You see them every day from the S-Bahn or the side of buildings, towering above you, brightening your day and giving you that little “art fix” you need on your way to work or school. They are as much a part of the city of Berlin as the Fernsehturm and the Reichstag, but most have no idea where they came from. What am I talking about, you ask? The answer: Street paintings, in particular the most easily recognizable large-scale paintings that have defined this city as a cultural center. From the famous " Astronaut" in Kreuzberg to El Bocho's work scattered throughout the city. These paintings are so familiar they are like old friends – but do you know their life story? We explore five of our favorite street paintings in Berlin and investigate the story behind these iconic images.
Nobody does “big” quite like BLU! If these two colossal murals on Cuvrystrasse are not on every tourist guidebook’s “Top Ten must-see sights in Berlin,” they should be. In addition to being esthetically spectacular, these two murals by Italian artist BLU completed between 2006-2009 send a shrewd political message, illustrating the re-unification of East and West. The two masked figures are pulling up each other’s masks while simultaneously brandishing “E” and “W” shapes with their fingers – and the anonymous hand-cuffed man cleverly symbolizes the gentrification after the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Even based on its name alone, the abandoned American spy complex of Teufelsberg (Translation: Devil’s Mountain) in former West Berlin is an eerie place. Built partially on rubble from the Second World War which covers a never-completed Nazi underground tech school, the site has become synonymous with secrecy and un-explained phenomenon (even posing as the back-drop for a German vampire film). What better way to lighten it up than with a gigantic space-suit clad teddy bear and a chimpanzee face? Although these roof paintings were created by two different groups in 2011, they compliment each other with their lighthearted, astronomical theme and can be seen from the top of the abandoned spy tower.
French artist Victor Ash, oftentimes referred to simply as “Ash,” created this enormous painting of a faceless astronaut floating weightlessly on the side of a building on Mariannenstrasse in 2007 as part of the Backjumps exhibition. At first glance, the figure appears to be done as a stencil painting with wet black paint still running down the wall. Simple but iconic, Ash’s image has a tremendous impact, leaving the image permanently in the viewer's memory. Proof that a straight-forward idea in a great location can have a tremendously successful result.
4. "Nature Morte" by ROA, Kreuzberg
In partnership with Skalitzers and KJOSK, Belgian street artist ROA created this massive painting in 2011 as a part of his “Transit” exhibition, which focused on the native wildlife of Berlin that has been pushed out of the metropolitan landscape. Eerie but incredibly thought provoking, the painting shows dead animals gruesomely strung up by ropes or slumped onto a sad pile on the ground. Although the work borders on morbidity, it has a certain beauty to it, illustrating the inevitable cycle of life and death, creation and decay.
5."Portray" series by El Bocho, various locations in Berlin.
Kind, sweet and soul gazing, the girls of El Bocho's work portray a message of communication and of love lost. Found in various places around Berlin, the posters seem to either last forever or only a few days. But if you're looking for something less heartfelt look no further than his Little Lucy series (who loves blowing up cats, hanging cats or eating cat-meat in her kebabs…)
Original article by Kirsten Hall, updated by Tristan Boisvert
For more street art goodies and controversies, check out the links below: