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“They get fame,” says Sean Smith, a 20-year-old from East New York, Brooklyn, who painted trains with a kid from Berlin whose tag was “Atom.
They’re rich, brash and determined enough to fly 3,000 miles to risk getting a rap sheet. They’re European graffiti taggers in search of their Holy Grail in New York the chance to make their mark in what was once the graffiti capital of the world. Here and there, graffiti can still be seen on subway trains, defying the Transit Authority’s anti-spray-paint campaign. And taggers are still leaving their so-called art on city walls, highways, bridges and buildings. Cops say many of the vandals are young tourists from countries such as Germany, the Netherlands, France, Spain and Belgium, where graffiti writing is taking off seven years after its decline here. “They’re students of the old graffiti movement,” says Lt. Steve Mona, chief of the vandal squad of the police Transit Bureau. Always youths in their teens and 20s, they arrive here with cans of smuggled spray paint, looking to leave their mark to get recognition at home, where cops are struggling to control an explosion of subway graffiti in cities such as Berlin and Munich. They use the Internet to communicate with homegrown taggers here, finding the best places to “bomb” and the best ways to elude the cops. “By and large, they’re tagging wherever they can do it,” says Mona, sitting in his Coney Island train yard office. “They’re arrogant, snotty kids who are no different than the ones we get here except they have accents.
” But they may be more brazen. Where many American vandals are staying away from trains knowing their work will be removed within hours, “the Germans will take more chances,” says Jerry Dassaro, a detective on the vandal squad. The Euro-taggers number about 30, and cops have made two dozen arrests in the last two years. The vandals have faced community service, fines and, in the cops’ biggest bust last summer, a week at Rikers Island. That was the sentence for four German tourists found with 50 cans of paint at the E. 180th St. station in the Bronx, where cops caught them fare-beating. If their work can’t be preserved on a train, the Europeans will film or photograph themselves painting a train, then sell the evidence to a magazine. The tapes are fetching hundreds of dollars in some countries, Dassaro said. “They get fame,” says Sean Smith, a 20-year-old from East New York, Brooklyn, who painted trains with a kid from Berlin whose tag was “Atom.
” They followed the L subway line, sneaking into train yards and tunnels. “Their stuff, it’s real art,” Smith says. Police use American informants to help them track down the Euro-taggers. “We know when they’re here,” Desarro says. “We have certain kids that don’t like them. They tell us when they’re here.