Over the last few years our author has been able to indulge her thirst for discovery as a travel blogger; there would always be time to relax back in Munich. In this column, she writes about making up for the local joys she missed while she was away. This time she does a bike tour, on which she discovers some impressive street art and graffiti in the city’s public spaces.
I once went cycling on the other side of the world. I was in Australia for a few weeks and I took a street art bike tour in Melbourne while I was there – when it comes to art in public spaces, Melbourne is the city to be in.
That’s how I found myself in a group of people cycling through this foreign city; I learned rules of the road that we don’t have here and marvelled at walls adorned with huge murals, small stencils and graffiti art – we will talk more about the different techniques in a moment.
I remember wondering why there was so little of this type of public art in Munich, and what causes trends to develop completely differently in some cities. A few years have passed since then, and now I know that Munich was in fact a pioneer of the German graffiti scene, and there is a wealth of art to discover in the city – I simply hadn’t looked properly. So it’s high time for me to put on my tourist hat again and do the MUCA bike tour.
I have already introduced the Museum of Urban and Contemporary Art and its co-founder Stephanie Utz in a previous article. I love the exhibits in MUCA, so I was of course eager to explore the projects that the team initiates and supports beyond the museum walls too. With that in mind, I book a spot on the last bike tour of the year, and assemble at the appointed time with a few other intrepid individuals, at the Fräulein Grüneis kiosk in the Englischer Garten. From there we depart on the three-hour tour, the first stop of which is just a stone’s throw away: the underpass at the Friedensengel.
Munich was in fact a pioneer of the German graffiti scene, and there is a wealth of art to discover in the city – I simply hadn’t looked properly.
The first legal collaborative project was launched here in 2011, right beside the Isar river, and fifty local and international artists contributed to it. As we get off our bikes Stephanie tells us that the art project was curated by Loomit, a Munich graffiti artist who was involved in the first German wholetrain – graffiti artists use “wholetrain” to refer to a train that has been fully painted from front to back, rather than just a single carriage. The best way to learn the story of what inspired the project and how the city dealt with its first spray painting initiative is definitely from Stephanie telling it, right here on location.
We wander through the underpass, which almost feels like a gallery because of its various sections, each in a different style. As we explore, we find out about different techniques such as stencilling and paste-ups, while we look at examples of them here. Stephanie gets the group involved right from the start: Why are stencils so popular and which artist made the technique so well-known? What do you notice at the entrances to the underpass; and which influences were and remain particularly important for street art and graffiti? The urban art expert tells us the answers to these questions and many more; not only does she share prepared insights from her wealth of knowledge, but she can also answer any question in detail.
As with all artwork, it is worth looking more closely and even risking a second or third glance – or, as Stephanie says, “peeling the onion”.
Twenty minutes later we are back on our bikes, heading south along the Isar for a good while. Stephanie points out various motifs along the way, but we do not stop again until we reach Candidplatz. This was the site of the “Brücken schlagen” (building bridges) project a few years ago, when a group of German and international artists decorated a number of bridge piers with various motifs and lettering. Stephanie believes that this venture was important not just from an artistic perspective, but also because it draws attention to the neighbourhood – Candidplatz is outside the fashionable, cool inner city and is a largely residential area. Residents here have responded positively to the urban art and nothing has been painted over yet, which shows what respect people have for the pieces that have been created – after all, everyone making art in public spaces knows that accepting its transience is part of the game.
We take a closer look at the individual pillars and put our newly acquired technical knowledge to the test. Each of the bridge piers on Candidplatz is very differently decorated, and their large surfaces clearly demonstrate how challenging the process is, as well as attesting to the physical aspects of the work. As with all artwork, it is worth looking more closely and even risking a second or third glance – or, as Stephanie says, “peeling the onion”. What she means is that, if you enter into a dialogue with an artist rather than simply addressing what you see on the surface of their work, you are peeling an onion to get to the core: the underlying message. And that process can even bring a tear to the eye – rather like peeling onions does.
As the sun breaks through the clouds, we cycle onward, reaching the Schlachthofviertel district ten minutes later. These days, the Viehhof area here is host to regular events, and its brick walls are embellished with an array of exciting works. We turn a corner and suddenly find ourselves in the middle of a graffiti jam in full swing. This is a real stroke of luck, as the festival was cancelled last weekend and even Stephanie is surprised to see that it has been rescheduled to today. A few artists spraying the wall along Tumblingerstrasse suddenly become a scene that has a real Melbourne atmosphere: hip-hop pumps out of the boomboxes beside them, and the chemical odour of their spray paint hangs in the air. After learning so much about Munich’s street art and graffiti scene, here we have the opportunity to actually look over the artists’ shoulders as they create new pieces, and huge, brightly coloured artworks take shape before our eyes.
For the last leg of our tour we cycle together to MUCA, the grounds of which are home to one of Munich’s largest murals; it is a calligraffiti, a mash-up of the words calligraphy and graffiti. Though there are few people who have mastered this technique, Mexican artist Said Dokins has successfully immortalised himself in the heart of Munich, thanks to his distinctive writing style. It’s an impressive ending to the tour.
As I cycle home that day, I am delighted to know that Munich is not merely accepting of, but actually welcomes street art – providing space for it and organising festivals to celebrate it. In the days after the bike tour, I discover many small works on the façades of buildings around the city. It is always worth taking a closer look around.
You can find out more about the street art bike tour here.