Street Wars: Bombing Germany

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When I first went to Europe, one of the highlights of my trip was the graffiti sprayed liberally across walls, buildings, train cars, and every other feasible surface. Impressive as the completely redecorated Swiss train stations were, the most beautiful and detailed street art was without a doubt in Germany.

Trier: ancient cultural home of Romans and giant beavers.

As German-Way Expat blogger HF points out, it’s no surprise that Germany should be so decorated; it was, after all, home to one of the biggest graffiti canvases in history for almost thirty years. But with the loss of the political and ideological focal point that was the Berlin Wall, modern German graffiti has taken a somewhat different turn.

“Street art is about the audience,” says Graffiti Action Hero. “Graffiti Tagging is about the tagger.” Unfortunately for modern Germany, the latter has, without a doubt, become the more pervasive. Trains in particular seem to be popular targets, with German railway Deutsche Bahn reportedly doling out millions annually to graffiti removal.

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A little owl tag hanging out on a wall in Trier, Germany.

That said, das Bombing (as the Germans say) has begun to develop its own new culture entirely.

Groups such as Graffiti Research Lab Germany (GRLG) have found ways to combine the activism of graffiti with the simplicity of tagging by using technology to intervene in public space. Instead of writing on rooftops, they make their mark through digitized “light-bombing”, or through so-called “throwies.” As the name suggests, these are small adhesive objects found in various forms, and may be thrown at buildings and city structures, as opposed to more traditional spray paint bombs.

Whatever form it takes, bombing Germany doesn’t seem like it’s going to end any time soon. As the New York Times points out, “Graffiti may be vandalism, but it is also celebrated as street art and even regarded as an integral component of Berliner Strassenkultur.”