Berlin Street Art: An Urban Playground

Daniel Noll and Audrey Scott November 28, 2013 5

“This beautiful playground called Berlin… We see the city as a place to play and be creative.”
             — an underground Berlin graffiti artist describes his canvas.

Berlin, where does the road lead? Building mural in the Kreuzberg neighborhood.

Berlin, where does the road lead? Building mural in the Kreuzberg neighborhood.

Graffiti has been a defining characteristic of Berlin since the 1980s, but it’s over the last decade that Berlin has emerged as one of the top street art destinations in the world. Everywhere you look—from the sides of buildings, to doorways, rooftops and bridges—you’ll find murals, stencils, etchings and design experiments staring right back at you. Sometimes works are intended as pure art, other times as social statements. Some will make you pause; others still may give you pause.

A mural by Belgian street artist Roa depicting rather graphically the animals that used to roam the region before humans invaded their space.

A mural by Belgian street artist Roa depicting rather graphically the animals that used to roam the region before humans invaded their space.

Berlin street art is a mix of legal and illegal acts. For the illegal or underground artist, street art and graffiti are about leaving your mark, creating and propagating a symbol and attracting an audience to recognize your work, all while protecting your identity. The dance is one part mystique, another part practicality to avoid run-ins with the authorities.

Non-commissioned street artists—of which there are an estimated 6,000 in Berlin—often follow a code of ethics that includes never disrespecting someone else’s work by painting on top of it.

Sometimes rules are meant to be broken. Layers, a wall of visual inspiration in Friedrichshain.

Sometimes rules are meant to be broken. Layers, a wall of visual inspiration in Friedrichshain.

Look up! A street artist takes over the side of a building near Kottbusser Tor station in Kreuzberg.

Look up! A street artist takes over the side of a building near Kottbusser Tor station in Kreuzberg.

Then, there are the legally commissioned works of street art that you’ll find on the sides of buildings or perhaps along the remnants of the Berlin Wall at Eastside Gallery. Many of these artists have come from across the globe to add a validating feather in their artist’s cap and to make their mark on Berlin, a city whose visual landscape is ever-evolving.

Wrinkles of the City, a series by French artist JR

Wrinkles of the City, a series by French artist JR.

Floating Astronaut by Victor Ash, Kreuzberg

Floating Astronaut by Victor Ash, Kreuzberg.

Murals take over remaining segments of the Berlin Wall at East Side Gallery, Friedrichshain.

Murals take over remaining segments of the Berlin Wall at East Side Gallery, Friedrichshain.

Although you’ll find street art throughout Berlin, the top neighborhoods for it include Kreuzberg, Friedrichshain, Mitte and Neukölln.

Notice that the fingers of the figures form an E and W. This represents East and West Berlin, still trying to discover each other. Another street mural by Blu on the border of Kreuzberg and Friedrichshain.

Notice that the fingers of the figures form an E and W. This represents East and West Berlin, still trying to discover each other. Another street mural by Blu on the border of Kreuzberg and Friedrichshain.

And as with most street art, if you take a moment to reflect on what you’re looking at, you just might find the artist’s intended deeper meaning, a message to society.

Man cuffed together by watches, commentary on work and life priorities by Italian artist Blu. (Kreuzberg and Friedrichshain).

Man cuffed together by watches, commentary on work and life priorities by Italian artist Blu. (Kreuzberg and Friedrichshain).

 

5 Comments »

  1. Martin November 29, 2013 at 7:04 am - Reply

    Berlin is the perfect city for street-art-spotting, not only on the Berlin Wall.There are amazing murals all over the city.
    Here’s a few impressions: http://www.fm1721.net/#!berlin/c19dc

  2. Mark Traid January 6, 2014 at 12:37 am - Reply

    Its so interesting to see graffiti as a mainstream form of expression. I recently came across a playground design that included “graffiti walls” as part of the design. It would be interesting to see how well thay get used.
    http://www.earthartist.com/natural_playgrounds/municipal-play-parks/thunder-bay-district-housing/

  3. Street art February 26, 2014 at 7:21 am - Reply

    J’adore cette ville et tout le street art que l’on peux y trouver !

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