Having heard so much about Berlin, it was a city I expected to fall instantly in love with but the truth is, in a place reputed to be full of artists and students, famed for it's nightlife and shiny new tech start-ups, something felt off. Whilst none of these descriptions are inaccurate they were realities that I found hard to reconcile with Berlin's violent and very recent history, the evidence of which is impossible to ignore.
Among the beautiful landmarks and parks are many poignant WW2 and Berlin wall memorials to fallen soldiers, the victims of Nazi genocide and those who died trying to escape East Berlin. For the first couple of days I really struggled to get to grips with Berlin's dual personality. Haven for creativity versus former war zone. But the reality is that life must go on and creativity and reinvention has and must always play a vital part in that recovery.
Art is everywhere you look in Berlin. Not just in the abstract "everything is art" sense either, it's literally everywhere. Aside from some of the older buildings (of which there are relatively few, post war) you'll be hard pressed to find a wall devoid of at least some form of artistic scrawling. From amateur tags, to large scale intricate paintings and paste-ups, Berlin is a city that expresses itself as blatantly as it does colourfully.
Graffiti and street art is something I've always been fascinated by and drawn to because to me it represents direct action. It speaks of ownership and having something important to say...
...even if that something is "Kelsie
Although next time you want to declare your undying love for someone maybe consider somewhere a little less conspicuous than slap bang on the Berlin wall.
And did you really need to write it twice?
Street art can be as simple or as convoluted as the subject requires (or as the skill level of the artist dictates). It's something that everyone can do, provided they're willing to suspend their fear of potential reprisals of course. With this in mind it's little wonder that a city full of politically switched on creative young people living alongside stark reminders of the repercussions of its past populous' political passivity has turned to this form of art and activism.
In a similar vain to Graffiti, but the curated equivalent, you can not visit Berlin without taking a stroll along the East Side Gallery. This is the largest remaining stretch of the Berlin wall which has been turned into a huge mural, with artists from all over the world being invited to design a section. Many choose to use this as almost an exhibition space while others take the opportunity to make a political statement or pay tribute to those that died trying to cross it. While some of the work is frankly mediocre, and others “nice”, it's worth the trip for the handful of truly thought provoking pieces on display. Although you'll have to do a lot of tourist dodging as they pose, contorted and unnatural for the obligatory Instagram pic (I'd like to say this was a phenomenon I was immune to but as you'll see from the pictures that go with this blog, I was not.).
I loved my time in Berlin. I spent an amazing week with my favourite person in the world. I ate incredible food, got to immerse myself in it's rich yet troubled history, explore (and occasionally get lost in) its vibrant and diverse districts and I drank a lot of really good German beer. My conclusion? One trip isn't enough! Berlin is a city that poses so many questions and I look forward to one day planning a return trip to delve a little deeper and maybe get some answers.
Written by Emily Cooper.