After a 2-hour tour and a 3-hour workshop I felt I had gotten more out of Berlin than on the rest of the trip put together.
While we spent 4 days in Berlin, the best day for me was, without question, Wednesday. On the other days of the trip we visited companies and museums, that were all interesting. Notable are the visits to Lower East Lab, where we were introduced to the world of designers and working as a freelancer, and the visit to the Computerspielemuseum (Video Game Museum). The latter, mostly because we got to play PainStation; the greatest game I have ever played.
On Wednesday, however, we got to explore my long-time fascination: Street Art. I have always had a weakness for urban sub-cultures, such as breakdancing and street art, and getting to spend a few hours gaining insight into this world was just amazing.
Before the tour started we were all split up into two groups. I decided to go with the Australian Ginger, whom shall remain nameless.
The Australian Ginger had mastered the amazing ability of incorporating the most obscure and hilarious references in his tour, making it feel like you were at a 2-hour stand-up comedy show, which just happened to be moving around the town of Kreuzberg near Berlin.
But let’s get back to subject at hand: Street Art.
Tags and Throwups
There are many different types of, let’s say graffiti. The simplest form of graffiti is tagging. Tagging is simply writing your signature on stuff. Of course, we’re not talking about your actual signature, but rather the signature for the handle you have chosen to use when writing on other people’s stuff. This tag should not take you more than two seconds, at most, to make. The more elaborate form of a tag is called a throw-up. Throw ups are characterised by the use of large, fat, and often outlined, letters. Also throw-ups are made using at least two colours, while tags are made using only one colour.
Pieces and paste-ups
Moving on from tags and into the world of street art, it’s time to look at pieces. A piece is a detailed piece of art, much like a conventional painting, only made on walls in the public rather than in your private studio. Where tags and throw-ups take a few seconds or minutes, a piece can take hours or even days to finish. The result, however, is often well worth the effort.
Some pieces, as in the case of the hanging animals, are done legally with support from companies or the city itself. This makes it possible to do elaborate pieces of art, that otherwise would have been extremely difficult to pull off, due to the location and/or the amount of time they require.
Some artists also use paste-ups. Rather than painting directly on the wall you use a paste made of flour, sugar and water (a detailed recipe can be found here: http://www.au.timeout.com/melbourne/art/features/2284/how-to-make-a-paste-up) and paste a piece of art, which you have prepared and printed from home, onto the wall. This opens up the possibility of posting a detailed piece in seconds.
Heaven spots have been named as such due to their locations. The idea is that getting the spot feels like heaven, but if you mess up and fall you go right back up to heaven. Heaven spots are any kind of street art done in a location that is both hard to reach and extremely hazardous to paint. Examples are bridges, freeway signs or the top of a building just below the roof. The case of the building, some crews would sneak into an apartment building, tie themselves to something secure and jump off the side of the building painting on the way down. This sometimes require several trips.
As seen in the photo of the hanging animals piece, it is also common to see throw-ups along the edge of the roof. In these cases the artist would have probably been standing on the roof with a paint roller and painted their tag on the wall below. This would often mean having a spotting partner on the ground making sure your letters are the same height, as it is difficult to tell that when looking down from the roof.
On the tour we learned that the reason street art is so prevalent in Berlin is the dept the city undertook after the Cold War. The city simply cannot afford removing all the graffiti, and therefore all the tags, throwups, paste-ups, roll-ups and pieces get to stay, and have become a part of the Berlin streets. Especially in the city of Kreuzberg is Street Art prevalent, and this is one of the places that have gone on my must-visit list for whenever I find myself in the area.
And now, at curtain call, I will leave you with my own graffiti masterpiece of a stormtrooper helmet. In a workshop after the tour we were told to make a stencil and then make a piece of art using this stencil. I couldn’t resist the power of the dark side.
Text and photography by Dennis Jensen