Gentrification killed Berlin | Why Blu is right
(above) The famous east/west taking their masks off, one of the two pieces painted over by the original creators – photo supposedly by JR himself
Iconic street art piece gone forever
It’s been a long while since I did anything under the pseudonym Silenceisgrand and maybe this is a good moment to dwell on what is happened to my neighborhood in Berlin. I happened to stumble on what Lutz Henke wrote in December 2014 about why Blu and JR, together with then original team decided to paint over some of the most iconic street in Berlin.
It made me realize it has already been over a year and in this short year, gentrification has just gone into overdrive, making Berlin exactly the kind of dead museum that Henke talks about. The article I am talking about was in The Guardian and can be found here.
When I moved to Berlin about 7 years ago, the golden era was already over, but there were still pockets of fresh art around. You could find numerous tucked away fresh pieces by El Bocho, Alias, C215, Alice, and a plethora of local artist. Now, 7 years later, it is all but gone. Stencil art is literally dead and paste-up pieces are very few and far apart. Not even the sticker art has survived the claws of “progress”.
Housing market out of control
There are many reasons for this, but among the major ones is the fact that the rents have gone through the roof and priced out many artists from their old neighborhoods. To find affordable work space is increasingly harder when the rent for “office” space is closing in on 200 Euro per desktop(!) space in whatever shared premises. It’s not helped by the fact the popularity of areas like Kreuzberg, Friedrichshain and even Neukölln with the young and successful has also been its death sentence.
As more and more people whose careers permits them to afford the ever-increasing rents move into these areas, the more the developers and the city wants to present a slick “Apple-esque” environment of trendy cafés, hip boutiques and luxury renovated “alt-bau” housing.
A prime example of an area that has gone from a living breathing environment of art, local business and many times poverty but also a strong community, to a completely sanitized environment overtaken by the bio-generation of trendy white middle-classes is Prenzlauer Berg in the former east of Berlin.
What used to be the very Kreuzberg of the East is now nothing else but nice old building facades and trendy eateries.
We are left with exactly that what Lutz Henke calls “zombification” of Berlin, in which street art to a greater extent only lives in sanitized commissioned spaces, just enough to be trendy but not to disturb any sensitive minds. Art collectives and individual artists, increasingly starved on funding and spaces, sell out to developers and marketing agencies.
Instead of becoming the “dreams of society” as Sigried Kracauer called it, inspiration for the masses, many times thought provoking and bold, it is now watered-down “art” incorporated into someone’s marketing campaign or used as a trend marker by private and state interests.
Typical example is a newly built apartment house by Moritzplatz which has a commissioned artwork on one of it’s side walls. Looks very trendy Berlin but does not change the fact that the apartments are in the luxury division and undoubtedly something that does not benefit the area at all.
Careful with good intentions
Even such a well-meaning project as Urban Nation’s street art museum is exactly that kind of curated space that goes against the basic notion of street art. Where art in public spaces, open to anybody and everybody to take part in, to react to and to discuss, is truly egalitarian the same can hardly be said about curated art spaces.
Sadly Henker together with Blu and JR are right, in that Berlin is becoming a museum of curated art with a very few who can actually live here.
A Berlin with developers, clubs, street art tours, and ever-increasing hordes of young and trendy people that want to live here, which thrives on the image of the wall between east and west and the edgy street images, shoots itself in the foot when in the end there is nobody left to create anything fresh and no wall left to see.
SiG, Berlin, Jan 2017