What’s Up With Berlin’s Bananarama?

There are those who scowl at the sight of a tag on a trolley car, who step back aghast when they catch a glimpse of a stories-high Blu mural—and then there are those of us who revel in a good piece of graffiti art. I myself stand safely in the latter camp; and yet, I found myself not a small bit surprised to see a stenciled banana on one of the august gallery walls along Auguststrasse. As time passed, I began to see more and more of these Warhol-esque stencils stamped on the doors of Berlin's museums and galleries. 

At first, these cheeky tags seemed to be the work of one of Berlin’s many urban art pioneers; however, the yellow bananas did seem placed on walls too pristine and in areas solely devoted to art, begging the question—is there more to this mystery?

In Search of Stencils

In dogged pursuit of the truth, I set off with intrepid photographer Chris Phillips to seek out the bananas of Berlin. We searched high and low, we scoured the streets, training our eyes on door-frames and rushing across crowded streets for a scoop. Bananas we found, in Berlin they abound, but wherefore, and where from? There was more sleuthing yet to be done.

bananas-hannah-3One of the many bananas outside a Berlin Gallery. Photo: Chris Phillips

A little research led me to the originator of these outstanding stencils: Thomas Baumgärtel. While studying art at a Cologne University in 1986, young Baumgärtel was tasked with painting a still life of a fruit basket, and with the form of a banana a motif bordering on obsession was born. In that same year, Baumgärtel sprayed his first banana in the Belgian quarter of Cologne on the gates of a gallery he admired.