Its easy to walk or bike around Berlin and discover bright walls of graffiti and hidden gems of street art.
For days after my arrival, I wandered the streets aimlessly, taking in all in — the effortless hipster style of Berlin residents, the architecture, steeped in history and splattered with creative energy, and the undertone of a complicated history that seems to hold it all together.
After I wore my Tom’s down to a paper thing sole between myself and the city streets, I decided it was time to get personal. I had seen so much but while on my own, but I was missing the context and stories that only a Berliner could provide. A little research led me to the website for Alternative Berlin — a tour company that probably shies away from that categorization, but ultimately provides a unique peek into the story of Berlin, through what else, but a walking tour! The difference with this “tour company” is their alternative take on Berlin culture, and their determination to expose the authentically unique personality of the city.
I opted for Alternative Berlin’s “The Real Berlin” tour, a three hour jaunt through three different neighborhoods. Our tour guide enraptured our small group and shared his passion for Berlin and his intimate knowledge of the city’s subculture.
We covered far more than street art, but as you may have noticed, I’m a little obsessed with this avenue of the art world and if you visit Berlin, you’ll immediately understand its engaging role in the city.
So enjoy a little photo-indulgence of street art from my tour with “Alternative Berlin” and then get there yourself to see it in person!
We were introduced to Little Lucy on our first stop, behind a building made entirely of shipping containers. Little Lucy is the brainchild of artist, El Bocho, who we’d come across frequently along our route. She’s pretty darn cute until you notice the subtle ways in which she brutally tortures her cat.
A wall of the Hackescher Market promotes the Anne Frank: Here and Now exhibit.
The Hackerscher Market is full of street art and also the home of MonsterKabinett — a show of mechanical monster statues that move and dance. You can throw a Euro into one in the center of the Market, or come back for the full show. Sadly, the monsters were visiting the Monster Doctor when I was visiting and no shows were scheduled at that time.
This massive astronaut is pretty badass to begin with, but when viewed at night, he’s even cooler. Flags fly around the perimeter of a car dealership, just across the street. One flag is in front of a spot light that projects the shadow onto this wall. The artist painted the astronaut perfectly positioned to hold the flag when the spotlight from the dealership is illuminated.
Despite the useful lighting they sometimes provide, big businesses are not particularly popular amongst the artists of Berlin. “Fuck Off Media Spree” is a phrase you’ll see in response to large corporations cropping up along the River Spree. The redevelopment of the riverside neighborhoods is pushing the former populations of artists and squatters out — aggressively making room for ugly buildings with shiny logos.
And in a more convoluted relationship between artists and corporations, Levi’s commissioned Alexandre Farto aka Vhils, to produce headshots of Berlin “pioneers” on the walls around the city. His uses a unique method of painting over walls and then meticulously placing explosives to blow out his design, creating inverted, 3-D expressions of the artists and free-thinkers that Levi’s “Go Forth” campaign celebrates.
Thanks to a degree in advertising (and a mild obsession with quality, creative advertisements) I shocked my tour guide with recognition of the slogan.
And I have to say, I kind of love this piece. Maybe that’s the ad major in me, more than the art school kid (I’ve been both) but I don’t see anything wrong with an artist actually making some money through a relationship with a big company like Levi’s, especially when the result is art like this.
I get bored quickly on tours and museums can be an exhausting exercise in focus and concentration. But this tour taught me more than any other experience in Berlin, and after over three hours, I was disappointed when it ended. It would take months to cover all of the street art and the stories behind them, and actually, you’d never catch up because it changes constantly as art is covered, changed, tagged, and produced on a daily basis. Such is the story of Berlin, as it continues to be told day by day, all the while illustrated by the talented minds that cover the walls with their own roles in this great city’s narrative.
*My tour with Alternative Tours Berlin was complimentary, but all opinions are of course, my own.
What’s your favorite piece of art in this essay and what does it say to you?