I watch my step as I enter, careful not to step in the rubble and debris that have tumbled down from the walls and ceilings of this derelict building over time. The bare sandals I’ve chosen to wear on this hot day in late September are not the best footwear for this kind of exhibit. But never mind my feet for now, the space all around me exudes passion, sadness, poetry. It is beautiful in the grittiest, ugliest way—decay covered by layers of quirky and vivid street art. It’s something of a dream gallery; not bound by expertise or pretense, it’s all heart.
When I heard that 80 local street artists would be taking over a three-story abandoned factory in Berkeley for a temporary exhibit called Special Delivery, there was never any doubt that I was going to go. It was open to the public on weekends for four weeks in September, and I made it on the very last day.
Someday, the art-loving building director who hosted this exhibit with Endless Canvas will oversee the transformation of this site into an office building. But for four weeks, it was a grungy artistic wonderland open to the public; a living but ephemeral museum of underground culture that will only last in photographs:
In Twyfelfontein, red sandstone rocks perch precariously atop other rocks, looking as though they are ready to tumble at any moment and join the field of boulders below. Some have taken on shapes that are reminiscent of the sea and others that have been artfully carved and arranged by the elements look like transient public art sculptures.
The rock formations alone are captivating, but a closer look at the sandstone reveals a lot more — thousand of carvings and several paintings that depict humans, animals, and footprints. The rock art at Twyfelfontein dates back to the Stone Age when hunter-gatherers inhabited the area, and the oldest engravings could be up to 10,000 years old. It is believed that much of the art was part of shamanistic rituals and the Khoikhoi people who came after the hunter-gatherers also used the stones as game boards, for grinding, and as gongs in addition to adding to the artwork.
The name Twyfelfontein comes from a much later era when a European sheep farmer rediscovered a spring on the site and settled there in 1947. He had difficulty collecting enough water from the spring for his family and his herds and because of this, the area came to be known as Twyfelfontein which means “uncertain spring” in Afrikaans. As our guide showed us, the spring for which the site is named still exists, as well as the pump the sheep farmer used to extract it. The ruins of his residence also remain.
From the Stone Age to the 20th century, thousands of years of history converge at Twyfelfontein, embedded and etched into the stone:
Trivial as it may seem in theory, an outer layer of paint can make a destination memorable. Jaipur, India is known as the Pink City because of the dusty rose-colored buildings that make up its historical center. Santorini is known for its white buildings against the brilliant blue sea, and the colonial towns of Mexico for their bright multicolored rows of buildings.
In Berlin, rather than a color or set of colors, the decorative theme that lingers in your mind is the collective scrawl of anyone who can get their hands on a can of spray paint.
The combination of abandoned spaces, drab boxy buildings, decades of formidable history, and an outspoken population that seems to both struggle with and thrive on its city’s reputation of being poor have all contributed to Berlin becoming one of the most graffiti-heavy places in the world: