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Afro-Caribbean Artist Paints George Floyd's Portrait On The Berlin Wall

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Now, as we know, the U.S. is not the only country where people are protesting the death of George Floyd at the hands of police. There were protests over the weekend throughout Europe. And as NPR's Rob Schmitz reports from Germany, a portrait remembering George Floyd has appeared on the Berlin Wall.

ROB SCHMITZ, BYLINE: Before most of it was torn down, artists considered the Berlin Wall one of the largest canvases in the world. Here on a hill overlooking Berlin's Mauerpark, one of the last surviving sections of the wall is still covered in graffiti art; some of it abstract, some paying homage to celebrities and historical figures. And now one of the most prominent sections of the wall has become a portrait of George Floyd. The artist Eme Freethinker painted it the day after the video of Floyd's death by a Minneapolis police officer spread on social media.

EME FREETHINKER: I didn't even watch the video. Actually, I saw many, many other guys die by the police in my country almost for nothing, so I know how it is.

SCHMITZ: Freethinker, whose real name is Jesus Cruz Artiles, is an Afro-Caribbean artist from the Dominican Republic. His graffiti art along the wall, especially his satirical work, is well-known in Berlin. He's painted a portrait of the "Lord Of The Rings" character Gollum wearing a face mask and another one of U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese leader Xi Jinping kissing each other also while wearing masks. His portrait of George Floyd captures the man in a moment of calm, his eyes almost meditative with the words, I can't breathe, scrawled in big yellow letters beside him. Photos of the mural have run in newspapers around the world.

FREETHINKER: I remember when I came, some guy told me, hey, no. But you have to do it like the police over his neck. I said no, man.

FREETHINKER: Freethinker says rather than portray his killing, he wanted to memorialize George Floyd alive. And so did thousands of others in Berlin.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST AMBIENCE)

SCHMITZ: The city was one of many in Europe that erupted in protest this past weekend. Organizers expected 1,500 people to gather in the city's Alexanderplatz on Saturday. An estimated 15,000 showed up. Sudha David-Wilp, deputy director of the Berlin Office of the German Marshall Fund says Germans have had a mixed reaction to Floyd's death and the nationwide protests in the U.S. that have followed.

SUDHA DAVID-WILP: There's probably a group of people that are saying, I told you so. The U.S. - it was a ticking time bomb for social unrest. Racism is fundamental to the United States. Then there are people that are probably also very disappointed because they want to see that country that had elected the first black president in 2008 and that, you know, had a civil rights movement.

SCHMITZ: And for the many Germans who've traditionally looked up to America and placed it as a model for what a country should be, David-Wilp says the unrest in America is giving them pause.

DAVID-WILP: But nonetheless, they want to be able to admire the United States that's a group of all kinds of people of color and creed that could come together. And right now what they're seeing is very, very sad and frightening.

SCHMITZ: But at least here in Berlin, many are showing solidarity with protesters in America by taking it to the streets and to the wall.

Rob Schmitz, NPR News Berlin.

(SOUNDBITE OF MARTIN TINGVALL'S "THE ROCKET III") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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