The energy of Berlin, steeped in history and diversity, has been endlessly encapsulated and personified in popular culture. Its poor but sexy persona has seen many artists flocking to its streets, and in recent years a booming startup scene has drawn in creatives from other fields, too. The city is so beloved by creative individuals that we asked a number of its artistic residents what they love most about living in Berlin.
Stephan Meißner has been in Berlin since 2009. He started out in graffiti, and soon discovered tape art. He is one of the founders of Tape That, a Berlin-based art collective that works on projects and workshops across the globe.
CT: Can you tell me how you discovered tape art and how the collective was started?
SM: I had been doing graffiti for a long time, but about two years after moving to Berlin, I discovered tape art. It happened by accident; I was sketching for graffiti and my flatmate had left out a tape roll, so I tried a bit on the wall and thought, cool, this looks good, and I kept playing around with it. I and some fellow artists founded the art collective Tape That in 2011, bringing together people who are interested in making art with tape. We have four full-time members but we’re six people altogether, and we all have different backgrounds. Some of us studied design or communication and I had a graffiti background, for example. Back then, everybody in the collective also had their own projects, but with time we got more projects together and now most of us are doing it full time.
CT: What are some of the projects you’re currently working on?
The international projects started when we partnered the German foreign ministry, to work as a cultural exchange to bring this unknown art form to other people. We call it Tape Art Around the World; through this, we are invited to different countries across the world to give tape art workshops and put on exhibitions. We usually give these to local people from the community – like a cultural institution, a school or art college. During the exchanges we also do live performances and exhibitions, usually exhibiting the artwork that’s created during the workshops.
As an artist, this has been very rewarding, to be able to travel the world and spread this medium of tape art. Especially with the workshops, as it’s amazing to connect with people from all over the world. When we were in Namibia, for example, two of the artists from the workshop told me after the exhibition that they had sold their first pieces of artwork that evening, which is a great feeling.
CT: Obviously, you guys are travelling a lot, but what makes you love living in Berlin?
SM: It’s awesome that I always want to come back. I’ve been to a lot of places, and I know this sounds so clichéd, but for me, it’s no question that Berlin is where I want to live. For me, Berlin has a lot of stories, and you really grow to appreciate it here. It’s the city I love to live in. Also, for tape art, I don’t think it would have become as big if we had done it elsewhere.
Nasheeka Nedsreal is a performance artist who is currently working with Grupo Oito. Nasheeka is also the founder of Soul Sisters, a Berlin-based collective of black women interested in decolonising and empowering the black female consciousness. Soul Sisters provides both an online platform and a physical community where women can explore black feminist thought.
CT: You moved to Berlin from the United States; what made you want to make this move?
NN: I’m a very spontaneous person. I love change and adventure. I had been living in New Orleans and was ready to try something new. So I moved to Brooklyn. While in New York, I met a few dancers and we started talking about Berlin. I decided to come for a visit in 2012 and I fell in love. A few months later, in early 2013, I moved to Berlin. I didn’t know anyone or have very much money, but I knew this was where I wanted to be.
CT: Tell me a bit about founding Soul Sisters. What is the collective and why did you want to start it in Berlin?
NN: I had been living in Berlin for about a year. Coming from Louisiana to Berlin was a huge culture shock and it took me some time to adjust. I realised I was missing that sense of family and sisterhood that I’d known so well all of my life. I was tired of being the only black person everywhere I went. And simply tired of only giving the ‘nod’ to other black people on the street, and it ending there. So I began attending events by ISD, Adefra and any gathering I could find for black people. In late 2014, Ballhaus Naunynstraße held a festival called We Are Tomorrow. There was an open call for a 15-day workshop and performance, open to black women, under the title Colored Woman in a White World. I saw this and applied immediately.
It was a very rewarding and intimate experience and I knew I didn’t want it to end there. I wanted to know these women and share this bond for more than just 15 days. After our performance, I created an online group for us to stay connected and continue to support and empower each other. I called the group Soul Sisters. It wasn’t long after that the group began to grow from the eight workshop participants to the 800+ community of international black women that we are today.
CT: How does Berlin inspire you and your work?
NN: For me, Berlin is a place where people can crawl out of their shells and express themselves freely. It’s a city that’s provocative and evolving. Having grown up in a very different environment, living here has given me new perspectives and ideas, which naturally affect my work as an artist. I found that Berlin is a great place to connect and network with other talented and creative people. This really inspires me to just get out there and do it, whatever it is I want to do.
CT: In your opinion, why is Berlin is such an amazing place to live?
NN: Wow! That’s a tough question, because there are so many special things about Berlin. For me, what makes it amazing are the people, the history and the culture. It’s a place where you can find and/or recreate yourself. A place where you can grow and connect with people from all over the world. It’s a place where you can explore new and creative opportunities. On top of that, it’s affordable and the nightlife is popping. Of course, it’s easy to get lost in such a city, but with a good family and some motivation, you can really learn and grow here. I don’t see myself living here forever, but for now, it is giving me exactly what I need before moving on to my next chapter.
Martin U Waltz is an artist, photographer, teacher and entrepreneur. His work focusses on portraiture, urban and street photography. He is the co-founder of German Street Photography and a founding member of Berlin1020 photography collective.
CT: You’ve been in Berlin some time – when did you move here?
MUW: I came to Berlin as a student in 1984. The wall was still standing and Berlin was a divided city. I lived close to Kottbusser Tor. While Berlin was a very different place back then, one thing hasn’t changed: upon arrival, I was told that Berlin was essentially over and that I had missed the good times. And there were a lot of worries about the ongoing gentrification in Kreuzberg.
CT: Can you tell me a bit about your street photography and your work as an artist and photography teacher?
MUW: I am very passionate about street photography and Berlin. So I roam the streets and try to capture what makes the essence of Berlin for me. After a lot of rather painful curating, this resulted in series of photographs about events like the Zug der Liebe [‘pull of love’] and places around the city like the Warschauer Strasse, the government district or the Holocaust Memorial. These images have been in exhibitions worldwide and I also sell them as limited-edition prints.
Eventually, I got asked if I would teach photography. I agreed and I love teaching it. Photography is a topic I’m passionate about and it is a wonderful experience to be able to inspire and to help others to push their own photographic boundaries. I feel very privileged to have found this wonderful way to work.
CT: Berlin is a huge inspiration in your work; what do you love about capturing the city?
MUW: Berlin is an ever-changing city. Coming back to place it is never the same. Berlin is very fluid, very improvised in a way. Just look at the airport situation. Arriving in Berlin by plane is a third-world experience and it has been so for many years.
Berlin is beautifully ugly; so many different styles of architecture clashing. Such a rich choice of brutalist architecture. There is is so much friction, literally so much to see. Berlin never gets boring.
CT: Why is Berlin is such an amazing place to live?
MUW: There are so many things that make Berlin an amazing place. It has a creative culture and buzz, as creative people from all over the world come to Berlin. It’s incredibly open, with very few established structures. The message is: come to Berlin, take a seat and be part of the city – it is as easy as that. Berlin has a pretty open-minded spirit. Whoever you are, whatever you do, people don’t really care (both in a good and in a bad way). Whatever floats your boat, whatever your kink, you will find kindred spirits in Berlin.