German Seniors Take Up Graffiti


Meanwhile, in Tübingen, street artist "Mr. Sufa," also known as Dirk Ridder, offers an annual graffiti course for "seniors." In this case, the term is used loosely -- the course is aimed at those over the ripe old age of 30. Since 2009, the 43-year-old artist, whose day job involves working with young people as a social worker, has been luring older crowds to his courses with flyers reading: "Too old for graffiti? Never!" The initiative has been such a success that he is planning another course this fall.

Spray for the Sake of Your Health

Dr. Jennifer Anders, a research assistant at the Albertinen Hospital's geriatrics clinic in Hamburg, is not surprised by the graffiti trend among older people. "The stereotype of a lonely grandmother in a pink cardigan who only plays canasta is outdated," she told SPIEGEL ONLINE. "Today's aging population came of age in a different time -- they grew up with the Rolling Stones and some are ex-hippies."

Seniors who take part in graffiti courses can benefit emotionally and physically, says Anders, though she cautions that they must also possess a certain level of fitness to start. The social setting of group courses can benefit retirees who lack daily personal contact through the workplace or those who have lost a partner, for instance. But the benefits don't end there.

Anders explains that there also physical advantages. "Graffiti is an activity that requires a lot of movement, like bending and stretching," she says. "It can also potentially strengthen hand-eye coordination."

The generational interchange promoted by many senior graffiti courses can also be beneficial, says Anders. Both Jutta Hinz and Stephanie Hanna cite a desire to bridge the generation gap as one motivation behind their senior graffiti courses. "Seniors often have this negative attitude about 'the young people these days,' while young people often feel disconnected from their elders," notes Hinz. "We wanted to facilitate communication."

Senior Graffiti on the Streets

Formal courses and workshops on senior graffiti are careful to keep their work legal, either spraying on large canvas or securing the rights to public spaces, like the walls of culture centers. But not all of Germany's seniors spray inside the legal lines.

At age 61, Walter F. -- better known by his artistic name OZ -- is renowned in Germany for the smiley faces and other signature doodles he sprays around Hamburg; some 12,000 of his works can be spotted in the city. But his indiscriminate spraying often lands him in hot water: This July, he was sentenced to 14 months in jail on 11 counts of property damage. The German press, which has followed OZ for over a decade, now affectionately refers to him as Hamburg's "Graffiti Oldie."

Unlike OZ, who has been spraying for years, most of the students participating in courses like those offered by Jutta Hinz's Mosaik Kreis or Stephanie Hanna's Senior Street Art are newcomers to the graffiti game. But some have followed in the footsteps of pros like OZ, taking what they learned in the classroom and transferring it to less-than-legal public spaces.

Hanna revealed that she sometimes sees graffiti that she taught in one of her past workshops while walking through the streets of Berlin. She told the Neue Zürcher Zeitung that apparently one or another of her students had taken to surreptitiously bringing what he or she learned in class to the city streets.

Bridging the Generation Gap

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