Heading off to the outskirts of Berlin to visit the International Street Art Festival, Oekologisches Kulturzentrum Kesselberg e.V., one imagines some urban outpost swarming with elusive artists bearing hoodies and cans. But once the mission of finding the destination (train, followed by a few kilometres on foot and helped with a bit of hitchhiking) has been dealt with, you find yourself in an ecological community project right the heart of the woods in what was an old Soviet spy base. The last ounce of its Soviet-ness has been replaced by a welcoming, creative group of people who set up an International Street Art Festival in order to decorate their rambling village. So rather than the rude-boys, the “big softies” of the Berlin street art scene had turned up for a rural retreat!
Tucked between two of the buildings, a bit further on from the wood and bicycle workshop, and opposite the music room, was a table standing outside displaying buckets and old plastic vessels containing a multitude of different colours of ecological paints. Following the instructions stuck on the wall you could mix up your own pot of colour, and then select a wall to paint by studying the felt-tip, animated plan of all the buildings and choosing one of the locations marked by a smiley face.
If painting the walls wasn’t for you, the timetable gaffa-taped to the door showed the workshops that were available. Life drawing in the woods, silk screen printing, clowning skills, and other painting based classes run by some of the big Berlin street art names. Everyone staying overnight were instructed to bring their own tents and artist equipment, and everyone was fed from a huge stew of home-grown or organic produce cooked up in the open air and enjoyed together sitting on logs around the fireplace. From the fire circle you can see the mural covering the side of the nearest building painted with three large characters, each by a different artist, unified by the scattering of small figures hanging of the floodlight, being eaten by frogface or just sitting and admiring the view. The pale colours that come from the ecological paint give a light-hearted, child-like feel to the building.
On entering the community itself, the first signs that one encounters refer to children playing and warnings to keep your dog under control, as the chickens roam free. The new murals, along with these notices rustled up using scraps reveal the purity of the lifestyle of the community and what they stand for. Berlin is infamous for its squatting movement, which has been prominent since the 80s and is slowly being crushed out of the city, and here one can see the next stage of this squatting movement. The honest, simple existence in the middle of the woods, bringing together the notorious creativity from the streets of Berlin with the search for a lifestyle that goes beyond the need for a steady income and pension scheme, high-street fashion and mass-produced chicken breasts. This International Street Art Festival is a real piece of the original Berlin mind-set and it is a relief to know that it still exists somewhere.
By Leen Horsford