All the world′s a page for Berlin′s illustrators | Scene in Berlin | DW | 11.06.2015
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Scene in Berlin

All the world's a page for Berlin's illustrators

Artists, writers and actors might form Berlin's perceived creative backbone, but there is more to it than that, as DW's Tamsin Walker found out.

When my son recently mentioned having been to a venue where a scantily-clad man was being led around on a leash by a woman in black, it seemed likely he was talking about the Kit-Kat Club.

What he didn't know, as he made his horizon-expanding journey into Berlin's underbelly, was that his father had just moved into a studio two stories above the scene of the tethering. He was equally unaware that his one time favorite band, the Beatsteaks, have their practice room on the first floor.

A string of coincidences? I don't think so. Not in Berlin, which is so in love with its own creative image, that even soaring rents have failed to slow the influx of artists hoping to add a beat to the thud of its lively heart. Painters, sculptors, writers, singers - they're all here, the imaginative 'ers'. And let's not forget the countless 'ors' waiting for that chance to walk the boards of their dreams.

Frank Flöthmann, Illustrator in Berlin. Copyright: Copyright: DW/Tamsin Walker

Frank Flöthmann is one of the Berlin's hundreds, if not thousands, of illustrators

But this city is also home to other unerringly creative types - those who are less likely to be mentioned in the same breath as the "ers" and "ors", and who are sidelined by the rigid German artistic etiquette that puts fine arts on the highest pedestal in the land. Among them are the often unsung heroes that bring magazines, books and newspapers to life. Yes, illustrators.

Haven on the second floor

To return to the second floor of that airy once-upon-a-time industrial complex just south of Jannowitzbrücke, is to enter a world where illustration comes into its own. Desks and walls are covered with materials and images in various stages of completion, and the atmosphere is one of steady excitement. There's a feeling that anything can happen here, and that much of it will.

Frank Flöthmann, aka 2F, occupies one of the 10 desks, and is one of the city's hundreds, if not thousands, who make a living by masterfully distilling the essence of a text into captivating images. He says he sometimes has the feeling he can't throw a stone in Berlin without bumping into a fellow illustrator. So what is it that makes Berlin so popular among the profession's growing number of practitioners?

Frank Flöthmann comic. Copyright: Frank Flöthmann

Frank Flöthmann specializes in comic-style illustrations

For him, it's quite simply, "the people." His work, much of which is comic in nature, draws on the eccentricity he sees as an integral part of the city's tapestry, and from the rich mix of nationalities and personalities, eager to be a drop in the very ocean whose tides carried them here.

And time has proven that the city is not averse to adoption. "Heinrich Zille is sold as a Berliner, but he wasn't. And neither was Erich Kästner," Flöthmann said. "He came from Dresden."

Bertolt Brecht, who was originally from the Bavarian town of Augsburg, but who will forever be associated with the Berliner Ensemble, is another example, and further evidence that there has long been give and take between the city and its creative inhabitants.

Dirty dosh

While that tried and tested approach may live on, the real driver in these competitive times, is money. The old rent chestnut. Although higher than the pittance of old, prices here remain cheaper than in other major cities, and are, says Rinah Lang, a major factor.

Rinah Lang illustration . Copyright: Rinah Lang.

A work by Berlin-based illustrator Rinah Lang

She has illustrated from various studio spaces across Berlin for more than a decade - although very few of her clients are actually based here. "You're freelance, so when you're starting out, you need to be somewhere cheap," she said. "Plus, we don't earn huge amounts doing this, so if we were in Munich, for example, we'd still be getting the same jobs, but we'd have much higher outgoings."

That's not the only difference between this, and other state capitals across the country. Berlin nurtured a pop-up culture long before the term was coined and served back to it as an avant-garde way to show artwork. Lang says one of the things Berlin offers its illustrators is the chance to show work, pretty much wherever they want, whenever they want.

"You can organize things in an improvised way here, which means it's not that hard to get a show off the ground," she said. "I find that really inspiring."

Artist Rinah Lang. Copyright: DW/Tamsin Walker

Artists such as Rinah Lang are still drawn to Berlin for its affordability

From the wry-smiled stoners who sit with begging bowls and signs reading "For Weed," to the sudden emergence of a table pristinely set for eight in the middle of a busy bridge, the anything goes attitude is in evidence all over the city. And that includes the Kreuzberg courtyard shared by the Kit Kat Club, the Beatsteaks and a handful of illustrators.

Frank Flöthmann recalls coming back to the studio after lunch one Friday afternoon to find a gay porn film playing on a massive screen outside. "There had been a notice up asking us to move our bikes for a Kit Kat Club event, but that was all it said." Turns out it was preparation for the upcoming Hustlaball. But that is a Berlin tale for another time.

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