I love about it – is that it makes you reconsider and think.

These are other reasons why I love street art:

– Speculation: It makes you stop & think?

– Inspiration: What is the message behind that piece of art? Why didn’t I think of that? (I was asking myself that a lot)

– Awareness: A street sign, the curbside…it brings things to the forefront.

– Transformation of the mundane: A brick wall is no long just a brick wall – its art.

– Accessibility: allows artists who may otherwise feel disenfranchised, to reach a much broader audience than traditional artwork and galleries normally allow. 
     – – – Anonymity: The artists remain unknown (unless of course, you circulate in that crowd). I like the inherent contradiction – the artists remain anonymous, however their artwork is highly visible.


OK, so I’m not going to lie, it did cross my mind – maybe this was my life’s calling? maybe I was destined to be a street artist? I quickly realised that setting my alarm off at 1am every morning & wearing a balaclava whilst running away from the police, wasn’t really ‘me’.- I go to bed at 9pm most nights and I love rules (my days as a school prefect, were some of my finest),


My trip to Berlin changed the way I walk down the street. I now take an active interest in street art – I attempt to decode the underlying messages. I try to imagine the artist behind the anonymous work. It has opened my eyes.

Next time you see street art – stop and think…there is much more than what meets the eye…


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