This past semester, fall 2017, I got the incredible opportunity to study abroad in London. And I was able to visit Berlin a week before the program started thanks to the generosity of the Cabot Family and their Endowment for International and Intercultural Education. The aim of my project was to try to analyze the street art scene in Berlin and how it affected people, and I thought Berlin was the perfect place to do so because it is a city overflowing with street art. The purpose of analyzing the street art in Berlin was to try to give me an understanding not only of the relationship between street art, people, and social issues, but also of the way people are affected by social issues and how they deal with them.
I was in Berlin for five days, so I had plenty of time to take pictures, go on two tours, and walk around the streets of Berlin to find street art. I was unable to interview Oliver Baudach as I had originally planned, but I was able to interview Robert Smith, who worked for the Alternative Berlin Tours. Going into Berlin, I went in with the idea of how street art is a medium of protest, a demand for social change, and an art form used to expressed the desires of communities, therefore making street art a sort of stimulator of social change. During the process of interviewing Robert Smith, though, I realized that I might have been overestimating the effect of street art, at least in Berlin, that is. Robert brought up the idea of an oversaturation of street art in Berlin resulting in less impactful street art. If you walk down almost any street, you are bound to find some tag on the wall, some sticker, some paste-up, or some stencil, Berlin truly overflows with street art, so it makes sense that most messages get lost. This is not to say that because Berlin is saturated with street art, the street art is meaningless, it only means that the messages get lost in the ‘noise’ of Berlin. On the contrary, the mere existence of art that critiques politics or social issues shows that there are people are bothered enough by these issues that they go out on the streets and express their concerns in the public space, and hopefully it implies there are people who are actively doing something about these issues.
Going to Berlin was an incredible experience not only because I got to see the city’s amazing street art and got to hone my photographic skills a little, but also because I came back with a different point of view that I would not have had otherwise. This was a particularly enriching experience because I was exposed to a certain degree of cynism from Robert, which in hindsight, was something I think I needed. These findings could definitely turn into a sociological independent project in the future!