Our 4-month trip began last week when we landed in Berlin! And what a week it was – filled with funky (and bleak) architecture, historical sights and entertaining sounds, art museums and tours, and tasty beer!
Berlin is the second largest city in the EU with a population of just over 3.7 million, yet it didn’t seem crowded the first week of September as we walked the streets, toured a few museums, rode the trains and even rented bikes. You can read about our impressions of Berlin here…this is a post about Art in Berlin 🙂
First the Berlinische Galerie
To begin our education and get a feel for the art of Berlin, we had a great tour around the Berlinische Galerie which houses not only a chronological array of art made in Berlin as far back as 1870 , but also displays a special exhibition of a selected contemporary artist working in Berlin. I loved the “Escher-like” staircase to access the collection.
For our visit we happened upon a 10-year retrospective of Romanian-born Berlin-based photographer Loredana Nemes, whose portraits of carnival goers and masked Turkish cafe dwellers were emotional and thought-provoking.
Upstairs in the gallery, there is a maze of rooms which takes one on a chronological tour of paintings, etchings, and sculptures representing Berlin Art. To complement the works on the walls there were three-dimensional representations of some of the pieces to enhance a visually-challenged or any (for that matter) visitor’s experience.
Next the East Side Gallery
Our next stop was the famous East Side Gallery along the Spree River. At 1.316 km in length it’s the longest open air Gallery in the world and, according to our tour guide, was the brain-child of a Scottish artist who sent a call-out in 1990 to artists to paint murals along a segment of the still-standing but preserved Berlin Wall using only the prompt “Freedom”. Here are just a few examples…including the famous “Brezhnev kissing Honecker” colloquially referred to as the Fraternal Kiss.
Although erosion, graffiti, and vandalism have damaged some of the works over the close to 30 years it’s been up, some murals have been repainted by the still-living original artists while sometimes new works have replaced originals.
Amazing Street Art Tour
Our most adventurous art experience was a Street Art Tour guided by a Chicago-born Scottish-schooled young woman named Kyle who visited Berlin for two weeks four years ago and hasn’t left! She began the tour with a condensed history of Berlin and the emergence and importance of street art here. Then throughout the 3-hour walk sprinkled in some interesting and humorous tidbits and off-the-wall facts about this quirky city. Totally worth the 9.60€ each!!
First the Paste-ups
Kyle began our education of the various forms of Street Art with “paste-ups” which can be mass produced and then pasted up (!) at night to attempt to circumvent the fine for such an illegal endeavour. Here she is showing us a somewhat ripped example by artist SOBR of his “Dancing Girls” and then a close-up of his paste-ups in Schwarzenberg alley.
Next Kyle talked about Graffiti “art” which, in most cities including Berlin, is considered vandalism especially due to the use of harsh chemicals to remove them. The fines for this depend on size and accessibility and can run from 200-10,000€ if you are caught…wow! Still it’s all over Berlin!
Banksy-style Stencil Art
A third form of Street Art is stencilling similar to Banksy’s technique. Kyle showed us one “famous” Berlin artist’s work who goes by the name of XOOOOX 😉 He takes photos from magazines, creates stencils and then spray paints into the stencils. Apparently, there is quite a bit of debate as to his purpose of focussing on skinny models. And unlike most Street artists, XOOOOX makes a decent living, selling his last piece in a gallery for 70,000€.
Next on the list of Street art are the Stolpersteine or Stumbling Stones, a project started in the late 1980s by Berlin artist and engraver Gunter Demnig to commemorate a darker time. These brass stones are engraved with the last known place of work or home address of Jews taken from Berlin between 1933-1945. One “stone”, one name, one person. According to the website, as of February 2018, there were 68,000 stones laid in 1100 places in Europe. These ones Kyle pointed out were just outside a school, so presumably they were to remember teachers from that school.
Lastly, commissioned Street Art
One last category of Street Art that Kyle pointed out is commissioned, like this piece commissioned by Levi’s. For this work below, the Portuguese artist Vhils first painted the brick wall with paint and then used acid and dynamite to chip away at the paint to create the image. Apparently this piece below, with the logo Go Forth, drew a lot of attention, but not much connection to Levis!
The only place Street Art is legal: Schwarzenberg alley
We took a coffee break mid-way through our tour in a cafe in Schwarzenberg alley, the only place where street art is condoned and legal. This colourful and busy alley is lined on both sides by works from numerous artists and wannabe artists. But be careful…the two side walls are very different! On the left is the practice wall which is plastered and painted and stencilled and littered (!) with thousands of works, by novices and expert street artists alike…
…while the right side of the alley is by invitation only – so no tagging (marking up) or graffiti-ing over. Artists are invited to create works that will be up in the alley for 11 months. The only exception to the duration of these works is the one in the corner of Anne Frank as it was commissioned for the exhibition in the space at the end of the alley.
Well that’s it for a brief exposé on some of the incredible art we saw in our short stay in Berlin…and there is so much more to explore!!
We’d love to hear about your Art adventures in this most exciting and energizing city!