‘See this?’ Mattie our Berliner tour guide points at a paint pot lid dangling from a pipe above us. We’re under a railway bridge and the walls are covered with stickers, sketches and words, but it’s this humble object that’s caught his eye. Apparently, it’s been left by one of the most established street artists in Berlin.
‘Every time he finishes a pot of paint, this guy, people call him 6, draws a smiley face on the lid and leaves it somewhere,’ Mattie says.
The artist known as ‘6’ spends his life scrawling the number 6 all over the city. Mattie reckons this is either because 6 is a quick number to write, or because ‘six’ sounds a bit like ‘sex’. But no one knows for sure.
Graffiti is illegal here, but like artist’s squats and underground raves, it’s become an accepted part of the cultural backdrop. Stickers and paste-ups are more of a grey area in the eyes of the law; so many artists are choosing these materials instead. And the East Side Gallery on part of the Berlin Wall is an official outdoor space for graffiti artists (although it’s still illegal to scribble on top of the commissioned work).
The Wall made graffiti synonymous with Berlin. Everyone’s seen the profound paintings from a time when armed guards, razor wire and huge perimeters separated east from west.
As you walk through the city, you’ll spot a long, thin metal bracket in the pavement that marks where the wall once stood. And once you have your bearings, you’ll see that amazing graffiti can be found on either side of the old divide.
The artist Blu creates enormous images that scale entire buildings. From businessmen in shackles to a baby made out of thousands of tiny babies, Blu’s given Kreuzberg residents a lot to think about.
And buried over in the Mitte district is an artist hangout called MonsterKabinett, which is surrounded by pictures of robots, cat murderers, sexy ladies and even Ai Wei Wei.
This tight knit community of artists is constantly updating the look and feel of the place with their signature styles. Which means every time you visit, there’s something new to see.
Sadly, many of the old haunts are disappearing due to raising rent prices and long drawn out battles with landowners. Even one of the most established artists squats, Tacheles, is almost extinct. If you can’t go and see it soon, sign the petition. It may buy you some time.
Next time: New York City vs. London…