Home Book Summary Table of Contents Max Hofstetter
The Berlin Book of Lists

    Located along the natural East/West border of the Spree River, the largest remaining stretch of the Berlin Wall also features some of the oldest and most famous graffiti in the whole city .  When the Wall came down in late 1989, this 1.3-kilometer stretch was preserved as the longest open-air gallery in the entire world, exhibiting more than one hundred murals from a wide variety of artists, each in some way commenting on the huge political changes of 1989 .  One of its most iconic images is the Bruderkuss (fraternal kiss) between former Soviet Premiere Leonid Brezhnev and Erich Honecker, the final East German head of state, painted by Dmitri Wrubel .  The kiss in question could never be confused with a peck on the cheek.

    A comprehensive restoration of the murals, primarily conducted by the original artists, was completed in 2009, allowing the work to return to its original condition after two decades of exposure to the elements and vandalism .  To see some less iconic graffiti, simply walk along the far side of the wall facing the river .  Plagued by contradictory desires by numerous groups, this so-called and extremely controversial “West Side Gallery” may well become something official in the near future, but at the moment offers more than a thousand meters of an enormous mixture of graffiti . 

    The fact that the Berlin skyline is still studded with cranes more than twenty years after the fall of the Wall and the reunification of the city serves to give you the faintest impression of exactly what things must have been like in 1989 .  The Spree River, one of the city’s most beautiful and important natural resources, spent the era of divided Germany serving primarily as a militarized border, ensuring that despite having a central river like most European cities, Berlin would see its waterfront develop very, very differently.

    The section of the Spree between the Oberbaumbrücke and the Elsenbrücke, the Osthafen, has been gradually restored and renewed for years .  Most well known for name-brand tenants such as MTV and Universal Studios, this former dock and shipping yard stretches along the river for an entire kilometer .  The huge amount of work taking place here also means that parts of the area have been more or less abandoned for nearly two decades, providing many of Berlin’s graffiti crews with a peerless playground for trying out new techniques . 

    If you notice a certain geographical anomaly upon entering the Mauerpark, if it feels like a giant rectangle dropped smack dab in the middle of a neighborhood, there’s a good reason for that: That’s what it is .  When the Berlin Wall was erected in 1961, the East Germans simply built the park directly along the German/German border, putting it up more or less overnight .  If you bear in mind that Mauer is German for “wall,” then you’re well on your way to understanding what the Mauerpark is, a spectacularly repurposed site of the former wall, transformed into what has become one of the city’s most beloved parks.

    The wall on top of the hill, festooned in Day-Glo graffiti bright enough to light up the dimmest day of the Berlin winter, is in fact exactly what you might assume .  It is an authentic piece of the Berlin Wall, now given to the public as a graffiti wall .  Walk along, check out the latest trends in spraying or even bring along your own media and make your own contribution (just don’t necessarily expect it to be there the next time you come back) .  Take a minute to enjoy the swings built into the hilltop; views like this are a rarity in a city as flat as Berlin . 

    A funny thing happened in the summer of 2006; one of the Berlin’s biggest construction sites, Berlin Central Station, was completed just in time for the World Cup and a section of town near the border of Mitte and Wedding suddenly experienced a profound rebirth .  Heidestraße, located 100 meters from Berlin Central Station, suddenly became an integral part of both the city’s transportation infrastructure and art scene .  More than twenty galleries are now located up and down this street, formerly the site of various companies and depots serving freight trains .  While most of the gallery buildings have been repainted and renovated, the numerous active and inactive warehouse and industrial buildings on this stretch offer an impressive collection of Berlin graffiti . 

    If you were going to pick just one street to take in all of your graffiti in Berlin, it would be hard to choose a better one than Rigaerstraße .  Located just a few blocks away from the bland collection of generic bars and cafés that is Simon-Dach-Straße, the last bastion of Berlin’s once formidable “alternative residential projects” (squats) is northern Friedrichshain is currently a battleground between punks and yuppies .  Graffiti has become the lingua franca in an increasingly nasty turf war that has since moved beyond generalities and statements of independence to the burning of cars and other literal threats .  It’s the story of Berlin, ever recapitulated: Sober, beautifully renovated building façades stand side to side with buildings festooned with slogans and artwork layered over the gently crumbling plaster .  The graffiti scrawled on the side of these structures both comments on and becomes part of the constant state of flux.

Copyright © 2012 Brandenburg Books.  All rights reserved.