While traveling this summer on IUSB’s study abroad trip to Berlin and Prague, one of our assignments was to create collage journals. With these collage journals, we were afforded the opportunity to have free rein to recreate our memories as we saw fit, being able to reflect back on the impressions both cities had left in our memories. One of the most striking and inescapable themes I decided to pick up on and highlight in my journal was while I was in Berlin. This theme was the graffiti found on walls of buildings, stairs following down to Berlin’s many U-Bahn stations, windows of various shops, and anywhere else there seemed to be an uncovered canvas. No matter where you turn in Berlin, there is graffiti waiting to be found just around the corner.
But what I did not realize at first was just how taken aback I would be by all this graffiti. When you think of the term “graffiti,” you tend to think about buildings being defiled and explicit words being strewn across a city for all to see. The graffiti in Berlin, however, is unlike any other I have seen. The artistic quality and the time it must have taken for these pieces to be completed reflect creative expression and impassioned attention to detail.
When I show my personal photos of various pieces of Berlin’s graffiti, I always say, “Berlin itself can be seen as one giant art exhibition.”
Because the majority of our time in Berlin was spent in the former Communist East part of Berlin, it was a constant reminder of how the former GDR’s economy and livelihood was seen as “stunted” by those in the Western part of the city. Run-down buildings with shattered windows and tattered apartment doors seemed to be the places where the most, and often most vibrant, graffiti could be found. In my opinion, that is a testament to how those Berliners took back the city as a whole in order to revamp and reclaim Berlin, and Germany overall, as a unified place. More than anything, the reminder of the former East Berlin is present by having not only part of the Berlin Wall still standing, but having pieces of the Wall erected around the city with the same artistic graffiti covering the pieces from top to bottom. Unfortunately I was not able to get my own picture, but one of the most famous pieces of art on the Berlin Wall is “The Fraternal Kiss” between Leonid Brezhnev and Erich Honecker.
Berlin is often described as a gritty, harsh, and rough-around-the-edges city. Even the mayor of Berlin, Klaus Wowereit, described Berlin as “poor, but sexy.” After spending one week in Berlin, I must admit that Mayor Wowereit is definitely correct in his explanation. Although Berlin tends to be a whirlwind type of city, one thing is certain: Berlin is a city that is sure to captivate your senses.
(c) Maddie Kindig (All photo credit of graffiti belongs to me, except for the one “kissing” picture)