There is no need to go to an art gallery to view beautiful and thought-provoking art in Berlin. This city is full of fascinating street art from some of the best graffiti artists in the world. Art critic Emilie Trice called it the “graffiti Mecca of the urban art world.” This post will shed insight into the Berlin street-art scene.
The Beginning of the Graffiti Scene in Berlin
Back in the 1960s, Berlin was a sea of gray concrete and the area around the Berlin Wall was beginning to become a place where outsiders, anarchist punks and draft resisters would settle during the decade. They began turning walls into monuments that expressed their beliefs in colorful ways. This started as rough tags and powerful political slogans written on the wall’s western facade. Eventually, it evolved into complex paintings that conveyed messages and meaning.
At the end of the 1970s, a new wave of graffiti artists contributed increasingly complex and beautiful works of art with their stencils and spray cans. Once the Berlin Wall came down in the late 1980s, these graffiti artists marched into East Germany and started to paint the walls there as well.
In 2003, Berlin played host to the very first Backjumps Live Issue, a festival created by graffiti and hip-hop activist Adrian Nabi. It was designed to introduce the concept of street art to the public and featured an exhibition at the Kunstraum Kreuzberg/Bethanien.
These days, street art is still strong and it is moving more into the mainstream. Berlin was designated a UNESCO City of Design in 2005. There is no doubt this was partially because of the popular and contemporary street-art scene.
Is Street Art Legal?
Many visitors to the city will ask whether or not the graffiti art is legal. The simple answer is the city views graffiti as a crime. Some of the graffiti tags are related to gangs and the authorities are trying to crack down on this to prevent violence in the city. These signatures are intended to mark territory and these vandals are simply establishing their “turf” with a quick scribble on the walls.
However, business owners and tourism officials in Berlin are aware of the fact that the thriving street-art scene is important to tourism. Many local businesses have hired artists to paint murals on their buildings and walls, and this work has become a tourist attraction.
Where to See the Best Street Art in Berlin
If you are looking to see some of the best street art in Berlin, read relevant blogs and speak to the right people. Berlin’s street-art scene changes so quickly that once something becomes well-known, it’s not “cool” anymore.
However, a great place to start is the Mitte neighborhood in the former East Berlin (Venere.com lists Berlin hotels by neighborhood). This is where, after the Berlin Wall fell, many art galleries started. It is a great place to see local artists as well as established names. Check out the KW Institute for Contemporary Art and the Me Collectors Room/Stiftung Olbricht.
You can also check out Tacheles, an artist’s collective on Oranienburger Straße. There are beautiful murals covering almost every imaginable surface, making for superb photo opportunities.
Take a walk along the border of Friedrichshain on the Spree, which is now called the East Side Gallery. This is another great place to see some unique and dynamic street art.