Grafitti & Anne Frank
Street Art Break in VR with Tom
When I think of Anne Frank, street art does not come to mind, or VR. But the connection is there for both.
The Anne Frank Home was one of the first historical places to be re-created in consumer-level VR. A virtual tour of the Secret Annex was available for the Oculus Go in 2018. It was a free app. I tried it.
In Tour Mode, it was possible to explore her limited world. VR lets us feel present in a simulated space. Anybody with a $200 headset could get a real sense of what it was like to be confined right there.
Minus the fear.
It might seem odd at first that the Anne Frank Zentrum, celebrating and depicting her life, is in the top street art location in Berlin.
It is part of a larger facility called, Haus Schwartzenberg, which is a place to remember heroes of resistance in the past — and to let public art go a bit wild in the present.
The Haus includes three small unusual museums:
- One celebrates Otto Weidts, who protected blind Jewish people in Nazi Germany and employed them as workers — right where the Haus is now.
- A second, the Monsterkabinett, celebrates weird mechanical robots and more, operated by the Dead Chickens.
- The third tells the story of Anne Frank, linking the forces that shaped her life to forces that are still present today.
Outside the Haus, in an enclosed alley that opens into a courtyard, is some of the best — and fastest changing — street art in Berlin.
It is easy to walk right by, out on busy Rosenthaler Strasse in the heart of modern Berlin, and not even notice the portal.
For those who know where to turn, it is like traveling back in time, 25–30 years, not too long after The Wall came down.
It is almost impossible to imagine that the city of Berlin was once divided into four zones administered by four foreign powers. It had been that way since the end of World War II in 1945 — and in 1961 one of the four put a big Wall around its part.
It was in place for 28 years. Then it came down.
A major discontinuity ensued. People pounced on deserted run down properties, especially in the borough of Mitte, in the center of the city where the zones came together.
Artists moved into some of the wasteland, because artists always need space and some of them will go where no one else will, yet.
It was crucial to move fast. Only six years after the Wall came down, things had tightened up again as usual and a group of artists lead by the Dead Chickens managed to form a non-profit enterprise to hold on to the Haus Schwartzenberg as a place for art.
Somehow, it has resisted many pressures and remains a place existing in another time today.
If there is a featured work outdoors at the Haus, it is the Anne Frank portrait by Jimmy C (James Cochrane), painted in 2012.
At that time, street art was not as respectable as it has become in many cities around the world. It was a little bit of a stretch at that time to see street art as a destination, as a draw that would help bring people to Anne’s Frank’s place in Berlin.
It did and it still does. Every other part of the outdoor gallery continually changes. The painting was damaged and has been restored. It is a constant.
Jimmy C’s distinctive ‘aerosol pointillism’ wants to be viewed from different distances. You want to check out the dots that make it up and then see what it’s really like as a whole. The artist himself also calls it, ‘drip painting,’ and he embellishes his portraits in ways that elevate them or give them deeper meaning.
Jimmy C’s street art brought people to the Ann Frank Zentrum and he and Anne Frank together were part of a broader movement that brought gravitas to street art.
In February, 2023, Street Art Break in VR brought people from all over the world to the mural. Their avatars could stand and look at it right up close, surrounded by public art, next to the doorway leading upstairs.
By using a series of photospheres (360 degree spherical projections), it’s easy to create a simple version of the Haus courtyard.
Avatars spawned into a sphere showing an imaginative piece by Berlin street artist, Black Sky. From people’s avatar perspective, a full one-story mural looks just as tall as it should.
We moved on to a point in the alley where our avatars stood looking at the same tunnel at two points in time, with different art on the walls. People could chose either, to arrive at the same point inside the alley, alive with art.
The Anne Frank mural was last in the sequence and it is breathtaking to suddenly come upon it.
After lingering with her mural in the courtyard, we broke out of the spheres altogether — out into the Haus Schwartzenberg at the present time, a moment one evening in late 2022, an overhead Truman’s World sky that put us back from the art, still in the alley.
You can see the series of photospheres, from which people would exit onto an open area and then came over to the large map of Germany.
It shows Berlin, shows how the divisions created the monumental disruption that led to this place.
Tom’s work has not appeared in The New York Times, New Yorker Magazine, The New Republic, the New England Journal of Medicine, or anything New at all.
He only publishes in obscure journals and, once upon a time, PBS Program Guides. Otherwise he just gives his work a URL and sends it packing on the web at places like Medium and Sub-Stack, where he enjoys a modest following.