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Street Art in Dresden: Better Than Berlin?

When people think of Dresden, Germany, they tend to picture the idyllic cityscape of preserved and restored buildings and townhouses that have earned the city the proud UNESCO World Heritage Site badge that it wears. Others picture the imaginative setting produced when they first read the book Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut, although it’s rare that what they see on the ground is anything like the image their imaginations conjured up.

In reality, Dresden is two cities. First, it’s the arrangement of old and restored churches and townhouses that most people imagine. Secondly, the other half of the city – or Neustadt (New City) – is completely unlike anything Vonnegut imagined, and is most closely aligned to the alternative-edge districts in Berlin.

Alternative culture thrives in Dresden, and the Neustadt neighbourhood in particular is where the largest congregation of trendy people, shops, bars, and restaurants can be found. There are small shops, selling racks jam-packed with eco-aware clothing for both boys and girls. In between the regular newsagents and banks, there are small trendy cafes selling whichever cake recipe is trending on Pinterest this week, plus a number of new, gluten-free, vegan options on the menu (which seems to be increasing in number every time I enter a cafe).

Whilst there are several bars and restaurants that I could fill paragraph after paragraph talking about, you should definitely check out the vegan currywurst at Curry & Co. What I loved most about Dresden – and hope to show to you now – is how well-developed the street art scene is in the city.

Whilst the total square mile area probably doesn’t compare to how much space there is in Berlin for tagging and paste-ups, the street artists and graffiti writers in Dresden make fantastic use of the space they have to meld a mixture of traditional ideas and new techniques, creating dynamic and bright arrays of awesomeness in the process.

I was really glad to see that the artist El Bocho had already left his mark on the city in several different locations, as my partner Franca is borderline besotted with his work and always loves to find extra Little Lucy paste-ups that she’s not seen before.

Dresden is full of other great examples of how paste-ups are becoming one of the main methods in which street artists are working today, mainly due to the ease in which they can be produced at home, way in advance of a night on the street putting them up. There are a few familiar styles that can be found here, there, and everywhere; plus a few new unknown and unsigned works that I’d love to see more of in the future.

Personally, I find the larger and more detailed works more transfixing. I’m not quite the bore who stands staring at a piece for hours, taking in every detail (not yet anyway), but there were a few behind some buildings, down alleyways, and even in private housing car parking bays that clearly had been painstakingly designed, coordinated, and painted.

Most impressive of all was one large graffiti tag/mural that covered part of one building, which poked up one level from the roof of the building next door. I’m not the most adoring fan of traditional tagging, but there was something about the grand scale of this piece, its colouring, and the location that put the ‘wow factor’ into me; something that has become harder and harder to achieve the more I see street art around the world.

If I was inclined to spend my time hanging out anywhere to get to know the street art community in Germany, I think it would be in Dresden. Obviously, the first destination people have in mind for meeting with street artists and graffiti writers might be Berlin, or maybe even Leipzig, but the appeal to me of being in a smaller community of dedicated artists that I believe to be active in the city is so much greater. And, as you can see from these pictures, the quality of the work is too great to not want to be a part of.

Which do you prefer: Dresden or Berlin?

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