A city becomes colourful Hamburg Graffiti History 1980 – 1999

Wednesday, January 18 2023

Opening Times

2nd November until 31st July 2023

Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. 10:00am - 5:00pm

Donnerstag 10 - 21 Uhr Thursday: 10:00am - 9:00pm
(free admission from 5:00pm / free curator tours from 6:00pm to 7.00pm)

Saturday & Sunday: 10:00am - 6.00pm


Museum für Hamburgische Geschichte
Holstenwall 24
20355 Hamburg-Inner City
.How to get there

Graffiti. An art form that emerged out of nowhere and often disappears there again - together with the torn down, modernised or simply freshly painted walls. A quick, direct form of communication. One that users of the S-Bahn, U-Bahn and Deutsche Bahn can enjoy.

Graffiti. It's the craft, the originality and the style that counts. Artists like Loomit, Daim or Darko have long since arrived in the mainstream. In addition to the prominent representatives of the graffiti scene, there have been and still are countless sprayers who have embellished Hamburg's surfaces since the early 80s.

It was during these years that the first colourful pieces appeared on the cityscape. Inspired by films like "Wild Style" (which, by the way, inspired the entire early and emerging hip-hop culture), young people went out at night and sprayed lettering on walls. They acquire the necessary tricks and knowledge for this themselves.

A graffiti scene forms in the city. As part of the hip-hop culture, which includes MCing, DJing and breaking, it continues to grow over the years.  As a result, what is initially a hobby of individuals becomes a subculture with its own codes and rules.

At the end of the 1980s, the public became aware of graffiti: the media reported on sprayers and S-Bahn surfers, youth centres offered areas for spraying, and the first museums and galleries presented spray art to a broader public.


The Hamburg Department of Culture is having the phenomenon of graffiti scientifically researched. The subculture emerges from its niche. Today, some 40 years after the first pieces appeared in Hamburg, the exhibition is dedicated to the question of how graffiti became at home here.

By embedding the growth of the subculture in its contemporary historical context and highlighting important milestones of graffiti in Hamburg, the exhibition tells a chapter of Hamburg's city history that has hardly been illuminated so far.

For the exhibition, almost 500 exhibits, including photos, texts, sketchbooks, spray cans, newspapers, magazines, records and accessories, were collected by the curators Oliver Nebel, Frank Petering, Mirko Reisser and Andreas Timm.

During the research, the four were able to tie in with their collaborative work: they are the editors of the volume "Eine Stadt Wird Bunt" (A City Becomes Colourful), published in 2021 and named Hamburg's Book of the Year in 2022, from which the exhibition takes its title.

Like the book, the exhibition traces the historical arc from the establishment of a new city topography after the Second World War to the punk and protest culture of the 1980s and the emergence of a growing graffiti scene.

In great detail, the exhibition traces how the US hip-hop culture became at home in Hamburg. Numerous photographs, some of them in large format, show how Hamburg's graffiti pioneers conquered the city's walls.

The exhibition shows film posters, concert tickets, as well as articles from magazines such as "Stern" or "Bravo" and other written material. The vital role of media, the significance of the music and breakdance scene and the relevance of youth centres and the cultural scene for the development of the entire subculture are illustrated.

Whether flyers, audio cassettes or records: at first glance, some exhibits look like mundane everyday objects from a time long gone. In the context of the story the exhibition tells, however, it quickly becomes apparent that virtually every snippet that had to do with hip-hop and graffiti was guarded like a treasure at the time.

In the age before the internet, information about the subculture was scarce. With graffiti writers' tools such as spray cans, markers, square spanners or bolt cutters, but also accessories typical of the scene such as namebelts, sneakers or baseball jackets with elaborately designed "backpieces" as well as legendary records, the exhibition provides a deep insight into the beginnings of hip-hop culture in Hamburg. In addition to graffiti writing, it also takes a look at MCing, DJing and breaking. 

One of the exhibition's highlights are the historic S-Bahn seats, on which visitors can sit - just like a graffiti writer in the 1980s. Above the entrance to the music section of the exhibition, "Powerhouse" is written in large letters. This installation is the original lettering that once adorned the door to a legendary hip-hop club on St. Pauli.

In keeping with the year 2023, the exhibition also includes the "Eine Stadt Wird Bunt" multimedia smartphone app with which the city can be explored in the footsteps of subculture. The interactive tool takes you to Hamburg locations that were once relevant to the scene - such as the Jungfernstieg Corner, the sprayer meeting place Königsstraße or the Gymnasium Altona, whose gym wall was once a famous graffiti gallery.

With the help of an augmented reality application, users can look into the past of the respective location at historical sites - and extend the tour beyond the museum into the space where graffiti is at home: the city.

App at: or

This exhibition is a journey through time, a lesson in sociology, history, urban planning, music, fashion, politics and art. It has street credibility and glows with spray paint. Simply worth a visit.

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A city becomes colourful – Hamburg Graffiti History 1980 – 1999
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