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Street art

Krisha Kops, Munich
April 1, 2014

Munich, the birthplace of modern graffiti in Germany, wants to promote street art. But is legal graffiti still fun? Some artists see subsidies as interference, while property owners are already calculating removal costs.

Let's color the ghetto, graffiti in Munich, Artist: Law1, Copyright: Martin Arz
Image: Martin Arz

Most Germans associate with Munich exorbitant rents, fur coats, Chihuahuas, and a high society that points their little fingers while enjoying a glass of bubbly on the golf course. Few people know that Munich has also played an important role in the history of street art.

It was here that street art - in the form of modern graffiti found on walls and trains - began in Germany. Graffiti, which can be traced back to mural paintings and scratched scriptures in Ancient Egypt, first appeared in its contemporary form in New York in the early 1970s.

In 1985, Munich sprayers turned the S4 train, the so called Geltendorfer train, into the first wholetrain in the country - an entire train compartment sprayed with letters and figures. At around the same time, the first wall in Germany and the longest in Europe for legal street art was approved in Bavaria's state capital.

Modern art vs property damage?

In order to make Munich more street art friendly and to reconnect it to its history, the city now intends to promote it. More space for legal street art, festivals that serve as a platform for local and international artists, subsidies totaling some 80,000 euros ($110,000), and cooperations with museums are among the city's plans.

Kalles Dance Club, Graffiti in Munich, Artist: Kult, Copyright: Martin Arz
To get into this club, you have to pass by a tough bouncer, painted by KultImage: Martin Arz

Still, this can only be the first step, says Martin Arz, who organizes graffiti sightseeing tours in Munich and co-authored the book "Street Art München." "The city has not done enough for street art, unlike other cities," he points out.

"Millions are poured into 'high culture,' which is not bad at all, but subcultures fall by the wayside," adds Arz. According to him, municipal initiatives are important to bring this type of art into contact with people that often reject it as mere scribbling.

The general attitude towards street art has become progressively more liberal, but with most of the city's walls in private hands, citizens have to be more than that and permit paintings themselves.

While the city's culture departments, Kulturreferat, realized that more has to be done for street art, including less bureaucracy, other branches such as the local transport organization, the MVG, view street art as criminal property damage.

While the Kulturreferat is toying with the idea of making a disused train available to sprayers, the MVG maintains that "a legally 'painted' train does not prevent graffiti in a different spot."

Graffiti in Munich, Artist: unknown Copyright: Martin Arz
This peace-loving work was done by an unknown artistImage: Martin Arz

It is more lucrative for the city to promote legal street art by providing more infrastructure and space for legal spraying. While it costs an average of 15 euros per square meter to remove an illegal painting from a wall, only 10 euros (minus the artist's fees) are required to fund a legal piece of art in a chosen location.

A contradiction of character?

Yet, there is an inherent problem: Street art, especially graffiti, has always been a way for subcultures to express themselves. Therefore, the subsidies and the commercialization of street run counter to its rebellious and anarchic origins.

Though they have become fewer in number, there are today still a number of sprayers who refuse to work in accordance with the law. Rico, a sprayer who went from working illegally to legally, says that except for a few "nerds," most illegal sprayers belong to a younger generation. These upcoming artists work unlawfully to gain recognition in the competitive scene, not so much for social upheaval.

Graffiti in Munich, Artist: Saturno Copyright: Martin Arz
Artist Saturno left a grin on this cornerImage: Martin Arz

"Street art developed itself like any kind of art," he says. "If you want to create an outstanding piece of art, then you need more time, which is impossible working illegally." Besides the aesthetical aspiration, most sprayers move, even if via some shady detours, towards legal spraying at some point because of the risk of getting caught and fined is high. Also, illicit art doesn't pay well.

Loomit, a star in the scene and one of the artists who's embellished the Geltendorf train, agrees with Rico. He believes that commercialization is a natural process and that the lines between legal and illegal street art are often quite blurry.

Unlike Rico, who supports Arz's view when it comes municipal backing, he thinks that the city has done enough for street art. "Street art is a liberal art and should not entirely run on government subsides," he says. "It contradicts its character."

With the municipality and even the street art scene itself undecided, the question is not whether, but how many of Munich's streets between the uptown Maximilian Street and the Nymphenburger Castle will become art - and in what way.

When doves cry, graffiti in Munich, Artist: Loomit, Copyright: Martin Arz
"When doves cry" is the text accompanying Loomit's workImage: Martin Arz

All pictures are taken from the book "Street Art München: Stencils, Graffiti, Sticker" by Reinhild Freitag (ed.).

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