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Walking down the street in Berlin, the history is tangible in the architecture, artworks, monuments and museums. Each day, it seems like a new layer is applied to this city in constant motion and transformation – from a new restaurant, gallery or bar opening to a new mural painted onto the skin of the city. Whatever it is, there is a clear sense of the new being built on top of the ruins of the old, and the latest example of this comes from a group of ‘cultural heirs’ set on transforming Nazi insignia into beautiful works of art.
Germany has been undergoing a sharp rise in right-wing activity, with anti-immigrant propaganda becoming more prevalent in the face of the ongoing refugee crisis.
To combat this resurgence of hate, seventeen-year-old Klemens and his friends who call themselves ‘Cultural Heirs’ are on a mission to flush their beloved city of hate symbols tied up with Germany’s vicious past.
The youth project was conceived by the Paint Back crew who aim to inspire youth from German and immigrant backgrounds to reimagine their city and future through their own creativity and power to transform.
The swastikas they spot painted on walls and structures are turned into anything from Egyptian gods and houses to cute owl, rabbit and bee characters, giving new meaning to these loaded symbols and spreading a message of peace, unity and love. Watch the video below to see how it’s done:
Many people probably don’t realise that the swastika was actually a symbol of hope, luck and prosperity used by many ancient cultures before it was hijacked and appropriated by the Nazi regime. Now, the symbol is once again changing form and meaning into harmless and often humorous motifs by the youth initiative.
Street artist, paint shop owner and founder of PaintBack Ibo Omari said that he got the idea for the project after thoughtful contemplation on how to respond to the hateful neo-Natzi symbols smeared on walls in the neighbourhood. His conclusion being that, ‘We will respond with humour and love. Graffiti’s got nothing to do with racism – it’s about bright colours and diverse backgrounds.’