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.
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! 🙂
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.
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.]