I’ve just counted, and Olivier and I have been to Berlin 7 times now. It helps that we live in Moscow, and it’s not really too far, or too expensive, to pop over there for a wurst or two, and some good beer, from time to time.
We’ve always stayed in the east of Berlin. It seems to have some charm to it and, for the first 5 times we were there, we stayed in the same nice hotel each time. The last time we stayed there, however, there was a new owner and he’d made some changes we weren’t quite happy with (including increasing the price), so now we stay in a different hotel but in the same general area.
So, anyway, the area in the east of Berlin is quite trendy, cool, hippy and arty. Our hotel is in Friedrichshain, and we spend a lot of time in this neighbourhood. According to Google, it has a punky, alternative vibe.
That’s all fine and dandy.
Graffiti or Street Art?
But, there is graffiti everywhere! I mean everywhere! This isn’t just confined to Friedrichshain, there’s graffiti all over Berlin. But, in my opinion, it’s much worse in Friedrichshain (and maybe also Kreuzberg).
I’m not against street art in public places. One, if it’s approved by the authorities (yes, I can be very conservative sometimes), and two, if it’s not ugly.
This is street art.
I know, ugly and beautiful aren’t fixed conceptions. It’s relative. What’s ugly for one person, could be beautiful for another. However, I honestly can’t see how Berlin continues to live with the amount of illegal and ugly graffiti and other visual pollution in its streets.
Let’s see some examples of what I mean.
I know some artists who would say that the graffiti gives a town some life, some charm. That it allows the people who do this some freedom to express themselves.
But what about respect for other people’s property? What about living in a clean and civilised society where you don’t vandalise public property? There must be some rules in life, like it or not. But, it seems that Berlin disregards this and it has become normal and almost acceptable to graffiti everything in sight.
And then, we have the bars, clubs and other establishments who find it necessary to put their posters up all over the place. I know it’s important to promote your business, and to announce concerts. I agree it’s an important part of business and life. It’s nice to see posters for concerts while I’m out walking.
But, why doesn’t anyone take responsibility for where these things are stuck? There are big pillars that seem to be made for specifically for sticking up posters, but people seem to think that ANY surface, or even if it’s not a surface (see the wire fence below), is fair game for sticking up posters.
Here are some posters on street-light poles. Can’t they remove the previous posters before sticking up new ones? Look how many old posters are still on the pole! Years worth! Who decided that it’s ok to just stick more and more posters on top of existing posters?
And here, they even stick posters on wire fences! Incredible!
And stickers! There are stickers everywhere in Berlin! On posts, on bins, on telephones, doors, windows, letterboxes etc.
These posts are lovingly decorated with stickers.
Clean up your town!
So, my question is, why doesn’t the city of Berlin deal with this? Why don’t they have anyone out there taking care of the cleaning up of Berlin streets, removing illegal posters and stickers, and cleaning off or painting over graffiti? And don’t the owners of the buildings care what they look like?
We did see, on our second last day there recently, that Berlin had taken some steps to clean up the town.
The poster pillars had been covered in blank paper, ready for a new lot of posters to be stuck up. And, they’d replaced some of the orange bins in the street. Look, no graffiti or posters!
But it just might not be enough. In Berlin, there seems to be a mentality that anything goes as far as defacing property in the name of art.
I know that graffiti exists in cities and towns all over the world. In some places it’s cleaned off when it’s discovered. In Moscow a lot of times it’s removed by painting over it, often after only a few days of being done.
There are some places where it’s rampant – along railway lines, for example. And abandoned buildings. I can almost understand that.
But, buildings that people live in? Public property that people use? Why is it so ‘normal’ in Berlin, and seemingly accepted, to live like this?
I still love Berlin
I love Berlin, I really do, and I’m sure I’ll go back there again and again until the end of my life. But I’ll never get used to seeing the ugly, visual pollution that is so dominant there.
It’s ugly and it’s very, very anti-social. (Do I sound old?)
What’s your opinion on graffiti and other ‘artistic’ expressions in public places? Is it art? Is it ok to graffiti in public places? Let me know in the comments, or join us over on Facebook for a discussion.