Gap Year Travels: Urban Art in Amsterdam & Berlin

[This is the first of a series of posts about my travels through Western and Central Europe and Southeast Asia this Winter/Spring as part of my self-designed Alternative Gap Year. Click here to read more.]

Gorilla art alongside monolith cultural institutions. Thriving public transit systems. Cobblestones, curry worst and frequent breaks for hot tea. To say the least, I have thoroughly enjoyed wandering through Amsterdam and Berlin during my first days in Europe!

Most fascinating is the rich tradition of urban art that has sprung out of alternative and underground culture in Amsterdam and Berlin. I was delighted to discover urban art–graffiti art, guerrilla art, street art, etc–murals that stretch over the entirety of a five-story building facade, whimsical sayings or installations erected in surprising corners–is rife throughout these cities.

[See more pictures on my Facebook page.]

I couldn’t help but think of the artists who have invested blood, sweat and tears to share so many extraordinary pieces of street art (or is it “public art?”). Of course much of this activity is considered illegal in both Europe and the U.S. [See MSNBC’s coverage of Raleigh guerrilla artist Joseph Carnivalle, who was arrested for the creation of Barrel Monster.] Though urban art in Amsterdam and Berlin is often subversive and political, it is clear that this art is regarded by residents–and perhaps in part by the government–as a significant part of the cities’ contemporary cultural scene.

In Amsterdam, we visited the art squats, abandoned buildings overtaken by artists who inhabit often decrepit abandoned urban spaces (usually without proper heat or plumbing) and build thriving communities of creativity. A local proudly shared that Amsterdam is one of the few cities in Europe in which authorities permit art squatters to remain in a prominent, central downtown district.

In Berlin, we saw a great art squat that is credited with leading the revitalization of the Mitte neighborhood, which was split by the Berlin Wall and fell into disrepair during Soviet rule. Of course, despite such positive consequences, tensions between the government and art squatters arise periodically if not regularly.

Also in Berlin, we discovered the 50 Faces Project, a public mural project which is credited with revitalizing a particularly dangerous and gang-ridden block in the Kreuzberg neighborhood. The project was organized by a group of artists who call themselves Graffiti Connection. The artists teamed up and, on every imaginable surface of a building on this block, painted 50 portraits of Berliners. The striking portraits poingantly and proudly conjure a sense of compassion, tolerance, shared experience and understanding. Those of you who know me know I eat this kind of stuff up.

And of course, we strolled down the 1-km long stretch of the former Berlin Wall East Side Gallery, proclaimed the “International Memorial for Freedom.” Fittingly, the organizers invited artists from Berlin and all over the world (including an artist from Colorado of all places) to explore and examine this prominent part of European and world history. See images of some of my favorite murals below. Thanks for joining me on the first leg of my travels!

Also seen:

The Hub Amsterdam — Great contemporary space of entrepreneurship and collaboration in a gorgeous building just off Canal Ring!

Bicyclers galore in Amsterdam — I’m told there are more bikes than people in Amsterdam. Chic bikers in trendy boots, scarves, skirts and tights peddle in every direction, in some cases toward the multi-level bicycle parking garage!

Amsterdam Public Library — Six floors of materials and shared space, bustling with people of all ages, topped with a very cool cafe overlooking Amstel River and the city.

Anne Frank House — Very moving and well done museum experience, which also houses the Foundation Otto Frank established to promote tolerance among youth. Also, Van Gogh Museum — Honestly, a bit of a disappointing look at my favorite artists’ work. More stuffy institution than interactive, engaging experience. Still the Museum offers an interesting look at Van Gogh’s development and an extensive look at the work of artists who influenced him over time (naturally, this list is extensive).

American Book Center — Very cool center for international exchange and excellent bookstore in a great space also referred to as the Treehouse.

Topographies of Terror — A look at the institution of terror, a dense collection of images, documents and text about the institutional structures of the Nazi regime, erected at the site of the former SS headquarters.

Agathe Snow at the Guggenheim Berlin — How appropriate: “reclaiming” the the world’s monuments, landmarks, and historical sites.

Amsterdam Red Light District, Vondelpark and Film Institute, Museum Island of Berlin, Brandenburg Gate

See other posts in this series:

Gap Year Travels: Modern Jazz in Prague, Mozart in Vienna

11 thoughts on “Gap Year Travels: Urban Art in Amsterdam & Berlin

  • February 16, 2011 at 1:33 am
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    Awesome work! It sounds like you are having a great time and have loads of stuff to share. I especially love the bike garage idea.

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    • February 16, 2011 at 5:39 am
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      Thanks Kristen! I’m keeping an eye out on transport and urban sustainability here 🙂 Will report back!

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  • February 16, 2011 at 5:43 am
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    Tara, what a wonderful tour. I can FEEL the places. I so appreciate your sharing them with us and I’m drooling to be there too!

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  • February 16, 2011 at 5:43 am
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    Tara, what a wonderful tour. I can FEEL the places. I so appreciate your sharing them with us and I’m drooling to be there too!

    Reply
  • February 16, 2011 at 10:19 am
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    Great, Tara! Thanks so much for sharing; felt like i was there, too. I love the links you provided for more information. Kudos!
    I am glad you all are doing well.
    Love you both; looking forward to hearing of more escapades!

    karen

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  • February 16, 2011 at 11:37 am
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    Wowee TaraD! CVAwesome is super jealous of your art adventures in Amsterdam & Berlin. The street art is gorgeous and I love the nods to artists and cultural history. We miss you so, but know you are enjoying your travels! Be safe and CVAwesome will be sure to keep track of you all over the world.

    Reply
  • February 16, 2011 at 11:37 am
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    Wowee TaraD! CVAwesome is super jealous of your art adventures in Amsterdam & Berlin. The street art is gorgeous and I love the nods to artists and cultural history. We miss you so, but know you are enjoying your travels! Be safe and CVAwesome will be sure to keep track of you all over the world.

    Reply
  • February 17, 2011 at 11:52 pm
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    I know you are really enjoying yourself and doing what you set out to do and I know you will grow mentally from your experiences and return to home fulfilled

    Reply
  • February 17, 2011 at 11:52 pm
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    I know you are really enjoying yourself and doing what you set out to do and I know you will grow mentally from your experiences and return to home fulfilled

    Reply

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