The casual visitor to Berlin will be taken aback by many things that seem counter-normative in other major European cities, but designers especially will notice one thing; the prominence of fly posting. Predictably the roots of this are grounded in the club scene as formerly illegal club spaces legitimised and found themselves in a position where they could now advertise openly throughout the 1990’s. There are parallels between this and the generation of British designers that emerged from musical subcultures in the 1980’s designing posters and flyers for events up and down the country throughout the Acid House boom.
Where the two differ is in their legal treatment by their respective governments. Fly posting in the UK is treated in the same legal framework as graffiti and can be charged as criminal damage. In Berlin, though not Germany as a whole, it exists in a legislative
grey area and is not considered criminal damage. With no real grounds for prosecution it goes largely ignored by the authorities and in most neighbourhoods any given lamp post, electrical box or doorway will be pasted entirely with posters. From this entrepreneurial
individuals and companies have made their living out of fly posting. From freelance ‘wild posters’ to companies such as Plakat kultur (Poster Culture) offering fly posting services companies and organisations are afforded access to cheap, mass advertising
with an audience of millions. The city itself exists to benefit from it as well as the colourful and rugged streetscape left behind by the weekly decay and replenishment of the posters lends itself to the ‘poor but sexy’ image Berlin has sold itself on for
so long. The effect of this is well documented, not least by designer Patrick Thomas in his successful instagram account Berlin Street Graphics. Designers benefit, the city benefits, organisations benefit, everyone benefits. Ja? Nein. A walk around some of
the most popular fly posting spots will likely disappoint most designers. One would assume that such a competitive design environment with relatively little legal kickback would breed a high calibre of design and an excellent platform for emerging designers
but, with a few notable exceptions; Ruben Mata’s work for OHM club, the in house team at the Volksbuehne Theatre and Vanja Golubovic / Onlab’s work for techno institution Tresor, the standard of work is decidedly poor. At worst though this is irksome to those
that take an interest in it and does not have any bearing on the overall scene. A far greater threat has come from the expansion of designated advertising space available in the city. Previously wild posting and corporate advertising had co-existed fairly
easily - fly posting in designated advertising spaces was seen as taboo, conformist and disrespectful by wild posters and advertisers had largely reciprocated this by distancing themselves from the guerrilla marketing tactics of the posters. However with a
greater number of these spaces being made available to big companies to purchase, fly posters are increasingly marginalised and have found their guerrilla marketing tactics diminished by corporate imitation. This reached a climax when two historic pieces of
graffiti overlooking the site of the former Berlin Wall in Prenzlauer Berg were painted over by Nike and Fanta as part of their respective World Cup advertising campaigns. The desecration of a social statement by big companies attempting to appear youthful
and in touch had brought about a major realisation. What was once the preserve of political radicals, creatives and entrepreneurs was now a platform to sell shoes, apps and sunglasses. Predictably this saturation of advertising has gone the way of the billboard
and the pop-up; people are simply tuning it out. This would be especially disappoint as it hugely diversifies the urban tapestry and streetscape in a city that, with a few exceptions, is not the most architecturally enthralling. Fly posting is a deeply ingrained
part of Berlin’s visual culture and is intrinsically linked to the city’s musical and anti capitalist values but it faces a far greater threat than being wiped out…being rendered meaningless.