When the world gets closer.

We help you see farther.

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter.

Already a subscriber? Log in .

You've reached your limit of one free article.

Get unlimited access to Worldcrunch

You can cancel anytime .


Exclusive International news coverage

Ad-free experience NEW

Weekly digital Magazine NEW

9 daily & weekly Newsletters

Access to Worldcrunch archives

Free trial

30-days free access, then $2.90
per month.

Annual Access BEST VALUE

$19.90 per year, save $14.90 compared to monthly billing.save $14.90.

Subscribe to Worldcrunch

“OZ,” Germany’s Unrepentant 61-Year-Old Graffiti Artist, Going Back To Jail

Graffitist “OZ”, who's been tagging Hamburg buildings for two decades, was sentenced again Friday to 14 months for continuing to deface property. An underground hero to some, criminal vandal to others, the spray painter insists that not even jail

Hamburg graffiti art by Walter F., aka
Hamburg graffiti art by Walter F., aka
Martina Goy

It comes down to this: is graffiti art or vandalism? For 20 years, a single man with a spray can has forced Hamburg courts to weigh this very question. On Friday, a judge ruled it was in fact vandalism, sentencing the 61-year-old spray painter, who goes by the name "OZ", to 14 months in prison.

Referred by the courts as Walter F., the Hamburg resident has more than 120,000 graffiti to his name. These consist mostly of smiley faces and the letters OZ, and they are sprayed on the walls of buildings, on gables and manhole covers, and on electrical distribution boxes. He also once painted a concrete block house in the Hamburg district of St. Pauli.

The Hamburg justice system's position on the matter has remained firm. The courts had already forced OZ, who in the early days of his activity also used the alias "Johnny Walker," to spend eight years of his life behind bars.

His first conviction was in 1992. Neither that, nor subsequent convictions have done anything to change his outlook or behavior. "He has no intention of stopping," says defense lawyer Andreas Beuth, who says he took the case because the matter lay "close to his heart."

"Society has to cope with him"

OZ is a small man who at his court appearances wears sunglasses or a hoodie pulled down to cover most of his face. A medical evaluation carried out way back when he began spraying states that he has a "functional disturbance of the brain."

But this isn't part of the current conversation. "It may be a pain," public prosecutor Wilhelm Möllers said recently, "but society has to find a way to cope with him."

Based on past experience, no one is expecting cooperation from the defendant on that score. He is not interested in winning the sympathy vote. He refers to the authorities as "cleanliness Nazis," and believes they are trying to keep him from the happiness he finds in his spraying activities.

OZ has been saying he's half-Jewish since the 1990s, which is why – in his opinion – "Nazis and the squeaky-clean brigade" are after him. These are the kinds of statements that in the past have motivated authorities to give OZ psychiatric evaluations.

Walter F.‘s jail sentence this time around may have been sealed when OZ sprayed a concrete post on April 18, after court hearings had already gotten underway.

That played against him, as did the fact that he vigorously resisted arrest by police officers. The prosecution no longer sees a suspended sentence as justifiable.

But Walter F. is by no means a delinquent in everybody's eyes. A sometimes sympathetic media has dubbed him "The Wizard of OZ." His material has been featured in a coffee table book called Sprühling, which clearly considers OZ to be an artist, not a vandal. And in the hip-hop scene, he's a hero, Spiegel writes. In Hamburg, many claim his street art brings a smile to the faces of passers by. Galleries in Hamburg and Berlin exhibit his work.

Is OZ a pioneer who, after a long career, can now be considered a recognized graffiti artist, or a stubborn maniac using spray painting as a way to get attention that – were he to lead a socially acceptable and unremarkable life – would not otherwise be forthcoming?

Despite the fact that the known aspects of his life have been publicly dissected in the years he's been in the public eye -- born in Heidelberg, raised in a home for kids, educated by nuns, apprentice gardener and later wannabe hippie in Copenhagen -- so far nobody has really been able to figure out what he's all about.

It's unlikely that anything will change. The dynamic between OZ and the courts is long-established. Nobody is going to stop him. Another conviction and jail stint will merely interrupt his activities. As OZ likes to say: "F--- the norm." And that's exactly what he's going to go right on doing.

Read the original story in German

Photo - Udo Herzog

You've reached your limit of free articles.

To read the full story, start your free trial today.

Get unlimited access. Cancel anytime.

Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.

Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries.

FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

A Profound And Simple Reason That Negotiations Are Not An Option For Ukraine

The escalation of war in the Middle East and the stagnation of the Ukrainian counteroffensive have left many leaders in the West, who once supported Ukraine unequivocally, to look toward ceasefire talks with Russia. For Polish daily Gazeta Wyborcza, Piotr Andrusieczko argues that Ukraine simply cannot afford this.

Photo of Ukrainian soldiers in winter gear, marching behind a tank in a snowy landscape

Ukrainian soldiers ploughing through the snow on the frontlines

Volodymyr Zelensky's official Facebook account
Piotr Andrusieczko


KYIVUkraine is fighting for its very existence, and the war will not end soon. What should be done in the face of this reality? How can Kyiv regain its advantage on the front lines?

It's hard to deny that pessimism has been spreading among supporters of the Ukrainian cause, with some even predicting ultimate defeat for Kyiv. It's difficult to agree with this, considering how this war began and what was at stake. Yes, Ukraine has not won yet, but Ukrainians have no choice for now but to continue fighting.

For the latest news & views from every corner of the world, Worldcrunch Today is the only truly international newsletter. Sign up here.

These assessments are the result of statements by the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, General Valeriy Zaluzhnyi, and an interview with him in the British weekly The Economist, where the General analyzes the causes of failures on the front, notes the transition of the war to the positional phase, and, critically, evaluates the prospects and possibilities of breaking the deadlock.

Earlier, an article appeared in the American weekly TIME analyzing the challenges facing President Volodymyr Zelensky. His responses indicate that he is disappointed with the attitude of Western partners, and at the same time remains so determined that, somewhat lying to himself, he unequivocally believes in victory.

Combined, these two publications sparked discussions about the future course of the conflict and whether Ukraine can win at all.

Some people outright predict that what has been known from the beginning will happen: Russia will ultimately win, and Ukraine has already failed.

Keep reading...Show less

The latest