For a number of family reasons, and thanks to Chris having fantastic bosses, we were able to take a break in April after our Nepal trek, so that I could spend some quality time back in Germany. First stop of my little tour through Germany was Berlin. I’ve been to Berlin numerous times so have already seen major sights such as the Brandenburger Gate or the Reichstag. For that reason I was keen to do some sightseeing in Berlin that was off the beaten tourist path. When I heard about a free street art tour by Alternative Berlin Tours which promised to show a different side of Berlin, I was very excited.

Until this point I thought that graffiti and street art were pretty much the same thing, but during the tour I learned that there are many different street art techniques. A more traditional form of street art is of course spraying with a can of paint, what we know as graffiti. But over the years street artists have become a little more ingenious to reach the unreachable parts of buildings, called heaven spots, by using either traditional paint brushes, water pistols or even modified fire extinguishers.

east side gallery

A lot of remains of the Berlin wall are now used as a platform by artists, especially in the open air East Side Gallery seen in the background

east side gallery 2

One of the many politically motivated paintings in the East Side Gallery

east side gallery 3

One of the most iconic images of the Cold War replicated at the East Side Gallery. East German president Erich Honecker kissing Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev.

polar bears street art berlin

It is not unusual for certain images to re-occur throughout Berlin

super socer street art

But painting is only one form of street art. Artists also now plaster a lot of their work on walls as it is quicker and there is less chance of being caught by the police. There is also an increasing amount of guerilla sculptures around the city which are secured to lampposts or draining pipes. I have to confess my favourite form of street art (aesthetically at least) was to use the actual buildings as part of the painting, by cutting out parts of the plaster with a hammer and chisel. Though I imagine I’d be less impressed if I was the building’s owner! πŸ™‚

paper street art 2

painted street art 2

paper street art

collage street art

robot

sculpture street art

hammer chisel street art

Hammer and chisel street art – turned out this one was part of an advertising campaign for Levis. Some street artists found this so grotesk that they put their own form of protest on the painting (in red letters πŸ™‚ ).

So how come that despite this form of art being illegal, it is so widespread throughout Berlin? One answer could be that Berliners always have been and always will be a bit more rebellious than other Germans. Perhaps it has got something to do with its location right at the heart of Europe exposing it to influence from the four corners of the continent. Or maybe historic factors including two World Wars and partition during the Cold War meant that emotions and creativity had been bottled up for decades. But whatever the reasons nowhere else in modern Germany can you see so much radical thinking and creativity, which is probably why hippies choose Berlin as their base during the 70s, before the punks took over in the 80s and modern artists after that. I even heard a story about how “normal” Berlin citizens got involved with the rescue of a gallery in a squatted building. The Kunst Quartier Bethanien hosts amazing exibitions, but as squatting in Germany is illegal, the local council wanted to close the gallery and sent the police to evict the squatters. What they didn’t expect was that they were met by a huge chain of people who wanted to protect the gallery from being closed. As a result of the protest the gallery remained open and is now a popular gallery in Kreuzberg.

berlin wall pieces

The wall – a former tool of opression is now being used to protest about forms of opression in other countries

painted street art 4

Protest against a big developing company that bought up a lot of land along the river Spree

may day protest pharmacy

The stone in the sign is a homage to the annual May Day Protests from the otherwise very conservative looking pharmacy.

van

Mc Donald’s is seen as too capitalist by a lot of small companies and in Berlin people openly say what they think about that. πŸ™‚

imbiss

The re-occuring anti-Mc Donalds-movement

squatted house

“Capitalism destroys and kills”

So having done the more touristy forms of sightseeing in Berlin many times before, this tour was a great way to learn a little more about both art and history in my own country. It made a refreshing change from the usual history lessons I hear about Germany, especially being married to a Brit!

Have you been to Berlin before? What was your favourite sight off the beaten tourist path?


[Disclaimer: I have not been paid by Alternative Berlin Tours to write this post. I was just so impressed with this free tour that I wanted to share my experience with you.]

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About Tammyonthemove

Tammy & Chris are a couple hailing from Germany and England, meaning between them they are efficient and polite, but unable to talk about football. Find out why they stopped pushing pens around the British civil service to travel the world on their blog.

16 Thoughts on “Alternative sightseeing in Berlin

  1. This is amazing! I love street art, and I find you always learn so much about a city’s history through it. That must have been especially interesting in your home country. I love your photographs of the street art using plaster. That’s not something I’ve seen very often! Sounds like a great tour!

    • Tammyonthemove on May 28, 2013 at 6:59 am said:

      Thank you Casey. Yes it was so interesting-I learned things about my home country I never knew before, which is weird, because our tour guide was actually English.

  2. Those images are so beautiful! It’s amazing what you can find when you turn a different corner.
    Priya recently posted…Confessions of a Hot Yogi: Sculpt, Strength And A Little Bit Of AntonioMy Profile

  3. I need to admit that I don’t really like the Graffiti in Berlin. That makes this place so awful in my opinion, especially in winter. However, some people might call it the art πŸ™‚

    • Tammyonthemove on May 29, 2013 at 6:58 am said:

      I can understand people who don’t like it Agness. It is one of those things I guess: you either love it or hate it.

  4. I have heard a lot about the street art in Berlin. True, it can either be considered graffiti and dirty. However, I see it as art, and wish I could see more of it in places I visit!
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    • Tammyonthemove on May 30, 2013 at 1:02 am said:

      I agree Freya. It depends on the motive really. Just a few letters sprayed on a wall may not be very pretty, but the austronaut on the picture above for example can only be done by a very talented artist I think.

  5. Great post. I’m often in Berlin but never have time to take these pics. This art is so much a part of Berlin.
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  6. Very illuminating! I love hearing about street art in European cities, because they seem to me to reveal a lot about what radicals are thinking. I recall the streets of Barcelona and their graffiti heritage, among other cities. Thanks for sharing the photos.
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  7. It’s amazing how much street art is out there. And yet I’ve never actually seen anyone doing it! πŸ™‚
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    • Tammyonthemove on June 1, 2013 at 2:10 pm said:

      I learned that street artists are very organized. When they want to spray on a train for example, they get together as a group. One sits in the train at night, pulls the emergency break at an agreed point and then up to 20 masked artists run to the train and start spraying. They have a few minutes before police and train driver arrive. But with that many people it is no problem. πŸ™‚

  8. I’d love to take a street art tour of Berlin. I’ve done that in a few different cities and it’s so interesting to see all the different styles. I really wish I’d gotten to spend a bit more time in Berlin, because I completely missed out on this, but I guess that’s a good reason to revisit at some point. πŸ™‚
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    • Tammyonthemove on June 7, 2013 at 2:29 am said:

      Me too Audrey! Berlin is so awesome. I really want to go back again to find even more of these kind of tours!

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