Munich in English - selected by independent Locals for Cosmopolitans, Newcomers and Residents - since 1989

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July 1996

The Writing on the Wall: Graffiti in Munich is not just another pretty Picture

Looking twice at the beauty of graffiti in Munich

Museums and art galleries are winter afternoon affairs, perfect for overcast days but not quite so appealing when the sun is shining. A summertime option for the culture vulture keen to imbibe something visual, is to get on a bike and go graffiti spotting. It's not at all about hunting down the likes of "Billy loves Jane" scrawl, but a search for the real deal: street art. Compared with larger cities known worldwide for their graffiti, such as Berlin and New York, Munich on first glance appears to be graffiti-free. But there is a healthy paradox between Munich's squeaky clean image and minimal crime rate, and its reputation in Germany for producing innovative graffiti art. Newcomers may be surprised to learn that Munich is brimming, often legally, with its own brand and history of spray can artistry. Although graffiti has its roots in protest, the social liberalism of Munich has given sprayers a helping hand by providing areas for graffiti to flourish without harassment. The legalization of some walls in 1984, the increased publicity granted graffiti by the media, as well as the growth of graffiti in heavily trafficked areas, have resulted in graffiti ceasing to be an insider world. Graffiti art has moved from its illegal roots into a commercialized world, where the artists advertise their skills, gain international commissions, and have formed a professional elite. Indeed, it is celebrated in Writing in München - Graffiti Art, published bySchwarzkopf and Schwarzkopf last year, which tells the story of Munich sprayers from the early 1980s through 1995. In Munich's early graffiti, 1983 through 1985, the influence of American graffiti, New York's in particular, was paramount. The American documentary film Wild Style was shown in Germany in 1983 and inspired Munich sprayers to follow New York's lead. These early graffiti guerrillas favored S- and U-Bahn stations, trains and routes, much like New York sprayers' use of the subway. Although they initially copied American styles, the initiation of regular meetings by artists during this period meant that ideas were swapped, and Munich graffiti soon gelled into a style of its own. Artists with street names like ROSCOE and BUTLER developed their own trademarks, and spurred each other on to discover innovative techniques and unlikely places to spray. One of a graffiti artist's main motivations has traditionally been the kick of doing something illegal. A sprayer's pride in evading the law is often evident, with prominent messages such as "You can't catch us!" LOOMIT, an artist based in Munich since 1983 who has achieved international commissions and recognition for his work, explains the motives behind his hobby-turned-career: "It had nothing to do with fame and fortune, just the urge to do something forbidden and creative." Graffiti politics also tend to be anti-establishment: graffiti is often used as a form of public protest by otherwise "silent" members of a community who lack legitimate, or more convenient, methods of expressing their grievances. Graffiti's connection to social discontent was perhaps clearest in Berlin, where, during the 1980s, graffiti on the BerlinWall was almost as famous as the structure itself, covered with images and messages that confronted their unique context. By comparison, Munich graffiti generally expresses a less locally specific social commentary; but considering the backdrop of conservative Bavaria, it's still pretty radical. From international politics, such as Northern Ireland-, "Time for Peace, Time to Go, Brits **** Off", - to opposing junk food and the destruction of rainforests to pure and simple anarchy, - "Believe in your dreams, destroy the system" - Munich's spray artists prove that there's more to street art than just pretty colors. While some may regret the shift from social protest to recognized art form, legal graffiti areas do allow artists to spend time previously filled with risks perfecting their art. The results are outstanding, far beyond what anyone would expect to come out of a can of paint. And the legalization doesn't seem to have diminished the political content. Subjects continue to be anti-fascist, anti-police, "Ich bin nichts, Ich kann nichts, Ich gehe zu Polizei", - and pro-drugs -, "Da Pope smokes dope." It's refreshing to see that behind the veneer of the "big village" Münchener often like to portray, this is a city with the same problems as many others, though perhaps on a smaller scale. Just read the writing on the walls. THE WORD ON THE STREET Graffiti exists, but what does the Munich public actually think about it? Our roving reporters questioned some innocent bystanders. Their answers are in order of age, from young to old: "On empty, ugly walls some graffiti can be nice, but not on my house. People can go into the industrial zone and paint the walls there, maybe it will be an improvement. It could even be considered art. But the central areas of Munich look good already - the colors are nice and there's no need for graffiti here." -FlorianSauer "It is unnecessary. Recently I have seen a lot more graffiti, mostly on public buildings. I don't like it. If people want to paint, they can organize social clubs and paint on material that is removable, not where it stays forever. I don't consider graffiti to be art. I think it can make a building look worse. I see beautiful old buildings in Munich with scrawl on them, and I just don't think it's a good idea. It costs a lot of taxpayers' money to restore them."- Dietrich "On ugly looking houses, it's wonderful! I like it very much. Graffiti is definitely a kind of art. I don't see any reason why it shouldn't be legalized. I don't see enough of it about, especially in the city center. I know of one house in Harlaching on the Mittlerer Ring where the graffiti really stands out, and it looks so good!"-Gudrun Gindel SO WHERE ARE THE HOT SPOTS FOR GRAFFITI SPOTTING? Highly obvious to anyone who commutes daily are the S-Bahn lines exiting the city center. One of the best stretches of line is between Donnersbergerbrücke and Pasing. It might not be the most convenient gallery in Munich, and you'll find yourself wishing the drivers would slow down, but it's definitely worth a look. If you want a more leisurely viewing experience, where you can take in the whole picture at your own speed, try the following walls: The walls behind the Feierwerk's cultural venues on Hansastr. (S/U4 Heimeranplatz) are pretty spectacular, featuring work by renowned artists such as SONIC, SCOUT, TEEN and the VIRUZ group. Due to its high quality, some of the work has lasted quite a few years, while other "classic" pieces have been utilized by later artists and have evolved into completely different works. New art also appears regularly. Tumblingerstr. at its junction with Ruppertstr. has some fine street art, and its close proximity to the Kreisverwaltungsreferat offers a nice contrast between the "system" and the sprayers. There's a nice offering from a Hamburg artist entitled "Alien Friendship," demonstrating the mobility of graffiti artists. If you fancy a more scenic route, take a stroll along the banks of the Isar, where the pedestrian underpasses offer good graffiti spotting territory - especially the stretch from Ludwigsbrücke, on the east side of the river, from the Muffathalle up to Max-Josephbrücke. Keep a lookout at the embankments of the river itself, which some intrepid sprayers have utilized.

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