Walking to work, going to the supermarket, looking outside of my window: All I see is Sozi36. While others may loathe these kind of “Schmierereien”, graffiti and tagging makes me feel like I’m home. Or, as my foreign relative once asked, “do you people in Berlin have an obsession with graffiti or something? It’s 2016, after all!”
But not all graffitis are equal. Some crews love to go wild with their paint. They abseil from rooftops to leave their names behind. In Kreuzberg, THC, Berlin Kidz and 1UP are the most visible ones, but Sozi36 – a one man show – is not far behind. While he rarely leaves big pieces, he is literally everywhere I go.
What makes Sozi36 stand out from the other tags and graffitis in Berlin? Sozi36 doesn’t just leave tags, he prefers to decorate mattresses and posters and things he finds on the street. But it’s not just that, either. It is also the messages on his “artworks”: from global politics to small, local issues, there is nothing Sozi36 doesn’t seem to reflect on.
So I took the chance and asked him – anonymously, per e-mail – a few questions about his work.
Since when have you been tagging by the name of SOZI36?
Sozi exists in Kreuzberg36 since 1996 – there was a 10 year break due to personal reasons.
Do you mainly work Kreuzberg or do you leave your name in other districts, too?
When I tag, I tag everywhere I go. Whether I visit Pretoria or the family court, I’ll leave my marks anywhere. But over time I became more settled. Kids, a big gut, an LPG membership, the first real job and a good old detox have definitely restrained me from venturing into other areas. Sometimes I’m in Kreuzkölln, that’s where I lived for a while. And that’s when I get angry and start insulting everybody. I’m not against change, but what’s happening in Kreuzkölln is such trifle, it’s excruciating. And that’s not the kind of hate that I want for myself, so I stay in [Kreuzberg] 36.
Are you a real Berliner? Do you see yourself as an agent of your neighborhood or even Berlin as a whole?
I consider myself a Kreuzberger. I can’t really deal with the rest of Berlin: bouncers don’t let me into the clubs, I don’t care for Hertha and to be honest, I don’t even see most districts as part of the city. And yet I am part of why people come to Berlin. Doing what I’m doing carries on the myth of Kreuzberg – I continue to write it. And people come to watch the myth unfold. How much is real and how much facade is always up for discussion, it keeps changing. Most of the time it changes at the expense of authenticity.
So what’s the overall message of Sozi36?
First of all, I hate this system of society: capitalism and imperialism. I hate Germany and the West, the police, the Jobcenter, media, all that talk about Western values. When I see pictures of injustice – Guantanamo, cops killing blacks, sweatshops, the massacre of Marikana, the German mobs in Heidenau/Freital, I get angry – or cynical. I like being angry more than being cynical, which often feels like resignation.
But what makes me even angrier are the people on the street. There are too many here who are accomplices to this system. They refuse to leave their comfort zone. They want to believe that Obama and the Green Party and the so-called “Western Values” are going to do good for the world. Regardless of how much exploitation and misery they cause.
Some people watch that Steve Jobs movie, but choose to ignore Foxconn. It’s a quite similar thing with the AfD. Everybody’s pointing their fingers at them because they’re disgusting – and I agree, they are disgusting. But the AfD didn’t destroy Iraq, they didn’t occupy Afghanistan, they never exploited the global South, made the Mediterranean a graveyard or covered up what the NSU did. Those responsible are the “democratic parties and the political and economical structures”, which so many people call their values.
Sometimes you just have to fuck with people’s comfort zones to make them think outside of the box. But I’m not exclusively hateful. I believe truly that people are able to build a different kind of society, one with meaning and heart. And every time I see the potential, my heart burns for it: 1st of May in Kreuzberg (2001), Tahrir Square (2011) Gezi Park (2013), Ferguson (2014).
What are the issues right here that you want to share with the locals in Kreuzberg?
There’s a big buffet to choose from. There are still leftovers of an old resistance culture. There’s life at and around Görlitzer Park, the hustle against it, the raids and the discourse about it. You can experience Kiez vs. Gentrification live. And Kreuzberg has the best audience ever to do stuff on the street. I can communicate with the people here. There are so many majorities and minorities to offend! Sozi36 wouldn’t make it far in Reinickendorf. The homogeneity would end the conversation rather quickly.
What is it that you want to achieve with your graffiti?
In my youth, there were two Berlin writers who had their tags everywhere. Every school kid knew their names: LEVEL in the West and UTE in the East. Many graffiti writers scored points in their own scene by proving their skills, actions and discipline, but I wanted the other kids to simply know me. I want to address “everyone”.
Do you sometimes engage people in conversations while you’re working?
Yes, people sometimes approach me and we get to talking. There are many interesting and amusing anecdotes to tell. “Papa, what is he doing?” “Ah, he’s cool, he draws stuff on mattresses and other things he finds in the streets – but not on the walls! It’s rather artistic.” Ouch! It was supposed to be a compliment, but it really hurt. Or when 14 year old boys want to try out the spray can, they always draw penises!
And when I do something for good spirits, against gentrification or against Trump, everybody becomes cheerful. But once I wrote something against Bernie Sanders, and immediately there was this American lady runner shouting at me, and a barber was storming out of his store and threatened me with his scissors. Anti-Obama mattresses had to be re-arranged hourly or draped with barbwire. And sometimes I have to spray on both sides of the mattress because it gets thrown around so much, and that’s when people start tearing off the casing as well.
But there’s a surprising amount of support, too. People give me their sharpies and old men want to help so they hold my posters while I climb up somewhere. I don’t need people to celebrate my opinion, I want them to celebrate its presence in the public sphere.
Do you believe that graffiti is a tradition in Kreuzberg and should therefore be preserved?
A while ago I was in Exarcheia, the resisting town in Athens. The walls are covered from top to bottom, painted and smeared. Street art, art, graffiti, political speech and so on. That’s what I imagine Kreuzberg was like before my time. But it’s probably never going to get back to that again. You can’t conserve graffiti, it doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Graffiti as single element of a social structure can’t be preserved. A lot of things are still possible today, but it’s something different.
Do you have an Instagram account or another media to share your work?
One characteristic of my work: it’s extremely transitory. In some cases I was really disappointed, I mean I put work into it, you invest time and skills, and after an hour comes the BSR-Kolonne and demolishes everything.
One day I noticed that many were posting my stuff on Instagram, sometimes with the hashtag #Sozi36. So I created an Instagram account to publicly conserve some work that is important to me – when it isn’t posted by other people. But most stuff is in the search feed #sozi36. But using social media can be dangerous: you have to keep it real and produce for the streets, and not for the picture.
Are you ambitious about making more out of your interventions?
I am happy about everything that happens on the street in terms of artistic communication. I love it when PÖ hits Kreuzberg, the kreuzbergbirds share their good vibes and even when little fanboys throw Ufo361 on the walls. More people should do more stuff on the streets.
But if I were to call my work art, then I’d have to meet expectations. That’s the good part about my niche: I can do whatever I want. I don’t have to measure myself against the street art scene or the graffiti scene, or even consider their norms. I am happy with my engagement. But of course the goal is to have children who will one day carry my name on in honor ;)
Big thanks to Sozi36 for answers all those questions.