Thursday, September 15, 2011
"Berlin ist Arm, aber Sexy."
Berlin's walls have more stories to tell than most. They were pelted with bullets, if not completely destroyed, during WWII. They kept two worlds from crossing both literally and metaphorically. Although most of the city's sordid history is now in the past, the scars of violence pockmark it. Germany is nation that will never forget what's happened on its soil, but in order to successfully forge a new identity, one cannot destroy the past or merely cover it up, but one can transform it.
[Berlin's famous Synagogue, rattled with bullet holes in certain spots.]
Berlin has used art to assuage its troubled history. The city is coated in murals in effort to assert its new identity or to finally give one to those who were not allowed to have an identity before. They're unavoidable as they collage metro stations and buildings. The effect is that every pedestrian, from a native to a tourist, understands that Berlin is a city that must be allowed to express itself. Naturally, this has engendered pure art as well. Not every piece of graffiti makes a political statement, some are just aesthetic attempts to make Berlin beautiful again.
[Look! It's Gatsby in Berlin!]
The city motto can be found in the title of this post, "Berlin ist Arm, aber Sexy." This translates to, "Berlin is poor, but sexy." The motto was coined by Berlin's mayor, Klaus Wowereit. It's one of the poorer major European cities, with a large debt from reunification efforts and a mecca for the starving artist cliche. Yet instead of this economic backdrop leading to riots and protests, Berliners enjoy their biergartens and thriving local arts scene more than ever, thus leading to the serendipitous motto. Consequently, I found Berlin to be one of the cheapest European city vacations I've ever taken, with a lot the amazing opportunities I was able to take part of being completely free. Berlin has created an arts community that everyone can benefit from regardless of whether they have money or not. The murals are only a side-effect of this.
[Wowereit's campaign ads for the upcoming Berlin elections. He is a member of the Social Democratic Party and one of the few openly gay German politicians, famous for coming out before the 2001 mayoral election by saying, "Ich bin schwul, und das ist auch gut so." ("I'm gay, and that is good the way it is.")]
[A famous arts collective that has been fighting eviction from this building for a few decades now.]
[Apparently the "sky" over Berlin includes these angel-donkey-dog things. If anyone has a clue of what these are, let me know.]
Perhaps the best token of Berlin's free-for-all expression is the East Side Gallery. It is at its most basic a communal mural and at best a memorial to freedom. Using the former Berlin Wall as a canvas, the East Side Gallery consists of 105 paintings by international artists. Commissioned in 1990, it's a symbolic gesture to give East Berliners a chance to express their creativity. For West Berlin, the Wall was always a place of artwork and protest, but East Berliners couldn't cover up the oppressive gray until now. What resulted is no longer a depressing piece of history, but the largest and longest lasting open-air gallery and a must-see for an art aficionado or politico buff.
["Man love," as two American hipsters called it.]
Berlin has plenty of art hanging on museum walls too (and I highly recommend the modern art museum for a fantastic pop art exhibition featuring all of Andy Warhol's Marilyn's, stunning and numbing to see all at once), but you'd be missing the real creativity if you spent all your time in a temperature-controlled room. Berlin's art is living and breathing, exposed to the elements and everyone. At first the plethora of graffiti is shocking, but it has helped save the city from its history and even its economy. Who ever says art has no purpose, should go to Berlin.