Graffiti courses targeting senior citizens are inspiring Germany's older generations to learn the art of spraying. Some see the endeavor as a good way to bridge the generation gap. But others go rogue with their new hobby, tagging city streets using skills learned in class.
When Berthild Lorenz signed up for a creative writing class, she was puzzled by one thing: The informational flyer she had seen on the Berlin streets mentioned writing on a wall. Regardless, the 59-year-old went ahead and registered.
It wasn't until she was already sitting in the classroom that she discovered the course was teaching a different kind of creative writing -- graffiti. "When I realized that it was a course about that stuff people smear on all the buildings and walls, the first thing I thought was 'I can't stand that mess!'" Lorenz told SPIEGEL ONLINE. At first she thought of leaving the class. "But then I thought, 'I'm already here, I might as well stay.'"
Lorenz is just one of a growing number of over-50's in Germany that are learning graffiti and other forms of street art, encouraged by courses targeting older generations. Often grey-haired or bespectacled, with some participants as old as 80, they don't exactly fit the profile of rebellious youth commonly associated with graffiti culture. And for most of them, it's their first time wielding a spray can.
"Many older people regard graffiti as vandalism," says Stephanie Hanna, a Berlin-based artist who has organized several graffiti workshops for older people. "But that is changing as people start to see that it has artistic value." Indeed, in recent years graffiti and street art have enjoyed growing prestige. Works by the elusive British street artist Banksy now change hands for hundreds of thousands of pounds.
Hanna experienced that popularity first hand. When she began her "Senior Street Art" initiative in 2005, she hadn't intended it to be a long-term project. But there was such a demand for the workshops that she continued offering them up until last year.
Never Too Old for Graffiti All across Germany, similar initiatives are encouraging the country's older generations to explore graffiti as a means of self-expression. The Mosaik Kreis, a senior citizens' activity group in the northern German city of Marl, caught the local media's attention this spring when its participants picked up spray cans for a graffiti activity day. Jutta Hinz, who co-manages the group, arranged the event after learning about a graffiti project which works to engage young people who lack interest in their studies.
"I thought if graffiti can help motivate uninterested teenagers, then maybe it can also motivate seniors," Hinz told SPIEGEL ONLINE. "It's important for them to stay active." She contacted the youth group's organizer, who visited the Mosaik Kreis for a day of spraying along with one of the young graffiti artists.
The project was a success but there were some bumps in the road, admits Hinz: "Some of the seniors were bothered by the spray paint -- they kept saying how bad it smelled."