The Pursuit of Happiness in Hamburg

hamburg street art

Whether you think street art or graffiti is a piece of art or just plain old vandalism, what’s unquestionable is its effect on the landscape of our cities.

I for one, have a bit of a soft spot for it.

You only have to visit Manchester’s Northern Quarter for sky-high artistry, or Stephenson Square for regular portraits of well-loved celebs. (I don’t use the term artistry lightly. Just because you might not agree with their canvas doesn’t make their gift any less worthy.) And of course we have the regular old “f*ck tha police” type tags which you’re going to get anywhere as long as spray paint is cheaper than cigs.

But on my recent trip to Hamburg, Germany in December, I discovered something a little different.

Smiley faces. Everywhere.

You can see them peeping through in most of my pictures below – my top pics from the Winter minibreak (a 30th birthday present from my best mate. I LOVE YOU GIIIIRL).

Hamburg street art

I thought nothing of it at the time. Hamburg’s skyline is predominately nautical. Buildings are shaped like the sails of ships. There are wrought iron boats in place of gargoyles above many towering buildings. And you won’t need to walk far from the water to find appropriate watering holes specifically targeting sailors. They’re proud of their waters and the fact that Hamburg is Germany’s biggest seaport.

But amongst the history and architecture were these faces. Smiling. Around almost every corner.

I always photograph street art if it catches my attention and now that I’m finally getting around to organising my pics from this particular trip, I’ve really started to notice how prevalent it was.

Hamburg street art

Hamburg street art

Hamburg street art

I’ve since Googled the recurring smiley faces and it turns out they’re from a pretty famous guy – a street artist called Josef Fischer who goes by the name Oz. He painted over 120,000 of his famous happy tags up until his death a few years ago (killed by a train as he was doing what he does best).

I found his name, and kept reading but there was one quote from this article which really stuck with me:

All those swirls and smiley faces, he told me, were his attempt to make a mark for each victim of the Nazis. For him, painting was protest—a war, as he put it, “against Nazi gray.”

This is what I love about travel, and art – in equal measures.

Even through, what many would consider a straight case of vandalism, there is a story of someone motivated, considered and creative.

This seemed to be the theme of Hamburg, at least for me. Happiness. Positivity. Expression.

Hamburg street art

Hamburg street art

Hamburg street art

Hamburg street art

Hamburg street art

Hamburg street art

Hamburg street art

It made me realise that I know very little about the colours that have been thrown all over Manchester and I feel like there are so many stories I’d like to hear. And that’s what I’ll try to do more of this year.

Oh, and to avoid getting TOO sentimental over a wall with paint, there was still your classic “f*ck the cops” masterpieces in Germany too. ENJOY.

Hamburg street art

Hamburg street art

You can’t please everyone I guess…

What do you think? Got any cool street art stories from your trips? Where should I visit that has GREAT graffiti? Hit me up in the comments. I’d really love to hear your ideas.


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  • Stacey Sheppard

    Such a great post. I too love Street art. My husband’s mate started out as a graffiti artist but now the local council commission him to paint huge murals and brighten up the town. Graffiti can be a positive thing for sure. I saw lots of cool Street art in Berlin. Germany is obviously a very creative place.

    • Oh wow that’s so cool! I know what you mean though. I took just as many pics when I went to Berlin. I know it’s not everyone’s cup of tea but I love it 🙂

  • fabricofmylife

    Got to love great street art, especially when it has such a positive message. Great to discover the sentiment behind the artwork too! xx

    • Me too! Never thought to Google it before but I’m so glad I did x

  • Rachel Newcombe

    Some of the street art is fab and highly artistic!

    • Isn’t it Rachel? It’s the top thing I take pictures of now when I travel!

  • Rebecca Ryan

    Seen some pretty cool street art in various European cities. A master dam has some very erm imaginative images! Never visiting Germany but looks like I need to add it to the list

  • Love the smiley faces- how awesome! I love Shoreditch in London for street art adventures.