Berlin & Prague through the eyes of a street art amateur

This article was created for The Travel Project by @bennnnnnnngie, a photographer and Travel Project partner from Vancouver, Canada.

As a photographer who shoots predominantly in natural environments, the prospect of shooting in a city was definitely intimidating. I can’t even remember the last time I photographed anything urban so that alone put me out of my comfort zone, not to mention the fact that I know relatively little about street art.

But when The Travel Project proposed the idea of travelling to Berlin & Prague to get a better idea of the way in which street art in these cities can inform your understanding of them, I had to do it. I’ve never been to Europe before even though it’s been on my list for years, and furthermore my Dad is half German. Whilst he never actually lived in Germany my Grandmother did, leaving just before the war to move over to Canada, so I grew up hearing stories of her childhood and the places she once called home.

What I discovered in these two cities utterly fascinated me. I don’t think you ever really consider why street art exists, you just accept that it’s there and it’s cool to look at, but going with the particular purpose of exploring the why made the experience, and my understanding of the cities, so much more worthwhile. Street art is an incredible outlet for people who wouldn’t normally have the chance to have their opinions heard. The pieces of art I saw reflected the spirit of the times, and in some instances the graffiti was 40-50 years old, so it’s really quite transformative seeing these snapshots of history frozen in time.

One particular piece that resonated with me in Berlin, was by an artist called ROA. It showed these very detailed dead animals hanging from the building, which although this sounds morbid was in fact quite beautiful. It made me visualize the city around me and get a feel for what it was like before people came and settled there. And this is what I really discovered about street art; the power it has to make you feel and think about things in a way you’ve never done before. It opens your eyes to a new city in an entirely new way.

So in that vein, I wanted to share some of the pieces of work I discovered on my Berlin, Prague & Vienna trip that captured my attention (and my lens) the most. And if you get the chance, go and see them for real. A picture’s worth a thousand words, but you can’t beat reality…

This mural “How Long Is Now” is painted on the side of the now abandoned Tacheles building, which at one time was a famed art squat and acted as a creative hub for Berlin’s alternative art scene following the fall of the wall.

street art on side of abandoned Tacheles building in Berlin

This shot is looking into the alley of Hackescher Markt, which hosts some of the best street art in Berlin.

A look into the alley of Hackescher Markt

I was struck by the soft beauty of this mural of Anne Frank. It reminds you of how young she really was, and also of her innocence, which I think the artist was seeking to capture.

Because who isn’t talking or thinking about President-elect Donald Trump right now?

street art of Donald Drumpf. in berlin

This commissioned mural “Astronaut Cosmonaut” was painted by French artist Victor Ash, who says it was inspired by the space race between America and the USSR.

Commissioned mural “Astronaut Cosmonaut” by French artist Victor Ash, in Berlin

This was the piece I mentioned earlier, by ROA. This impressive mural was created with mainly black and white aerosol spray paint cans.

street art of ROA, in Berlin

The creation of Otavio and Gustavo Pandolfo, these twin brothers often paint people as they see them in their dreams, with vibrant yellow skin. The “Yellow Man” painting is a great example of this.

The work of twin brothers Otavio and Gustavo Pandolfo

Just outside a school yard in a sketchy part of town, the kids are always on the look out…

This is the East Side Gallery, the longest standing section of the Berlin Wall. This 1300m preserved section of wall hosts over a hundred paintings done by artists from all around the world. This section features the East German Trabant car breaking through the concrete, which you can see here. I joined a street art tour to help inform my understanding of how these pieces of art play into Berlin’s history, which I’d highly recommend. The tour is led by street artists themselves, so as well as seeing these ‘classic’ pieces of art, they’ll also show you recent pieces which are more reflective of society as we know it today.

East German Trabant car breaking through the concrete

“My God, Help Me to Survive This Deadly Love”. One of the most famous murals on the Berlin Wall, featuring Soviet Leonid Brezhnev and former East German leader Erich Honecker kissing.

“My God, Help Me to Survive This Deadly Love” mural on the Berlin Wall

The Czech Finance Minister and the second richest man in the Czech Republic, Andrej Babis, and his view on Bitcoin. “I am shocked, I have absolutely no idea what it is. And, as far as I know, nobody pays with Bitcoin.”

The Czech Finance Minister and the second richest man in the Czech Republic Andrej Babis and his view on Bitcoin

The famous John Lennon Wall in Prague started out in the early 80’s following the death of John Lennon, who was a pacifist hero for many young Czechs. In acts of political defiance, these kids would come to fill with the wall with graffiti and lyrics inspired by the Beatles and Lennon himself, who’s music was banned in the Czech Republic at the time by the communists. Despite the graffiti on the wall being white washed over time and time again, the lyrics and drawings would continue to reappear, until eventually the authorities gave up trying to cover it up.

The famous John Lennon Wall in Prague