A Canvas of History: How Berlin Tells Its Story Through Art

Our first night in Bayeux, I had a conversation with Professor Davidson at our group dinner about how different cultures approach the arts. We discussed that Americans have a high-cultured approach to the arts. There is an idea that the arts are reserved for elites or someone “other.” It is as if only the ritzy couples in fur coats can go to the ballet or the eccentric enthusiasts can appreciate a modern art exhibition. There is a barrier between public life and artists. The arts seem above and disconnected from the quotidian rather than reflective of it.

Finances, availability, and exposure decrease American accessibility to the arts. Certainly, admission rates are enough to dissuade those on the fence. Yet, in the eyes of many American artists, reduced admissions fees devalue their work rather than promote it. It is notable that Berlin’s museums and performances are much less costly and offer ample discounts.


A portion of the Berlin Wall, currently displayed as the East Side Gallery.


Prof. Davidson explained that there is a “come as you are” approach to the arts throughout most of Europe, particularly Germany. In other words, the arts are meant for everybody, in every state, bringing whatever they have to offer. A night at the symphony elicits visions of dollar signs in the heads of Americans. In Berlin, these events are accessible to everyone, even college students. Art is affordable, recognizable, and advertised. It is available and appreciated.

When I arrived in Berlin, the streets colored in graffiti and murals suggested this same idea. In many ways, Berlin feels like a city-wide art exhibition. There is hardly a building left unmarked by the tags of gangs or the murals of street artists. Berliners not only appreciate art, they create it.


An artist paints the Wall in the East Side Gallery, coloring the history of Berlin.


I wondered what ignited such a strong sense of artistry in this city. Every corner seems to have been claimed by an artist, or at the very least someone with a can of spray paint and an idea. During the Third Reich, this spectrum of art was truncated. Hitler deemed many artists and their works, namely Jewish and Expressionist artists, as “degenerate.” He not only devalued their work, he rendered it meaningless. The National Socialist takeover erased freedom of creativity from the lives of German artists.

The abundance of art decorating the streets of Berlin depicts a reclamation of artistry. Abstraction, emotion, and expression are once again produced and appreciated. Artists can practice their work without inhibition. With the streets of Berlin as their canvas, Berliners put art in the spotlight and paint vibrancy over a void of creativity left by the Nazis.


Dancing To Freedom: another segment of the Berlin Wall.

I began thinking about my own place in the world as an artist. Moving and discovering, articulating a thought or a fragment of one, and honing strategies and techniques are catalysts for me as an artist. As I move and create, I am driven by a desire to find realities. I work to make sense and to connect to the world around me instead of leaving things—dance, theater, history, and current events—behind as if they are isolated.

The art of Berlin accomplishes much of the same. Every building tells a story of Germany through its architecture and an artist’s claim that overlaps it. Germany has not left its history behind, but displayed it throughout the streets.

Art is a life. Within it I find a reality laced with the intricacies of creating, being, and a work in progress. What a beautiful life to be preserved in time and space. What an amazing history etched into the walls of Berlin.


Graffiti near our hotel on Stresemannstrasse.

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