Berlin is, and has been for years, the European capital of underground culture and, arguably, the world’s most alternative city. It is hard to find a big wall in the city which hasn’t been used as a canvas for graffiti artists, famous urban painters and more or less anonymous taggers: even the bathrooms of each and every single bar or club of Berlin are filled with names, pictures and more or less inspired philosophical thoughts. Berliners take great pride in this form of art, which is still seen as vandalism in many other cities, and encourage local and foreign artists to make their own contribution to the city’s ever-growing urban art heritage.
A city historically related to urban art
Although graffiti has existed for thousands of years (there’s evidence of primitive graffiti in some ancient Egypt monuments), it has only become popular after the invention of marker pens and spray paint in the 20th century, which made painting affordable and easy even for not extremely gifted people. Following the end of World War Two and the beginning of the Cold War, people from Germany found a way to express their anguish against the country’s new status quo through graffiti. In Berlin, a city that got divided into 4 different parts (the American, the Soviet, the English and the French zones), locals decided to protest against the rise of the Berlin Wall by spraying messages of rebellion onto it. The Wall turned out to be the world’s biggest canvas depicting a common cry: « Frieden und Freiheit », which, in German, means « Peace and Liberty".
Graffiti is just another form of art in Berlin
Following the fall of the Berlin Wall, the city grew and new buildings rose, providing urban artists with hundreds of fresh surfaces to express themselves onto. Some of the owners of such buildings opposed themselves against graffiti painting, which they considered to be nothing more than a vandal act, only to find the walls of their edifices splattered with every single imaginable message. Some others, however, saw this rise of urban art as inevitable and decided to hire professional wall painting artists to decorate the exteriors of their buildings. Those turned the streets of Berlin into a true art gallery, and you can find mural works of art such as this one, which is located next to the Charlottenburg Palace, in any corner of the city.
The East Side Gallery: one of the world’s biggest graffiti memorials
It would be a sin to devote an article to Berlin’s graffiti and not to mention one of the city’s most famous spot: the East Side Gallery. It is a fragment of the original Berlin Wall that stretches along 1,300 meters (4 265 ft.) next to the Spree river in the south-eastern part of the city. It is divided into 2 to 6-meters (7 to 20-ft.) long scenes painted by people coming from every corner of the world. These scenes range from revolutionary calls to passers-by to purely abstract works of art and, needless to say, there are a lot of references to the former Berlin Wall. Although pretty packed with tourists armed with their photo cameras all year long, the East Side Gallery is a must-see no matter how deep your love for urban art is.
Graffiti and Berlin, an inseparable pair
Berlin is a very diverse city: many people decide to travel there attracted by its many delights. Its buzzing nightlife (its techno and drum’n’bass night clubs deserve an article of their own), the young spirit the city is embedded into, only 25 years after its reunification, or its historical relevance during the last century are just three of its many interests. However — and this comes from someone who’s not a massive graffiti fan — the urban art that Berlin offers to its visitors can compete with any of these other features. Just take some warm clothes, an umbrella, a photo camera and get lost in the streets of Berlin: the graffiti will come to you.
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