LEAVING THE COUNTRY TO BECOME A STREET ARTIST
By Kara Johnston
With the sweet, soft taste of wheat beer mixed with banana nectar lacing my breath and the sunset fast approaching 5 a.m., it was time to stumble home. Instead of unlocking my bike, I decided on a tram ride with a durum prologue. My durum, a German salad wrap created by street vendors who fill the town of Neustadt in the savory smell of shaved meat and lettuce, and I set out for the walk to the tram.
Neustadt sits in Dresden like Akron's Highland Square sits in our region. This nook of the city has everything I could ever want: an estimated 300 bars closely packed together—a micro-beer-infused sardine city—bookstores, coffee shops, vintage and thrift stores, and apartments that sit above all of this with inhabitants who peer out over night- goers, offering private parties to close friends. The kind of parties that as I pass by, I look up and immediately feel deeply alone and deeply connected, part of something bigger than myself.
And then, there, on the wall — the face of Darth Vader, nearly the size of my entire body, is plastered, inviting. Asking me, "May I have some of your durum?"
Everywhere, literally everywhere, I am faced with the canvases of street artists: The plasterer of the face of Darth Vader and Chuck Norris, the political stenciler, the muralist, and those public commissioned pieces that seem to sink into the walls and spread through the city's blood stream.
Colors overlap and clash. My eyes are drawn up from the cracks in the sidewalk, bikers wobbling home as best they can on their two wheels. I hear people talking and wonder if they also are viewers in the great gallery of Neustadt, whispering and wondering what the artist meant with the simple black stencil of a duck whose body wears the exclamation "Arg," or what story the gray, robotic face painted under a window is waiting to tell.
Styles blend like colors. Entire building facades stand as galleries. Over what time spans these galleries, who the artists were, I'm not sure; believers in monsters, in voices for those street artist lost, lovers of the ocean, lovers of feta, enjoyers of the enchanted forest, haters of democracy, all using the walls to show their deep, inner selves. All using this moment and the medium of their choice to belong to the greater moment.
In the morning light, I am stopped and staring. A building has been painted to reveal—as if the building itself was peeling away—a blue sky with butterflies. I wonder what the German word for "butterfly" is. This building is saying that I can't. It has found the words to convey the message of the art I have submerged myself in. It all leaves me aching to know why my home city isn't as decorated and street art isn't as embraced as it is here in Dresden Neustadt. And it has left me wondering what we in the States are lacking, what freedom we have yet to find that is attached to a simple artistic proclamation. This moment when you become part of your city; when your memory is etched, when your voice is heard by people just like you.
Every corner, every nook, every space here in the States where you'd be faced with bare walls, someone has left their imprint on the city. German and English letting me know, yes, you're welcome here. Even looking at the phrase "eat the rich" spray painted between two windows of a clothing store provokes in me the urge to throw my durum to the ground, leave the frills of my life behind, and go undercover spreading this message.
Before catching the tram, I wind my way back to Mr. Vader, pull a pen out of my bag and simply write "yes" and my name next to him; I will not be forgetting his face soon. And the city won't be forgetting mine.