In Berlin, One Wall Down and Thousands to Paint

柏林一牆倒塌 滿城塗鴉

Kreuzberg, a bohemian neighborhood where Berlin’s Strassenkultur thrives, is home to projects by well-known street artists like GFA-Crew.

Published: March 2, 2008

Spray cans clink in Ali’s bag as he walks down a cobblestone street in Berlin’s post-hip neighborhood of Prenzlauer Berg. He stops in front of a grocery truck and pulls out a can. He strokes his name in bubbly, bright red letters, before leaving his mark on a telephone booth, a dozen doors and a concrete wall next to the train tracks.

“It’s a great feeling doing a piece at night and coming back the day after to look at it,” said Ali, 31, an industrial designer who didn’t want his surname used to avoid prosecution. “I also see it as reclaiming the city and shaping my urban environment.”

Apparently, many Berliners feel the same. The city’s skyline might be defined by a Sputnik-era TV tower, bombed-out churches and the ghost of a certain wall that once split the German capital. But its streetscape is largely molded by graffiti-covered,–city in Europe.

Among the graffiti “writers” who have left their mark are Banksy, the art world mystery, whose stenciled rat in a police uniform decorates a curb in Mitte. Os Gemeos, the Brazilian twins whose cartoonish works have commanded $20,000 at the Deitch Projects in New York City, have spray painted a five-story-high mural of a yellow man in an orange shirt on a building on Oppelner Strasse. And the shaking fist of the Berlin artist Kripoe swings from traffic signs, elevated train tracks and, perhaps most spectacularly, a piling in the middle of the Spree River.

“It’s like everyone grabbed a can of paint at one point and just went for it,” said the New York-based photographer Peter Sutherland. “It’s become a real paradise for writers.”

The roots of graffiti culture can be traced back to West Berlin in the early 1980s, when the American-occupied sector was the reluctant melting pot of anarchist punks, Turkish immigrants and West German draft resisters.

While the west face of the Berlin Wall was blanketed with graffiti, the east face was orderly and gray. All that changed, with the fall of the wall in 1989, which opened up vast new blank walls virtually overnight.

“It was kind of like New York,” said Thomas Peiser, owner of a graffiti supply store in the gritty Kreuzberg neighborhood. “It was paradise to us.”

Galleries like Circleculture, a stark storefront in Mitte, regularly exhibit internationally known street artists like Anton Unai, who often works with objects he finds on the street, and Shepard Fairey, the creator of “Obey, Giant” and, most recently, a popular poster of Barack Obama.

Last summer, Adrian Nabi, a former publisher of the pioneering Berlin graffiti magazine Backjumps, organized a “live issue,” a two-month-long graffiti festival which attracted more than 15,000 people. He still admires the audacity of the West Berlin graffiti writers of his youth.

“A writer is far more brash,” Mr. Nabi said. “They take the entire city for themselves.”



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