#FREIHEITBERLIN: From mural to urban art

It started with a tree: urban art has been a part of Berlin since the 1970s. At the first Berlin Mural Fest being held in mid-May this year, the international urban art scene will celebrate the capital's unique freedom by painting oversized murals.

It's been said that you shouldn't try to transplant an old tree. Artists of Berlin's urban art scene have nevertheless dared to do just that and have recreated the "World Tree" by performance artist Ben Wagin on a wall opposite Kulturfabrik Moabit on Lehrter Straße. The massive mural which has adorned a firewall at Siegmunds Hof near the Tiergarten S-Bahn station since 1975 shows a bare tree. It screams its pain into the smoke that a huge exhaust pipe blasts towards it. An artistic warning against polluting our environment.

The "World Tree" is considered Berlin's oldest mural and is therefore a part of the city's cultural heritage. Nevertheless, after more than four decades, it met the fate of many murals: it disappeared behind a new office building being built on the neighboring property. The unveiling of the new World Tree on May 5 in Berlin-Moabit, just a couple of miles from its old home is a double signal for Berlin's urban art scene. It heralded not only the first transplantation of a mural, but also the very first Berlin Mural Fest. By May 18, some 100 street artists, sprayers, and illustrators from all over the world are adding colorful works of art to walls throughout the city. They will then be revealed to the public on May 19 and 20. [] "Berlin is currently #1 in urban street art. We want this festival to increase its profile," says Kimo von Rekowski of The Dixons, a Berlin collective.

Berlin offers everyone the chance to become themselves. There are still many large open spaces here. To be able to do what we love: that's what freedom means for me.
Kimo von Rekowski, „Die Dixons“

A huge open-air gallery

Rekowski and his buddies Jörn Reiners and Marco Bollenbach came up with the idea of turning Berlin into a huge open-air gallery years ago to show what is currently happening in the Berlin and international urban art scene. However, the idea only became concrete after the great success of the "The Haus," a temporary art exhibition in 2017 where the trio temporarily revived an empty bank building in old West Berlin. Success gave them the courage to think big. "We drew up the concept and implemented it within a few months," says von Rekowski. The three financed the project through the profits made by their association Berlin Art Bang e. V. from "The Haus." The city also provided some funding. 

The grants being paid to the participating artists are small. The primary goal is to show respect to the artists for their work. Because, at the Berlin Mural Fest, only one currency counts: passion. Well-known names of the scene are also participating. Among them El Bocho, who covered the façade of Stattbad Wedding in 2009 with the world's largest tape art picture. The Klebebande tape art collective from Kreuzberg will also be there; they are know for their organic and geometric forms that cover complete façades. Others, such as Greek street art artist Insane51, work with photorealistic 3D effects that are only fully visible with special lighting. The graffiti of the One Truth collective, on the other hand, has been a formative part of the Swiss urban art scene for years. The two brothers have painted a horse head mural at the Görlitzer Bahnhof U-Bahn station in Kreuzberg, right next to the "Nature Morte" mural by Belgian artist Roa from 2011. One thing is certain: no two murals at the festival will be the same. "There's no formula, no guidelines. Every artist has their own style. In this respect, the Berlin Mural Fest is also very broadly based," says Kimo von Rekowski, adding: "We don't want the murals to provoke or shock; instead, they should inspire."

Street-Art is a part of Berlin's history

The first murals were made in West Berlin in the 1970s, when they were partly financed by the city. There were also competitions to paint murals in East Berlin. The works created in West Berlin during the 1970s and during the squatter period of the 1980s often had a political statement, like Ben Wagin's "World Tree" or the mural "Model Deutschland" created by Marilyn Green, Rainer Warzecha, and Christoph Böhm on Anhalter Straße in 1981. Illusionist painting was also popular. One extant example is the "Zipper" gable painting by artist Gert Neuhaus on Zillestraße in Charlottenburg. Illegal underground art thus existed amicably alongside works commissioned mostly by housing associations. Sometimes the works overlapped, then often disappeared again. That's still the case today.

In 2005, Kreuzberg magazine Backjumps gave Berlin's street art a new platform and integrated international art into the local context. Artists like Banksy, Swoon, Blu, Os Gêmeos, Roa, and Obey became icons of the scene. Some murals, like Victor Ash's "Astronaut/Cosmonaut" on Oranienstraße in Kreuzberg, are now popular spots for tourist selfies.

It remains to be seen whether some of the murals being created for the Mural Fest will also become famous. But the creators and participants don't care much about that. Because in the foreground of the event is the enthusiasm for the cause and the sheer fun of it. "Berlin offers everyone the chance to become themselves. There are still many large open spaces here. To be able to do what we love: that's what freedom means for me," Kimo von Rekowski says, adding "Berlin is our city and we support all those who work for freedom, art, and fairness."

A creative sign of cosmopolitan openness and tolerance

The be Berlin-Aktion #FREIHEITBERLIN has many of the same goals as the Berlin Mural Fest: As part of the competition, Berliners as well as creative people from all over the world could submit their design proposals for the design of individual concrete letters for the colorful logo being installed on Washingtonplatz in front of the main train station during the festival. With this, the capital and the international street art scene are setting a creative example for cosmopolitan openness and tolerance.

The Berlin Mural Fest app, which will be available for download shortly before the event, as well as the festival website will reveal exactly where the festival's murals will be located. There will also be a colorful supporting program with hip-hop, skate contests, rap battles, and indie, soul, and funk beats to accompany the live painting. Everyone can discover the highlights of the Berlin Mural Fest for themselves.

If you should go to the Greifswalder Straße S-Bahn station, you can see a tree on the firewall of a high-rise building: the mural by street art duo Herakut shows branches growing out of two children's hair. The dress of the mother is adorned with a Martin Luther quotation in several languages: "If I knew the world would end tomorrow, I would plant a tree today." A strong statement, which will hopefully last a long time on the mural...

Photos (from top, le. n. ri.)
1-4: Berlin Mural Fest, 5-7: Die Dixons,  8: Daniela Uhlig©The Haus, 9: insane51©The Haus, 10: AKte one u. Cren ©The Haus, 11: Klebebande©The Haus, 12: El Bocho©The Haus


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