We were treated to a leisurely afternoon walk through Kreuzberg and adjacent Friedrichshain area where a solid core of artists live and work in Berlin. The river divides East and West and served as a natural boundary in the city, so it was natural for many political and artistic statements to be expressed on both sides of the divide.
Its easy to lose one’s bearings in Berlin. Streets swirl around in circles, crooked alleys, and curvy swerves around bumps. The Berlin wall never seems to be far from sight or presence, and the irregular shape of the boundary keeps you guessing which side you are on. Both today and yesterday are often spoken in the same breath, and for that it makes living here fascinating.
The guide who gave us the architectural tour of Potsdamer Platz shared a very balanced view of the rights and liberties taken by the street artists. While not all were political in nature, they certainly were aware of the limits of their art and how to perform. Street art is different from graffiti art. It is planned and presented for others to enjoy or experience, whereas graffiti is intended for groups within a circle or group.
Graffiti art is illegal by nature and therefore must be executed very quickly, without being caught or discovered in the act of the execution. Teams plan and execute the art, so HOW it is done is part of the excitement and danger. Art placed at the tops of buildings require complicated suspension systems, mirrors, bravado, and skill by artists.
While onlookers marvel at the daringness of graffiti artists, street art is much more deliberate and varied. As shown in the photos, there can be paint, stencils, applied images, and many other creative forms on buildings. In either case, the government and building owners have a say in whether the art stays or goes. For political and aesthetic statements, artists have to consider whether public opinion will be swayed to support their cause, or if it will suffer its own demise by being painted over or cannibalized by graffiti over it.
This tour enlightened me to public art. It may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it certainly gave me more reason to appreciate the courage and abilities of the artists who choose this medium for expression.
At the end of the tour, we ended up near Warschauer Strasse, a flea market and large industrial zone with old warehouses was buzzing with locals. It was a very “hip” place with innovative food and drinks offered both inside and outside. I was glad that I carry a map everywhere I go now. It’s easy to let the guides lead you, but that blocks any sensitivity training and ability to keep your bearings!
Yesterday’s tour to Potsdam and Sans Souci Palace was more tame but just as challenging. We spent the better part of a day in the blazing sun and walked over 6 miles from the local train station to the town center, the new chambers of King Friedrich the Great, and surrounding gardens.
The end of the day was capped with a Deutsche Oper performance of “Il Troubadour” (more commonly known as “Il Trovatore”). Got the best seats in the house for 15 Euros, compliments of the Goethe Institute. Below is a view of the attendees enjoying the summer-like weather before the performance at the outdoor terrace.