Silent Giants: Mannheim’s Urban Art Gallery

by Katharina Guschtschin

From the corner of your eye, you spot something different. A dash of color which does not belong there. It’s not the same beige or grey or white as on any other walls in Mannheim, not just sandstone, cement or dirt. You look up and have to take a step back. Actually, you have to cross the street and then you see the giant resting his head on his hand.

It reminds of The Thinker, but in more bright colors and with sharp edges – so it makes sense that it is called ‘The modern thinker’. The mural – as these huge artworks decorating some of the bland walls in Mannheim’s Quadrate and Neckarstadt are called – was painted in 2014 by Russian artist Dmitri Aske. When we asked him to describe his work  few words, he said:

“The artwork was inspired by the famous Auguste Rodin’s sculpture. The image of a man sunk in thoughts is as relevant as now as ever since the world around us is passing through these crazy times. It seems that we need to think more about what’s going on.”

The modern thinker definitely did make us stop and wonder. The dimensionality and depth, the bright colors but also the sheer size of the artwork will have that effect on you. And the modern thinker is not by himself.

Beginning in 2013, Mannheim has invited local, national and international artists to paint these murals. Stadt.Wand.Kunst is a collaboration project by Alte Feuerwache Mannehim, GBG Mannheim Wohnungsbaugesellschaft, Montana Cans and the Kulturamt (Culture Office) Mannheim to create an Open Urban Art Gallery that now includes 23 murals. The artists are selected by a committee and usually during summer they arrive in Mannheim and paint their large-scale artworks on the buildings within weeks.

But as nothing is forever, not all murals are still displayed.

Some of the buildings were demolished and with them, the physical forms of the artwork such as the mural from local artist czolk “Fenster zum Hof” (Window to the backyard).

[Check out the mural on the artist’s instagram @czolk]

While  the mural is no longer there for us to admire in the Schanzenstraße, the motive was something that feels familiar and is easily to remember for the most of us. The artist described it as “different frames which reveal an overall picture, a mother at the window who is calling her son to dinner” and stated that he took his direct surroundings into consideration when choosing the motive, wanting to create “an identification space independent of age, gender, religion, ethnicity etc.”.

Another local artist, Jens Richter, also took his surroundings truly nto account. If you travel a lot via train, you might have already seen his artwork and wondered  how a fish might fit into the train station. We asked the artist about his motive, how it interacted with the location of his mural, and he told us:

“A train station is a special place, like an in-between world. A place where you don’t settle down, but are ‘on the road’. Being on the road means not being at home, leaving your comfort zone. This can be scary but also exciting. One is like a fish in foreign waters. With my work I want to give the travelers a feeling of inner peace, the pike seems relaxed, although it swims in another world. At the same time, I want to inspire the imagination. Under the tracks and the hustle and bustle of the train station, there could be another world.”

Richter painted a fish because Mannheim is located between two rivers, but

“Mannheim is not a cute goldfish. Mannheim for me is rather a predatory fish, but a friendly one.

Especially, children seem to be enthusiastic about the mural, at least that’s how I perceived it while working on site. I’m very happy about that, because it was very important to me to convey to them that leaving your comfort zone and being „on the road“ can be something wonderful.“

Many people right now can probably relate to feeling like a fish in foreign, if not out of, waters. The Corona pandemic brings us all out of our comfort zone.

We are not used to staying at home, to not see our friends, to study online. Shops and restaurants and museums are closed, and there is not really much else to do but take a walk. Most of us by now know the riverbanks of the Rhein and Neckar by heart.

The Open Urban Art Gallery offers a change of scenery.

On the website of Stadt.Wand.Kunst, you can download a map of all the artworks across Mannheim. In non-Corona times, you can also book a guided tour of the Quadrate or the Neckarstadt murals. Some of the murals are located in the Quadrate, so make sure you wear a mask and keep your distance when exploring Mannheim’s unique Urban Art sites.

We would like to thank the artists who gave a short statement to their murals and recommend you to check out their Instagram pages: Dmitri Aske (@dmitriaske), czolk(@czolk) & Jens Richter(@jensrichter.art)

You can find more information on the project, the other artists and their Instragram handles on the website of Stadt.Wand.Kunst.