Humans have been producing graffiti since, well, forever. It could be said that scribbling on walls was the first example of art as expression, the first chance that people had to create through the medium of imagery. We’ve come a long way from scribbles though and street art is now a genuine cultural phenomenon, and nowhere is this more apparent than the German capital. Graffiti in Berlin really kicked off in the western side of the Berlin Wall, when disenfranchised people used it as a blank canvas to get emotions out. Artists, migrants, punks, draft resisters and more would take to the blocks of concrete and express themselves through aesthetics, but this was only happening on the western side of the wall; the east remained blank. This all changed in 1989 as Berlin became one big playground for street artists of all kinds. The East Side Gallery might be the most famous street art collection in the city, but trust us when we say there is a lot more to this than that.
Take the self-explanatory Mural Fest for example. A fabulous example of the marriage between art and urban spaces, the festival of metropolitan magnificence has revolutionised previously blank concrete spaces in the heart of Berlin, giving domestic and international artists a free reign over how to breathe new life into the many concrete spaces of the city. These are ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ affairs, pieces of art that must be enjoyed and adored at any and all opportunities, as they are just about as ‘alive’ as it gets. These huge murals are constantly at the whims of the elements, open to rain, sun, wind, snow and all the rest, meaning something that shines bright today may well begin to erode tomorrow. Catch them while you can.
The list of artists who have been lucky enough to work on these walls reads like a veritable who’s who of international street art, from Mexico (Adry del Rocio) to Scotland (smug), with plenty of homegrown talent (Die Dixons, Acute) involved as well. Throw in stars like James Bullough, ABS Crew, Bandits, Millo, Insane51 and others and you have yourself a very special artistic celebration indeed. Another spot of special interest is the art park at Lake Tegel, where Urban Nation and Berliner Lebel came together to add a new spark to six skyscrapers. These are some very special works of art.
Street art in Berlin is more than a marriage between colour and concrete. It is expression, excitement, expectation and exaltation, a chance to bring the thrill of aesthetics into what was drudgery, injecting life into neglect. We’re not going to say that it is the most vital form of artistic expression, but we’re not going to disagree with anyone who wants to make that point. The dates for Mural Fest 2020 have yet to be announced, so keep both eyes peeled for that. In the meantime, do all you can to catch the previous years’ murals before it is too late.