Monday, 9 November 2015


Chasing Shadows of the Past in Rüdersdorf Chemical Plant

We planned our entry down to the square meter. We analyzed drop zones and entry points and scrutinized satellite photos of the abandoned plant in Rüdersdorf to determine the best way to infiltrate the site undetected. This is urban exploration in Berlin. This is Urbex Über Alles.

My partner in crime was the Infamous Abandoned Berliner, the single most respected and hated member of the urban exploration subculture. His Abandoned Berlin blog has a gazillion hits, he has an urbex book of the same name, and the man can hold his beer well into the wee hours at any spaeti in Berlin (He's Irish, so that helps). The reason he is hated and respected in equal measure: He tells people where the abandoned places are. This angers the Holy Druids of the Urbex Circle Jerk, who gather in secrecy with their hand drawn maps and meet in basements to discuss their next conquest in whispers, while quietly jerking each other off in circles. Cliques piss me off. Therefore I respect anyone who will tell me how to get to an abandoned place, how hard it is to get in, and whether my lardy ass will fit in through the hole in the fucking fence. At 6 foot 5, 280 lbs, I ain't climbing no fucking walls.

Urbex was a regular thang with me until the Urbex Druids decided I wasn't worthy. They took me to a few places, laughed while I squirmed through holes in the fences, and took snaps of me stuck in windows. Then they stopped inviting me. That and all the good places have been bought by developers and earmarked for certain destruction or worse—yuppie condos for fuck's sake. There are now urbex tours of the most popular sites in Berlin and you pay a pretty penny for the privilege. This defeats all of the fun of trespass and most of the fun of skulking in the shadows.

After a year or two off from the urbex scene I found another reason to skulk. The street artist known as Plotbot KEN dropped an atomic paint bomb on this particular plant we were entering. Plotbot's work can be described as a post apocalyptic dreamscape wherein lonely figures in hazmat suits quietly test the radiation and chemical contamination levels of a bleak future. When I first saw these figures on walls in Berlin-Kreuzberg, Wedding and other districts—I was hooked. As a full time pessimist with no hope for the future of humanity, I simply had to add Plotbot to my collection of street artists for my documentary project.

Loud and Proud

The Irishman and I crept along the rail tracks leading to the plant. He was shushing and denouncing me for being the large, loud-and-proud American stereotype that I am. "JAYzus you are loud! Let's not alert security!" he slurred. He shambled through the hole in the fence and hiccuped, still reeling from the breakfast drinking (two can play the stereotype game, muchacho). I could see that he takes the whole illegal trespass thing seriously. After about five minutes walking toward the huge cement abandoned chemical plant leviathan, he suddenly cried 'SECURITY! DOWN!' and dropped like a sack of beer-soaked potatoes. I tried to drop as gracefully as a 280 lb man with a backpack full of camera gear could. In the end I could only cut the tragic figure of a fat man on his knees in the dirt with his camera backpack sticking up on his hunched back like a saddle on an elephant. A truck roared past on a dirt road just ahead of us. Nobody saw the fallen sack of beer-soaked potatoes or the fookin' elephant.

"Security? In a dump like this?" I wondered aloud (really loud). "Yeah, once when I was here, there was some kind of a film crew running around; security was tight," AB informed. We didn't know it at the time, but one of the things they were filming on this very site was an episode of the popular political spy thriller series 'Homeland.' The entire 2015 series was shot and filmed in Berlin—even the bits where they were not actually in Berlin (like the Middle East). A dirty, abandoned chemical plant doubling as a refugee camp? Why not. You really are in a different world when you stagger through this dusty desolation.

We then proceeded to explore proper. The concrete behemoth towered over us and sprawled over an area about 10 times the size of your average mall. I was shopping for street art and was not disappointed. After sloppily scurrying between doorways of buildings to avoid detection by nearby construction workers, we found it. The Acid Tanks paintings stood stoic under a 100-foot-high cement ceiling with broken windows, crumbling concrete columns and rusty pipes. I stood in awe of the amazing merger of
rust, spray paint and decay, both naturally and artificially introduced.

Some street artists paint anywhere there is a blank wall. Others consider the space within the context of their works. In this respect, there is no better urban artist working in Berlin today than Plotbot KEN. In a world abandoned, rusting, seeping and dripping with chemicals, one man stands tall in the green muck to merge aerosol alchemy with the rotting ruins of yesteryear.

Thursday, 15 January 2015

Blackened Blu: 'Artists' Destroy Their Own Art

I See an Art Wall and I Want to Paint It Black


Recently, under cover of night, vandals applied paint to the walls of an innocent building in Berlin.  Ironically, they weren’t blasting graffiti bombs all over the dump—they were painting OVER two of the most famous street art wall murals in Berlin.  Then they talked to the media.  Then they sounded like media-groomed art-tards with carefully-prepared sound bites like “We felt it was time for (the artwork) to vanish, along with the fading era in Berlin’s history that they represented” and “The white–well, in this case black–washing also signifies a rebirth: as a wake-up call to the city and its dwellers, a reminder of the necessity to preserve affordable and lively spaces of possibility, instead of producing undead taxidermies of art.”

Who asked you to do it?  The ACTUAL artist (Blu)?  I don’t think so.  You say you were ‘co-creator’ of the murals and yet your ‘credentials’ as a ‘cultural scientist and curator focusing on art in the public domain’ sound like happy horseshit prepared for you by the people who actually paid you to paint over the walls.  While the rest of Berlin is subject to hostile takeover from gentrification investment whores, you just decided to kill the art in a pre-emptive strike against yourselves.  Art suicide?  The problem with your reasoning is that art is a creative process, not a destructive one.  If we need any more proof of your collusion with sneaky developers, just look at the big fence around the property.  Somebody unlocked the gate for you and your crane.  Did the developers provide the crane as well, or is that a standard tool for scrappy street artists?  By working with the developers to blacken Blu’s art, you tar yourself with the same brush.

These particular murals had meaning.  They were not just tags left by random dogs spraying their turf.  These paintings were carefully thought out and executed by an internationally famous street artist from Italy named Blu.  While I am only beginning to understand the significance of the two upside down figures (I only recently learned they were flashing East and West Berlin gang signs), the headless figure of the business man with two gold watches chaining his arms was a work of brilliance.  It became one of the icons of Berlin—right there along with the East Side Gallery section of the Berlin Wall.  Hell, I even have a Hard Rock Café pin in the shape of a guitar with the damn mural on it.

A year ago I was walking by the now-deceased art on a similarly mild winter day.  The simple white wall figures loomed large over some squatters in a field. There were still a few shanties left in Camp Cuvry, the open-air squat beneath the graffiti giants.  I was able to walk in and drink beer with some of the remaining campers.  I did not envy them in their uphill struggle against the developers; nor did I envy them sleeping in a field in the winter.  I shared beer with them for the privilege of talking with them a while before their inevitable ousting.  Their eviction was imminent simply because they were sitting on a view of the river.  Riverfront developer Mediaspree’s policy up until now has been: 1) buy every dilapidated thing along the river (occupied or not), 2) drive out the ones who won’t be bought out.

While I was writing a story on Berlin's Beach Bars a few years ago, a few of the bar managers were packing their shit while they were speaking to me.  Others warned me that within a very short time there would be no places for ordinary people to have a drink with a view of water.  Only high rise condos and office buildings would remain.  High rise condos and office buildings seem perfectly reasonable in cities like Los Angeles or Tokyo, but in Berlin they are about as useful as an asshole on your elbow.


(Neighborhoods Instead of Profit Madness)

The majority of Berliners do not like what is happening to their city.  And this majority is not just a bunch of grungy slackers crying about change; all of them embrace the idea of Berlin as the constantly changing city—a city where anyone with an idea can take over a disused, dilapidated factory and make something of it.  But there are some changes that can only harm a city; changes which benefit a few wealthy investors at the expense of driving out the REAL movers and shakers of Berlin.  Once again, the artists are the unwilling shock troops of gentrification.

They came, they saw, they left their creative mark.  Then the developers conquered.