Video | Street Artists Declare: Everyone Has the Right to Create Their Own City!

  • In Haus Schwarzenberg, Berlin, police officers guard graffiti on the walls, not chase their creators.
  • Edward von Lõngus left his little hedgehog on the wall of the famous outdoor exhibition in Berlin already in 2017.
  • Until June 25, four Estonian artists present their work in the Neorotitan Gallery.

Merit Kopli, an Estonian cultural attaché in Germany, first took me to Hackesche Höfe a few years ago. These are courtyards in the former East Berlin neighbourhood of Alexanderplatz. Depending on which entrance you choose, you can find yourself in the impressive Art Nouveau courtyard or in the middle of the cacophonic maze of graffiti.

Neeme Raud, Postimees.
Originally in Estonian.

This last part of Höfe is known as Haus Schwarzenberg. Since 1995, when a center for alternative culture was established there, in the heart of reunified Germany and Berlin, thousands of street artists have left countless traces and messages on the walls.

However, there is no real anarchy in the yard, although this may be the first impression. In 2017, when our most famous graffiti artist Edward von Lõngus left his little hedgehog behind as the first Estonian work of art in the centre, he had to apply for a special permit and even sign a contract.

But according to Kopl, it was “an honour and a matter of pride" that our artist was allowed to join the company of other esteemed street artists and von Lõngus received the permission to make his stencil in Haus Schwarzenberg. It is also a kind of recognition that von Lõngus's hedgehog is still on the wall. In street art, it is quite common for many works to be painted over quickly.

Now there is another work by von Lõngus on the same wall. The skeleton stepping out from the frame is a reference to Notke's "Danse Macabre" in Niguliste, Tallinn. He did it at the end of last week, even painting over some of the previous artwork, but still leaving the details of them as recognisable in the background.

In addition to increasing the visibility of our most famous street artist in this graffiti alley, three other Tartu artists - Stina Leek, Kairo and Gutface - have just been licensed to create their large-scale works to kick off the European Capital of Culture Tartu 2024 in Europe. In addition to the works done for the courtyard, the artists of Tartu also exhibit their works in the spacious gallery Neorotitan until Midsummer's Day.

The main organiser of the whole project is Sirla, the leader of the Tartu Street Art Festival Stencibility, which has been taking place for 12 years. "I remember when I first went to Berlin. I was 16 and I saw how much power one subculture can have,” she recalls. "If you walk around Berlin, you can see that street art as a subculture has really changed the way the city's streets stand out. I then took this idea from Berlin with me to Tartu.”

Sirla recalls that she later spent the whole summer in Berlin doing an Erasmus internship and photographing street artists. She arrived back in Tartu at a time when the new Freedom Bridge had just been completed. "It was totally clean, untouched. But when I rode by on my bike, I saw that one stencil had already been made on the bridge," says Sirla. "I thought I should add my own here, that this is now the new place for street art. Then let's do it like they do in Berlin." By now the Freedom Bridge has become the most famous and active street art place in Tartu." And now we have decided to bring a small piece of Tartu back to Berlin."

One of Sirla's first friends in Berlin was street artist and gallerist Marc Scherer, who found that seeing the exhibition from Tartu will remind Berliners of the spirit that street art begun with. The spirit that may be forgotten now as street art has become such an integral part of the cityscape in Berlin.

"The exhibition reminds that everyone has the right to create their own city. A city is created not only by city planners, but also by artists and people who really care about their living environment. It's an art form for everyone,” says Scherer. "It is often the case with art galleries that they put works on a pedestal and create the feeling that their creator is like God. This is not right. Art is made by people for people to make them think. So, when you do something on the streets, it's like a punch in the face and maybe an invitation to do something similar. That's how I got into street art: I found myself at a Banksy exhibition and the next day I did my stencil, because it was really fun!”

"There is a very strong intrigue between Berlin and Tartu," says Kati Ilves, artistic director of Tartu 2024. “Tartu itself is such a compact centre, but it has always strongly carried the subconscious of pop culture and alternative culture in Estonia. And Berlin is a metropolis where all alternative flows are part of the mainstream. There is a very strong dialogue.”

"As street art is now symbolically illustrating the Tartu scene, it is also visible in the European Capital of Culture programme," Ilves notes. She adds that the opening event of Tartu 2024 in Europe was therefore decided to take place in Berlin. The German capital was also chosen for the opening activities because Germany is one of the target countries of the European Capital of Culture programme. Tartu and the whole of southern Estonia will be advertised there very vigorously, and in two years' time particularly large number of German tourists interested in culture are anticipated in Estonia.

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