It’s Not About Art

The politics scrawled across the walls of my Berlin neighborhood

“It’s not about art,” proclaimed an anonymous local communist in big red letters on the wall of an apartment building across the street. I think the sheer political utility of the damn thing appealed to me in the moment. I found myself crossing the street patiently waiting out the lady with the bicycle and child blocking my view so I could snap a picture.

“We don’t spray-paint shit for aesthetic reasons.”

It took me back to the day I started paying more attention to the graffiti around the central Berlin district where I’ve lived for the past few years. My wife and I had just ended a long self-quarantine after a nasty bout of probably covid. It was so nice being outside again, enjoying a walk around the neighborhood on a sunny day that I almost didn’t notice the neo-Nazi graffiti on the sidewalk as I passed it.

“Fuck… was that…?” I thought to myself, as I backtracked to the spot.

Yup, there it was, stenciled onto the pavement: Antikom: Komunismus ist keine Lösung (Anticom, communism is not a solution). Now, that’s not an overtly fascist statement on its own, but “anti-communist” is often a euphemism for “pro-fascist”, which is very much the case with these guys. They style themselves as a “right-wing antifa”, which, logically, would make them the “fa” that people should be anti. What I mean is that they organize rallies alongside neo-Nazis and then fight people at those rallies. It’s not great having these assholes advertising in your neighborhood.

I didn’t have anything on me to deal with the offending non-art, but the next time I saw it, some local low-key hero had already made some helpful edits.

The anonymous communist was right though; it’s not about art. This piece in particular stands out as “not art.” It was made with a stencil. The whole purpose here is to reproduce an image repeatedly, quickly, and accurately. It’s assembly-line political propaganda and suggests an active recruiting effort on the part of these groups. That’s not surprising against the backdrop of the pandemic, economic collapse, and an increasingly uncertain world.

This is prime recruiting time for violent ass-hats offering simple, ethnic violence-based solutions to everyone’s woes, and this well-reflected in the local street art.

Some of it is just vaguely ominous, like these “order” tags. They just kind of sit there, being quietly oppressive. I can’t even say 100% whether they are fascist except for the fact that, well, they are actually pretty damn fascist. I mean, “peace and order” is literally the political platform of Star Wars’ Galactic Empire; arguably the most famous of the space-Nazis.

Then there’s the more overt stuff; the stuff that identifies with a particular movement, or is just straight up racist.

“Q, Trust the plan, China virus.” It’s bizarre how much global popularity the Q Anons managed to amass, considering it’s based so firmly in the political culture of the American right, but here we are. And this isn’t me just taking a single image and blowing everything out of proportion. Germany is host to the largest number of Q Anon adherents outside of the English-speaking world. We had neo-Nazis try to storm the parliament last year at a rally against covid measures. Hell, one of my favorite places to get drunk here in Berlin was raided by the cops for hosting an illegal mask-less gathering where people were trying to found some kind of conspiracy theory-based political movement. Shit is getting as bizarre/terrifying.

Thankfully, there’s only a small fascist presence on the walls of this neighborhood. Berlin is a pretty left-leaning city, so they often find themselves outnumbered by the ubiquitous hammers, sickles, anarchist and antifa tags. These days, tags like that act as a reassuring reminder that at least some people in the neighborhood actively hate fascism. It gives me some hope that the things going on around us are not going unnoticed.

Hanau has been a common topic, as this country continues to struggle with the realities of resurgent fascist violence that dredges up some horrifying shit from the past. Last year, a fascist in the city of Hanau got himself all riled up on racist conspiracy theories and murdered 9 people; mostly immigrants. He then allegedly murdered his mother before committing suicide. For Germany, this is more than a single, tragic, event that recalls the country’s fascist past.

The far-right AfD party holds more parliamentary power than any other far-right force in Germany’s postwar history. It is using that power to disrupt the functioning of German democracy while fascist street thugs piggyback onto the sizeable anti-masker/covid conspiracy theorist movement. Pandemics have a tendency to turn previously-reasonable individuals into conspiracy nuts. It’s been weird watching people I thought were decent and rational suddenly filling their Facebook pages with conspiracy theories and far-right propaganda before storming off to join Parler.

Hanau is everywhere, all the fucking time.

But, like I said, at least people are noticing. They are airing their grievances on the walls of apartment blocks, on sidewalks and park benches. Those ubiquitous hammers and sickles and antifa tags are a source of reassurance when I walk the streets nowadays. Whether they are performative or not, they at least make the surface suggestion that this neighborhood tolerates no Nazis.

In sitting down to write this, I was really reminded of an old poem by famous German poet, filmmaker, and communist Bertholt Brecht, who lived in Berlin in the 20’s and fled shortly after Hitler took power:

On the wall was written in chalk:

They want war

The one who wrote it has already fallen

Veteran English teacher, perpetual grad student, writer, agitator

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store