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  • Meet Josef Foos: The man behind Berlin’s beloved little ‘Street Yogis’

Street art

Meet Josef Foos: The man behind Berlin’s beloved little ‘Street Yogis’

Since 2009, Josef Foos has been spreading joy on the streets of Berlin in the form of tiny cork people, also known as the Berlin Street Yogis.

Photo: Makar Artemev

When thinking of a street artist, you probably wouldn’t picture someone like Josef Foos. The sixty-something doesn’t tag or paint large murals – in fact, the police know him well and tolerate his work. Foos is a yoga instructor and acupressure therapist who enjoys crafting anthropomorphic figurines using old wine corks.

His little ‘Street Yogi’, originally named for their asanas, or yoga poses, can be found all over the city – though not on walls. Only visible to the observant eye and an absolute delight to those who do spot them, the three-dimensional stick men sit atop Berlin’s street signs.

When he first started creating his little Korkmännchen in 2009, Foos just wanted to bring some joy to his own neighbourhood, Neukölln. “The world is full of negative images, news, stories, things you see on the streets,” he says. “I wanted to give pleasure and positivity for the future, and you can interpret everything into it. We perceive everything around us, then filter out what we consciously perceive. It goes straight to the brain and then does something to us.”

They’re there to make other people happy.

The first cork people were shaped to look like they were doing asanas, like the warrior or the tree pose, and passersby had an overwhelmingly positive reaction to them, so he kept going. “I can still remember the first time someone came up to me when I was sticking up a yogi. It was near Mehringdamm, and a woman saw me and totally freaked out and shouted ‘ahhh’” with great enthusiasm… She had discovered a yogi in Herrfurthstraße and then saw me putting it up there, and she was just happy,” he recalls.

Photo: Makar Artemev

Though Foos’s brand of street art is a far cry from illicit activity, he still gets approached by diligent police officers when he is putting up his yogis. “I tell them that it’s street art and that I’ve been doing it for years. Since I don’t react aggressively to them, that’s the end of it. In the meantime, word has certainly gotten around in police circles that I’m out and about in Berlin. And it’s their job to approach me,” Foos explains, appreciative of the fact that his art is widely tolerated. “Of course, my street art gives me a privilege over other artists.”

Initially, Foos found great inspiration in The Little People, an elaborate project by the British street artist Slinkachu, who created scenes using tiny plastic figurines and life-sized everyday objects, assembled and photographed on the street. But since Foos had no artistic background, he looked for an easier and cheaper way of creating miniature art of his own. “Before that, I only did art of the body – yoga!” he jokes.

Photo: IMAGO / Steinach

Foos knew people who collected corks, and an idea was born. It took him some time to figure out the best possible way to shape and attach the yogis to the street signs; the first wood glues he tried dissolved too quickly, while others needed more time to set than he had at his disposal. Yogi by yogi, Foos also learned which places are better suited than others.

“I realised, for example, that telephone boxes don’t work at all because of maintenance, and schools [don’t] either because the kids take them down quickly or cyclists knock them down. And some places are fine, even though they’re so exposed that I’m convinced they’ll be gone the next morning,” he says. “Then again, with others I tell myself that you can’t see them at all, and then they’re gone the next day. That’s life!”

Photo: IMAGO / Frank Sorge

Even if no one decides to take them as a special souvenir, the cork figures don’t last more than six years. They slowly wither away over time and weather changes, but Foos doesn’t mind their impermanence – even if the impermanence is thanks to a thievish admirer. “They’re not made to last forever. Although I’m still often annoyed when they’re gone, I try to tell myself that the yogis don’t care. They’re there to make other people happy, and if it makes people happy to take them away, then that’s what they’re there for,” he says.

With time the postures of the cork people have changed. Though Foos’s street yogis are no longer depicted doing just their signature yoga poses – now they also dance and climb – they have kept their original name. But that’s not the only thing that’s changed since the self-taught artist set out on his corky quest 15 years ago. By now, he has a whole catalogue of projects to offer to the streets, including his ‘Joy Gärten’, with plants in self-painted pots atop lamp poles, the ‘Street People’, two-dimensional figures made from cardboard, wood or matches, and cork robots resembling R2D2 from Star Wars – Foos’s imagination is boundless.


“Sometimes I get new ideas that either fizzle out again or develop further at some point. If I don’t have any new ideas, I like to fall back on the old ones,” he says. Many of his ideas are so infectious that other people take inspiration from them. Other artists, like Alte Wilde Korkmännchen for example, have started putting up their own interpretations made from cork, but few have had the longevity of Foos’s cork people.

As spring approaches, Foos is as busy than ever. As soon as the weather allows it again, he’s planning to place three yogis he finished over the winter around Berlin – if you can spot them.

  • Keep up with Josef Foos’s art projects on his website.