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OTP's Guide To Street Art: Berlin

Posted: 02/23/2012 7:00 am

The Berlin Wall toppled over more than 20 years ago, turning the whole city into a street art stronghold that still stands tall today. Like the city it decorates, Berlin's street art speaks to the creative, free spirit of its people who fight control by coloring the machine's monotony. Don't hop the border by yourself: OTP's here to paint the picture on how street art unifies East with West in the most graffitified city in the world.

Brief History
Graffiti in Berlin was first thrown up in the early '60s in response to the creation of the Berlin Wall. The Wall was a big, bad front line for the Cold War which separated East (communist) and West Berlin. On both sides, citizens were angry about a literal dividing line that kept people from their families, work and the downright freedom to flounder.

Political tags, promoting peace, started popping up in democratic West Berlin. By the '70s, the art shifted from desperate cries for equality to awesome artwork using stencils and spray paint. Layers of big bubble letters sprawled the entire West side through the '80s and until 1989, when the Wall came down and a new wave of artistic creativity arose.

Commie-controlled East Berlin had finally found its freedom and the formerly oppressed transformed the city streets into colorful canvases portraying the new political progression. Real estate around the Wall was selling for dirt cheap, giving the international starving artist a new home and the city of Berlin a new, creative vibe. Bombed with murals and elaborate street pieces, the artists brought broke richness to Berlin. Currently controlled, inhabited and decorated by the people, it's no wonder that financial Berlin is deep in debt while artistic Berlin continues to thrive.

Artists You Should Know
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El Bocho
El Bocho is a quality-over-quantity kind of guy, but you'll still find his works all over the city. His famed cut-out character, Little Lucy, is usually displayed creatively killing her cat in all sorts of indulgently messed-up ways: shoving it in a toaster, slicing it off a gyro spit or even with an easy knife to the neck. Displayed best in his widely popular surveillance camera pieces, (which mock the government's ever-watching eyes), El Bocho is big on capturing the perception of fear and insecurity in the city.

Blu
Blu is Argentinian, but his works in Berlin are not to be missed. Kreuzberg houses his murals, most famous of which is the depiction of East and West Berlin reunifying through two representative men taking off each other's masks. On the next wall over you'll find the torso of a four-story tall man handcuffed by his riches. "Money ties you down" and "Can't we all just get along?" The guy's got some good points.
 
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CBS
Formed in the mid '90s, the CBS (Cowboys Crew) were a group of co-workers tired of breaking their back for the Man. Their posters, stickers and graffiti mocked local elections, and you'll see their yellow fists punching along every train station as a form of rebellion toward ugly advertisements. Though disbanded in 2005, CBS lives on today through Ugly Teens, several of the original members who mock the youth's abuse of street art by writing in antistyle.
 
Alias
The man with many faces, Alias uses cut-outs and paste-ups that highlight people's alienation in the city. He likes putting his works on crappy old walls to highlight the delapitated urban situation. Though sometimes faceless and hardly ever duplicated, Alias' art is immediately recognizable.

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Linda's Ex
You'll find all sorts of sorrow through the works of Linda's Ex. Usually a confessing phrase or paragraph paired with a lonely face and cries for Linda, his works were a campaign to get his girl back. The project went on for two years, and in time, the whole city was on his side rooting, rallying and meeting at public places awaiting Linda's return. Turns out the whole shebang was a sham. There was no Linda. But still Linda's Ex lives on. We love a guy who plays with people's emotions just because he can. And Linda, if you're reading and are still single, give OTP a call; we'd treat you better.

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XOOOOX
XOOOOX has been hugging and kissing the walls of Berlin for over 10 years. XOOOOX places his pieces selectively and attacks advertisements by mimicking them. The X and O letters are often purposely jumbled; you can mirror them, flip them around, turn 'em upside down-from any vantage point, XOOOOX is all up in your face.

Finding Street Art
A recent claim to fame, street art helped convince UNESCO to give Berlin a title as a "City of Design," a triumphant middle finger to the art-erasing cops.

Central in location, the district Mitte is a street art hotspot. Kunsthaus Tacheles houses dozens of starving artists working up fumes and displaying their work. Head to Mauerpark (or "Wall Park") in nearby Prenzlauer Berg to find a still-standing segment of the Wall. The art here changes constantly as graffiti artists spray battle for a piece of real estate worth more Monopoly money than Park Place and Boardwalk combined.

Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg is largely visited for the East Side Gallery, the biggest remaining Wall piece (at just under a mile) painted by dozens of artists as a freedom memorial. The close by RAW club isn't as sentimental, but there's some great art and even a skate park -- graffiti'd to a pulp, of course.

After a period of historic oppression, the progressively liberal trend that plows forward today is voiced and displayed through the creative artists that live, breathe and decorate Berlin. The street art scene is forever expanding with the city. Designed by the people, broke but sexy and permanently unfinished, Berlin's street art tells the tale of a city moving forward.

-- Chris Platis

 

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