Repression against reverse graffiti: our village shall remain dirty

With "reverse graffiti" murals are created by cleaning up soot. Cologne wants to fight this with advertisements – the Green Youth scoffs at it.

Clean thing: Reverse Graffiti, here in San Francisco. Image: Frankenhut / License: CC BY 2.0

That Cologne is a rather dirty place was already noted by the Scottish philosopher David Hume in his 18th-century travelogues – today, this is still considered the consensus. Nevertheless, many of its inhabitants consider the old city on the Rhine to be the most beautiful in Germany, usually with the remark that there is more to it than mere surface. Because Kolle, as they also like to sing there, Kolle is after all: e Jefohl.

All the grime from traffic and industry has settled into the post-war concrete surfaces, providing the perfect canvas for a new form of street art called reverse graffiti: artists paint pictures on walls somewhere in the city, but they don’t use paint to do it; instead, they use sandblasters, high-pressure cleaners or toothbrushes. They remove old soot and dust from parts of the walls, and like an etching, the urban work of art is created in the contrast between the dirty and freshly cleaned wall. Ephemeral, environmentally friendly, and without damage to property.

Cologne used to be the most important city for the German art scene. Now, in 2014, every case of reverse graffiti caught is reported to the public prosecutor’s office, because the artistic partial cleaning changes the appearance of the city center without being asked – in addition, costs are incurred, according to the city’s argumentation, because after all, you have to clean the whole wall if a part is already cleaned.

Already, reverse graffiti artists are cleaning little cleaning men into the dirt in protest, while elsewhere interesting questions are emerging: What, for example, is the city’s attitude to rain falling without being asked, asks the Green Youth NRW in an open letter with ten questions to the city of Cologne.

When will residents be informed that they are no longer allowed to clean their own homes? And how do you deal with the sandblasting of the facade of Cologne Cathedral, which is only being done gradually? Currently, the famous building is black and white because of this.