Berlin is a graffiti artist’s playground and anyone who has wandered Kreuzberg’s colourful streets has likely stumbled upon the monumental murals that have come to characterise the district and its surrounds. For some, the stories and artists behind the art are just as fascinating as the public masterpieces themselves.
SEE OUR GALLERY: A Photo Tour of Berlin's Street Art
Astronaut/Cosmonaut, Victor Ash
Typically considered the largest stencil artwork in the world for its appearance, Ash’s Astronaut/Cosmonaut was painted without a traditional cut-out template. Rather, it was designed on a grid (to scale) before being painstakingly transferred – square by square – to a 300-square-metre wall on Mariannenstrasse. The image was intentionally positioned off-centre so that, at night, a shadow cast by flags at a nearby car dealership would appear to be held by the cosmonaut. Although the flags have been removed since the mural was painted in 2007, it leaves a lasting impression.
Rounded Heads, Nomad
A giant of the Berlin street-art scene for 20 years, Nomad has artworks hanging in the homes of Hollywood stars such as Salma Hayek, Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher. Apparently, Kutcher was so taken by the German’s work that he flew the artist to Las Vegas to paint a mural on the roof of its Planet Hollywood hotel. The story thereafter is murky but – depending on who you ask – Nomad, inspired by skateboarding, hardcore punk, graffiti, hip-hop and the rave countercultures of the ’80s, was allegedly so disenchanted by the superficiality of celebrity in the United States that he hasn’t painted a mural since. Today, he lives and works in Germany, producing small-scale works in his studio in Grunewald.
Working with a conservative monochrome palette, Belgian artist ROA largely depicts the life cycles (and inevitable decay) of animals native to the region in which he’s working. This particular mural, commissioned for an exhibition in 2011, originally depicted a deceased pig and caused an outcry among members of a local mosque that directly faced it. Unaware of its location and deeply apologetic, ROA revised the artwork – adding animals such as the mouflon, or wild sheep.
Yellow Man, Os Gêmeos
Early in their careers, Brazilian-born identical twins Otavio and Gustavo Pandolfo – known as “Os Gêmeos”, meaning “the twins” – discovered they shared (literal) dreams about the same yellow-skinned figure. The disproportionate, often genderless, figure has come to characterise their artistic style, which draws from family portraits, Brazilian folklore and social and political life in their home town of São Paulo. While hundreds of their trademark characters can be found from New York to Milan, their five-storey contribution to Berlin’s street-art scene looms over Oppelner Strasse.
The mural that is no more
In 2007, artists known as Blu and JR painted two huge murals – then considered Berlin’s most iconic street art – on Cuvrystrasse. A commentary on an increasingly gentrified city, they depicted two east- and west-side gang figures simultaneously unmasking each other and a businessman handcuffed by two gold watches. Seven years later, a band of fellow artists painted over the murals at Blu’s command after discovering that the land on which they stood was to become a multimillion-dollar property investment that would see a camp of artists evicted and effectively make the artworks privately owned. As a result, the development was so devalued that it never went ahead, meaning the blacked-out walls are still visible from the Oberbaum Bridge and well worth a look for the statement they still make today.
Image: By Rae Allen from Brisbane, Australia (Round heads by Nomad), via Wikimedia Commons