Welcome to our photo gallery of some of the brightest, boldest and most colourful street art in Hamburg. I believe art is one of the most important forms of self-expression, and have always adored seeing it in public spaces. I grew up in a small city in the UK, where the only ‘art’ to be found on walls outside of museums came in the form of ‘Shaz <3s Baz 4eva’, or if you’re lucky, poorly-drawn scribblings of the male anatomy. In Hamburg, things are a little different.
Street art vs. graffiti
The argument between whether something qualifies as street art or graffiti could go on forever, and is made no easier by the fact that one person’s definition of what is ‘art’ has a lot to do with whether or not they like how something looks.
The term ‘graffiti’ tends to be associated with crime and negativity, and is more of a random act of rebellion or marking one’s territory, whether this be ‘tagging’ or scrawling wiggly lines across advertising billboards. Street art on the other hand is often supremely clever and notably more visually appealing: something to be preserved rather than scrubbed away . Whilst graffiti is often linked to degradation, poverty and decay, street art is applauded for the colour and quirkiness it brings to an area, and features heavily in most of Europe’s coolest neighbourhoods.
Personally, I like both. Graffiti in particular, to me, has to do with ‘making one’s mark’, and I completely understand the need to feel like you’ve left a trace of yourself somewhere. That is, unless someone walks by a stunning mural and sprays a large black line through it in an act of protest/idiocy, like many have done to the East Side Gallery in Berlin.
Street art doesn’t have to be political and doesn’t always contain a deeper message. Sometimes, it just looks good. The art in the photos above and below brightens up otherwise plain walls on ordinary streets, and I can’t see a disadvantage to that.
A quick Google search for anything along the lines of ‘Hamburg street art’, ‘street art tours in Hamburg’ or similar often throws up a load of articles recommending a visit to Schanze (full name – Sternschanze). Whilst this neighbourhood arguably has some of the best, your adventures shouldn’t stop there. Look up, look down, turn corners and explore side streets in areas ranging from Hoheluft to Karoviertel and you’ll see some superb street art tucked away almost out of sight. Karoviertel (short for Karolinenviertel) is particularly good for street art walks, but being the impossibly cool area that it is, you’ll find a lot more to do there, too. Sebastián from Between Distances wrote an interesting piece about the neighbourhood, which I’d invite you to check out.
I don’t know who’s behind these half-creepy, half-hilarious Putin stencils in St. Georg, but I rather like them. Here we have Putin as an octopus, Putin as a bat and of course, Putin as Britney Spears. Fantastic.
Moving away from the ‘cooler’ parts of the city, I give you three examples of street art/graffiti in unlikely places. The top two photos seen below were taken in Eppendorf, a neighbourhood known mostly for its snobbishness, extremely affluent residents and exquisitely pretty buildings (combined, of course, with sky-high rents). Neither street art nor graffiti are commonplace in this area, as you might expect. Whilst I somewhat dislike the desecration of the colourful art in the first picture, I can’t help but smile at it. Whoever slapped ‘Gucci’ over this childlike, innocent scene obviously had something to say about the way of life in this part of Hamburg, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel ‘looked down on’ when we lived there for a while.
The abandoned corner shop slathered in tags and mindless scribbles was weirdly comforting to me on my morning commute, as it made Eppendorf seem more ‘real’. Just around the corner from the overpriced chain coffeehouses and designer boutiques, to my knowledge that building still squats there, empty and unused. I’m not sure how this is acceptable to the residents, but I rather like it. Finally there’s a disused piece of land in Barmbek next to a derelict building, which since the time the photo was taken has been almost entirely demolished. I enjoy finding secluded, unexpected splashes of colour, and was struck by the starkness of the contrast between the overgrown greenery and brutal-looking concrete walls surrounding it.
The next gallery shows off some pieces by Hamburg-based artist Ray de la Cruz, who specialises in beautifully bright murals which always make me smile when I see them. These are littered around the streets of St. Pauli among other parts of the city.
Having previously said that there’s more to the Hamburg street art scene than just a wander around Schanze, my favourite mural in the city is there (well, sort of). The photos below were taken in a car park behind Messehallen, Hamburg’s exhibition halls, which straddle the gap between the Sternschanze and Feldstraße. These are perfect if you have the time to stroll up and down to really look at all the details and fancy a bit of inspiration/slightly brutal tips on your creative writing.
These two squid-based photos in the residential streets of Sternschanze were taken a few months apart in the same spot, and intrigue me when I view them side by side. To me, they show the uncomfortable relationship humans have with animals and food. Put us in the ocean with a snorkel or in front of a nature documentary and we’re all mesmerised by the colours of marine life, overwhelmed by how bright and becoming the sea can be. Sit us down in a restaurant and we drool over menus offering us deep-fried calamari, spicy octopus and seared swordfish, our mouths hungry and forks ready.
The problem with my interpretation is that the object in the photos is the same, so the two pieces of art painted onto it never existed at the same time. Only by taking and keeping both photos am I able to show them this way and ponder over what they mean. But then again – someone created the art in this order, so maybe they wanted someone to notice. Who knows?
Hamburg is great for tiny, unexpected surprises. One day on Bartelsstraße (also in Schanze) I came across some rather dapper meerkats. For non-German speakers, these three little guys in the first picture are saying “What are you looking at? Never seen a meerkat in a tie before?” I also rather like the slightly stoned/traumatised blue garlic, which I spotted lurking behind a bush. In my opinion, this street is among the most interesting in Schanze and a walk down it is one of the best things to do in Hamburg on a sunny afternoon. It was here where we encountered Mikabalami, where we like to go for good miso soup and a couple of beers.
The mixed up mish-mash below is one of my favourites, because there’s just so much to look at. I found this in an alleyway in Karoviertel, where you can muse over and photograph an abundance of awesome street art after a browse of some vintage boutiques and a spot of vinyl shopping.
I do love seeing street art that covers entire buildings, regardless of what it is. There’s something about the obvious effort involved to showcase an idea that I find immensely admirable. An example of this in Hamburg that I particularly like can be found in St. Georg, where out of nowhere I stumbled upon the building below that ‘unzips’ to reveal Hamburg’s flag.
Despite the prevalence of street art being far higher in the likes of Berlin, Milan or Amsterdam, I can’t help feeling that the art on Hamburg’s many backstreets is impossibly underrated. I feel immense joy at discovering new surprises around every corner, and as far as I’m concerned, the more street art in the world, the better.
All images © Two Wild Wanderers