By far, the hardest thing for me to get used to in modern Germany was the graffiti. I kept telling myself it was a different sort of thing that American graffiti, more a form of expressionist glee. But I’ve lived in America too long, where graffiti is a sure omen of urban decay. To me, it signifies violent gangs and a populace so beaten down by crime they can’t bring themselves to even wipe up the walls.
Whenever I saw it, my heartbeat quickened, my ears pricked up, and I scanned for the dark spots from which any moment, a knife-wielding thug could spring and slit my throat for my 15 euros and spare change. And the graffiti was everywhere. You’d see it all over the walls as the train pulled into a train station, subway stations were covered in it, signs and bridges would be marked, even tourist spots. The Philosophenweg was spray-painted, and the doors and walls of the tower inside the Cologne cathedral, well, just take a look:
I could understand the graffiti-ing of the Berlin Wall. That thing deserved to be defaced, and it was coming down anyway. But seeing the rest of Germany smeared up was hard for me to understand.
I’m sure if I stayed there I’d have gotten used to it, and maybe even learned to enjoy it, as I assume the Germans do. But as it was, and as I am, it just made me nervous.