Street Art to go – a Graffiti Walk through Berlin
For five years now, a lethargic looking man with a yellow head has been standing on Oppelner St. in Berlin-Kreuzberg looking listlessly around the neighborhood. Now and again, passersby stop in front of the peculiar fellow, point a finger at him and then take a picture. He is of colossal height and not of flesh and blood. No, he is two-dimensional and the product of the urban art duo Os Gêmeos from São Paulo, Brazil, who painted him on the wall of a building as part of Backjumps, a street art series. The motif is one of the highlights of a nearly 3-hour walking tour of Kreuzberg offered regularly by Matze Jung (33), Martin Gegenheimer (32) and David Kammerer (45). This time they are taking a group of 23 people from 11 to 56 years of age on a meander through the Wrangelkiez district, over the Oberbaum Bridge to the East Side Gallery and finishing near the Berlin East train station. The group stops repeatedly to have a gander at painted walls and doors, look inside a courtyard or just listen to Matze Jung's narrative. He explains to them the various writing styles and speculates whether the pieces have political significance or not.
Graffiti is not vandalism
“We have all been spraying for years and, as political scientists and sociologists, have experience and knowledge of the subculture. We just want to show interested people a different angle on the graffiti and images,” says Jung. He and his two co-guides are volunteers at the Archiv für Jugendkulturen (lit. Archive of Youth Cultures) where they hold speeches, do workshops and run the blog (graffitiarchiv.wordpress.com). They advocate for graffiti to be recognized as a modern form of expression instead of as vandalism, and support its use a tool for working with youth. Their employer, the Archive of Youth Cultures, has been collecting authentic examples of the art form from various youth cultures since 1998 as well as doing research, consulting with municipalities, institutions and associations, and publishing its own in-house newspapers and book series.
In late 2007 the Graffiti Archive blog joined forces with the Archive of Youth Cultures. Its collection consists of roughly 6,000 books, 400 scientific manuscripts, 28,000 periodicals, 4,000 CDs, LPs, DVDs and videos as well as thousands of news clippings and fliers. The club receives no financing from the state. It is supported by donations, workshops and fundraising activities like the graffiti walking tours, which have taken place two or three times a month since May 2011. “We have had school classes, art-loving retirees and social workers,” says Jung.
Felt-tip markers and spray cans
The walking tour, which embarks from the Archive of Youth Cultures at Fidicin St. 3 in Kreuzberg, begins with a one-hour presentation on the history and styles of graffiti. Participants find out that graffiti first became popular at the end of the 1960s in the USA, after which there was an increasing number of writers leaving their names with felt-tip pens and spray cans all over public areas. In the 1980s the movement made its way over to Europe. Motifs in the scene are extremely diverse, but the core purpose is to get your name out there. “Most writers are looking for recognition, some want to impress a girl, and others are just out for the adventure of it,” says Martin Gegenheimer.
Between art and property damage
Graffiti has always been caught between being perceived as art and being seen as malicious property defacement. “Writing graffiti could be seen as an alternative use of municipal spaces,” says Matze Jung. It is a form of social critique and a way of participating in urban life. Some are bothered by what they see as the tarnishing of public areas while others wouldn't trade the wild styles and colorful images for anything. Noah Jungegger (12), who is taking the walking tour with his dad, Daniel Nachla (34), is one of the latter, and two teachers from the Alice Salomon University are also fascinated by the artistic side of graffiti. Elke Josties (53) teaches social and cultural work and is interested in the professional opportunities for graffiti and street artists. Her colleague Ulrike Hemberger (57) teaches media studies. “We are interested in how youth cultures express themselves and what people who work with youth are doing to support that,” explains Hemberger. On the graffiti walk the two teachers certainly got a unique perspective on a slice of Berlin's youth work and culture.
works as a freelance journalist in Berlin.
Translation: Kevin White
Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V., Internet-Redaktion
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