Munich has long been the cradle of the European graffiti scene. Our author once painted graffiti himself, and today looks back on a quite exceptional piece of work with a Munich artist.
On the Giesinger Berg (knoll), high up between the church and Grünwalder Stadium (football stadium), precisely where the climb ends and cyclists can finally catch their breath, you can marvel of one of the city's most spectacular pieces of wall art. In 2019 the Munich artist 'Won', alias Markus Müller, painted one of the most intense chapters in the city's history on the box-like building of Stadtwerke München (public services company).
But to begin, we need to go back to the early 80s: on the Dachauer Strasse, right behind the Leonrodplatz (square), was an area where a huge flea market took place, dubious scrap merchants piled up all sorts of stuff in the surrounding halls, there were rehearsal rooms for bands and two events halls. It was a young area where everyone could let off steam. The artist 'Iove', his civil name was Gerhard Drach, who lived in the area, somehow arranged for a group of kids to legally paint the halls. Among these kids were 'Loomit', 'Cowboy', 'Cemnoz' – and me. The halls were heaven, and the people of Munich very quickly became aware of our paintings.
I particularly noticed one member of the clique: 'Won'. He painted differently from all the rest of us, he had his own style and his own technique. We got to know each other, talked a lot, but we never painted a picture together, and we still haven't.
At the flea market we could paint legally, which we did, and we enjoyed that just as much as – I admit it – illegally painting graffiti on the Munich S-Bahn (suburban train). Graffiti in Munich experienced such a boom from 1985 to 1988 that graffiti artists came from all over the world just to say they had once painted in Munich. The Mecca was New York, of course, Amsterdam and Munich were the outposts. Berlin, Barcelona? Wrong. Paris and London were still interesting but in Munich you could paint the trains, and there were hundreds of them.
Graffiti in Munich experienced such a boom from 1985 to 1988 that graffiti artists came from all over the world just to say they had once painted in Munich.
Of course 'Won' also had something special to add here, such as fake advertising for sex hotlines with the phone number of the railway police. Pure anarchy ruled in Munich; as young graffiti artists we had the city in our grip. Then we grew up, our desire for graffiti remained, but we couldn't be bothered arguing with the railway.
'Won's' picture in Giesing was created in a designated open space in the city. The Department of Culture and the Strassenstiftung der Stadtsparkasse München (Munich Sparkasse street foundation) provided a total of 28,000 Euro for the materials and labour. The picture is dominated by three colours. Pink, blue and brown in many shades.
The choice of colour comes from the subject: it celebrates the 100th anniversary of the Bavarian Revolution. They are all there: Kurt Eisner kicking the king out of the picture, Sarah Sonja Lerch-Rabinowitz (who fought for women's right to vote), Erich Mühsam, Gustav Landauer and Ernst Toller. The first squad of the soviet republic, comprising pacifist anarchists, who brought about a relatively non-violent revolution in Bavaria.
The group of revolutionaries consists of realistic portraits, but the bodies of all the people are – houses. A recurring theme in 'Won's' work is that he plays with the motif of urban architecture. This makes the protagonists appear like chess pieces or steam punk robots. 'Won's' houses motifs are thus also oriented towards the heyday of the big cities of the modern age.
Those in the know get the message, while ordinary viewers are entranced by the sheer size and effect of the mural.
The choice of colours is reflected in the context: pink symbolises liberal ideas, pacifisms and the concept of the anarchistic democracy, blue stands for the young republic, and brown is for guilt over the First World War, nationalism and burgeoning fascism. The Nazis had an easy time with their propaganda in Munich; they accused the councils of being communists and served anti-Semitic resentments with the Jewish origin of the five revolutionaries.
When I applied to the academy of art in around 1987, Markus was also in my portfolio presentation one day. We both attended these application presentations for a few weeks, and the third time we were at one together, Markus had a canvas with it. It wasn't big, but it was so impressive that I packed up my things and left. 'Won' then became a master pupil under Robin Page, I made another approach to different professors, but it didn't work out at the time. I trained as a typesetter. I sometimes went to see 'Won' and was impressed by how amazingly easily he could transform subjects; it was only later that he began to deliberately formulate his pictures.
But the thing with the academy didn't harm us, and I still enjoy visiting him in his studio today, where I get to see the preliminary sketches for the Giesinger wall. Even better for him is that the wall is just 100 metres from his studio so he can simply take his materials there in a trolley.
But when you get someone like 'Won' who is able to combine top-class craftsmanship with an intensive study of Bavarian history on such a scale, it's worth making a special journey.
The preliminary sketch submitted is relatively small, not even A2, so I am not sure whether the mural decision-makers in the city administration could see what kind of critical work was to be created. 'Won' is an avowed anarchist, he says, although he prefers the pacifist version. That's why he likes being a graffiti artist so much, because the subversive suits him. Those in the know get the message, while ordinary viewers are entranced by the sheer size and effect of the mural.
After viewing it together, we go for a beer in an adjacent bar, and indulge ourselves "what if". What is utopia had worked? Equal rights for all, a strong working class, socialism according to Kant or even true anarchy, in the positive sense? But the conversation also turns to the brown Nazi cloud which destroys so many achievements; these are restless times and the writing's on the wall once again.
The brown figures in the picture are small, but poisonous like gremlins, but two large hands are raised in the background to grab the councillors by the collar. Disaster has already struck. Toller holds up a peace sign decorated like a doughnut; Goebbels will soon declare him an enemy of the state.
Lerch-Rabinowitz releases a whole flock of doves of peace from a cage in her house body (a theme Toller takes up in his play ‘Das Schwalbenbuch’ / ‘The swallow book’), while further back the Frauenkirche (cathedral) is already sinking into the brown rubble. The Free State of Bavaria, so-called because it was "free from the monarchy, from the ruling classes" is still called that today. In his picture, 'Won' dispensed with the white and blue diamonds, the lions, these being the simple codes for Bavaria; this picture in his picture, this picture needs to be opened up, people need to take their time to look at it. Opposite the wall is the Grünspitz green space, a small, redeveloped wasteland with benches and chairs – it's not a bad place!
Street art, graffiti? There doesn't always have to be such a strong dive – there are many walls that are simply beautiful. But when you get someone like 'Won' who is able to combine top-class craftsmanship with an intensive study of Bavarian history on such a scale, it's worth making a special journey.
The author: In addition to graffiti art, Sven Katmando Christ has devoted himself to a different passion: he works as a chef and food stylist and is a successful angler.