Berlin, I love you, really, but…some things have to change

berlin street art

I’ve just counted, and Olivier and I have been to Berlin 7 times now.  It helps that we live in Moscow, and it’s not really too far, or too expensive, to pop over there for a wurst or two, and some good beer, from time to time.

We’ve always stayed in the east of Berlin.  It seems to have some charm to it and, for the first 5 times we were there, we stayed in the same nice hotel each time.  The last time we stayed there, however, there was a new owner and he’d made some changes we weren’t quite happy with (including increasing the price), so now we stay in a different hotel but in the same general area.

So, anyway, the area in the east of Berlin is quite trendy, cool, hippy and arty.  Our hotel is in Friedrichshain, and we spend a lot of time in this neighbourhood.  According to Google, it has a punky, alternative vibe.

That’s all fine and dandy.

Graffiti or Street Art?

But, there is graffiti everywhere!  I mean everywhere!  This isn’t just confined to Friedrichshain, there’s graffiti all over Berlin.  But, in my opinion, it’s much worse in Friedrichshain (and maybe also Kreuzberg).

berlin graffiti 1
Welcome to Friedrichshain

I’m not against street art in public places.  One, if it’s approved by the authorities (yes, I can be very conservative sometimes), and two, if it’s not ugly.

This is street art.

berlin street art
Now, this is beautiful street art

I know, ugly and beautiful aren’t fixed conceptions.  It’s relative.  What’s ugly for one person, could be beautiful for another.  However, I honestly can’t see how Berlin continues to live with the amount of illegal and ugly graffiti and other visual pollution in its streets.

Graffiti

Let’s see some examples of what I mean.

berlin graffiti 5
This building is very beautiful, but empty, and completely covered in graffiti and stickers

I know some artists who would say that the graffiti gives a town some life, some charm.  That it allows the people who do this some freedom to express themselves.

berlin graffiti 6
Is this cool or charming? Graffiti in a children’s playground

But what about respect for other people’s property?  What about living in a clean and civilised society where you don’t vandalise public property?  There must be some rules in life, like it or not.  But, it seems that Berlin disregards this and it has become normal and almost acceptable to graffiti everything in sight.

berlin graffiti 2
The door bells of a building
Graffiti4
Pin me!

Posters

And then, we have the bars, clubs and other establishments who find it necessary to put their posters up all over the place.  I know it’s important to promote your business, and to announce concerts.  I agree it’s an important part of business and life.  It’s nice to see posters for concerts while I’m out walking.

But, why doesn’t anyone take responsibility for where these things are stuck?  There are big pillars that seem to be made for specifically for sticking up posters, but people seem to think that ANY surface, or even if it’s not a surface (see the wire fence below), is fair game for sticking up posters.

posters on windows
Posters on the window of an empty building

Here are some posters on street-light poles.  Can’t they remove the previous posters before sticking up new ones?  Look how many old posters are still on the pole!  Years worth!  Who decided that it’s ok to just stick more and more posters on top of existing posters?

posters on a pole
Years of sticking posters on this pole

And here, they even stick posters on wire fences!  Incredible!

berlin posters 1
They even stick posters on wire fences – unbelievable!

And stickers!  There are stickers everywhere in Berlin!  On posts, on bins, on telephones, doors, windows, letterboxes etc.

These posts are lovingly decorated with stickers.

berlin stickers
Each post is covered in stickers

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Clean up your town!

So, my question is, why doesn’t the city of Berlin deal with this?  Why don’t they have anyone out there taking care of the cleaning up of Berlin streets, removing illegal posters and stickers, and cleaning off or painting over graffiti?  And don’t the owners of the buildings care what they look like?

berlin graffiti 3
Berlin graffiti 4
Besides the graffiti, this door has a hole cut out of it!

We did see, on our second last day there recently, that Berlin had taken some steps to clean up the town.

The poster pillars had been covered in blank paper, ready for a new lot of posters to be stuck up.  And, they’d replaced some of the orange bins in the street.  Look, no graffiti or posters!

berlin pole 1
This pole is clean and waiting for some new posters
berlin bin
We were kind of shocked to see a clean bin…
berlin bin 2
…because most of them look like this

But it just might not be enough.  In Berlin, there seems to be a mentality that anything goes as far as defacing property in the name of art.

I know that graffiti exists in cities and towns all over the world.  In some places it’s cleaned off when it’s discovered.  In Moscow a lot of times it’s removed by painting over it, often after only a few days of being done.

There are some places where it’s rampant – along railway lines, for example.  And abandoned buildings.  I can almost understand that.

But, buildings that people live in?  Public property that people use?  Why is it so ‘normal’ in Berlin, and seemingly accepted, to live like this?

berlin post box
A public post box – stickered and graffitied

I still love Berlin

I love Berlin, I really do, and I’m sure I’ll go back there again and again until the end of my life.  But I’ll never get used to seeing the ugly, visual pollution that is so dominant there.

berlin graffiti in park
And they’ve even graffitied art in a public park

It’s ugly and it’s very, very anti-social.  (Do I sound old?)

What’s your opinion on graffiti and other ‘artistic’ expressions in public places?  Is it art?  Is it ok to graffiti in public places?  Let me know in the comments, or join us over on Facebook for a discussion.

~ Cheryl

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Author: Cheryl

I'm an Australian woman who is now living in a village in rural Bulgaria. I lived for 12 years in Moscow, Russian Federation, working as an English language teacher. My current loves are my husband and my vegetable garden.

16 thoughts on “Berlin, I love you, really, but…some things have to change”

  1. I’ve never been to Berlin but I have seen other European cities with lots of graffiti. I like the arty graffiti but not the ugly tagging that goes on. I’m with you it’s more an anti-social act. #mlstl

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    1. Hi Debbie, yes, it’s very common in other European cities too. What really surprises me is that it just seems to be accepted as normal. ‘When I was young…’ it really wasn’t so common to deface your city so violently. Sad state of affairs really (starting to sound like my grandmother!). Thanks for visiting, nice to see you again. 🙂

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  2. This is actually an issue in most of Europe. When I was in Florence years ago I was shocked at the graffiti and so saddened by it. It’s as if there’s a disrespect for historical buildings because there are so many old buildings in Europe. But it’s sad to see graffiti on beautiful old buildings. Visiting from MSTL.

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    1. Hi Amy, yes, it’s a huge issue. I just don’t know how it’s going to change. It makes me sad too. So much disrespect shown by those who do it. I’m still shocked when I see it – I wish it would go away 😦 Thanks for visiting and commenting. 🙂

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  3. We stayed for a week in Berlin and just loved it. However, I’m certainly not a fan of graffiti and posters. I do love street art because it shows talent but graffiti that has no meaning and is just tagging looks ugly. Unfortunately, Berlin is not the only city with this problem. Thanks for sharing your thoughts at #MLSTL and also for bringing back some lovely memories of our time we spent there. Have a great week. x

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    1. Hi Sue, yes, I love Berlin too! I can’t really say why, it’s just a nice ‘vibe’ there. 🙂 There is some really great street art in Berlin, but even a lot of that is covered by graffiti, too. I’d love to see a solution to the problem, but I’m not hopeful about it. Thanks for dropping by and so happy that I was able to bring back some nice memories for you. Have a great week, too! 🙂

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  4. I do not like graffiti and I don’t care how artistic it is. I hate to say it but I doubt I would visit an area that is covered in graffiti to me it looks unsafe. But maybe I am old. lol

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    1. Hi Victoria, I’m with you, even when it’s claimed to be artistic if it’s not authorised then it’s just criminal damage. I never feel unsafe in places like this, I’m usually with my scary looking husband 😉 Thanks for visiting and commenting, nice to see you again. 🙂

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      1. Yeah, you’re probably right. Actually, I think if I lived in Berlin I’d also be a little more afraid than I am as a tourist. I don’t know if there are gangs in Berlin, but there are plenty of drunks and homeless people in the east part of Berlin. It’s awful feeling unsafe in your own country, isn’t it? I felt unsafe at night in Australia when I lived there, but funnily enough I don’t feel unsafe in Moscow (even when I’m not with my husband). Maybe it’s because there’s no graffiti 😉

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  5. What a shame to see so much desicration – beautiful buildings covered in junk, and all that really ugly graffiti is an eyesore. I love public art and street art is often really innovative, but crass and repetitive graffiti is just horrible. I wonder why they don’t crack down on it?
    Thanks for linking up with us at MLSTL and I’ve shared on my SM 🙂

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    1. Hi Leanne, yes, it really is sad! I do feel a loss when I look at the damage people have done to the lovely old buildings there (and not only in Berlin). I’m really not sure why they can’t do something about it, I guess it’s too late and has become a cultural thing. Thanks for visiting. 🙂

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  6. I’m not keen on graffiti, makes everything look such a mess and an eyesore. There’s art, proper art, some are talented. But alot is an eyesore like this. It is a real shame!

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    1. Hi Marion 🙂 I don’t like it either, but you know, there are some people who do (mostly they’re a lot younger than me!). The world is changing, and not always in a good way. Things like graffiti just shouldn’t be socially acceptable. A agree, it’s an eyesore. I hope someone finds a way to change this trend. Thanks for popping in and commenting. Have a great Sunday! 🙂

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  7. I can’t believe the art installations in the park are covered in graffiti. To me, if you want to claim that your graffiti is art then why are you destroying someone else’s work of art? And I believe there is a huge difference between graffiti and street art. I’ve not been to Berlin but I watched an episode of House Hunters International where a couple was looking for an apartment in Berlin. Each place the real estate agent took them had some kind of graffiti on it. Not only did that surprise me, but I was even more surprised when they entered the building and there was a gorgeous, modern apartment. I’ve always associated graffiti with run down or empty buildings.

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    1. Hi Jennifer, yes, I was sad when I saw the art in the park covered in ugly graffiti. I just wonder what kind of person would do something like that? What kind of upbringing did they have? Why do they think it’s ok? So many questions but unfortunately there seems to be no answers. Yes, I imagine that inside these graffitied buildings people have lovely flats, it’s just a shame that others can’t respect the exterior of the buildings that people live in. Thank you for visiting, and for the comment. Enjoy the rest of your week. 🙂

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