To see a new side of the city, I would recommend the alternative walking tour to anyone who visits Berlin. It is especially good for those that have visited before, and have perhaps already done the history based free walking tour. It’s three hours of street art, anecdotes and getting your bearings rolled into one! Note: though advertised as a free tour, these tours are tip based, average donations being around 10€.
The tour starts outside Alexanderplatz Starbucks, which may seem an ironic place to start a tour of alternative Berlin but bear with it. Within minutes, the first stop of the tour is a wall stretching along Scheunenviertel, a neighbourhood of Mitte which was a slum district before WW2. This wall is crammed with street art and paste ups. Main points of interest here are metal sculptures by Danish artist TEJN and dancing girls with confetti entitled ‘It’s time to dance’ by SOBR.
A little further on, turning into the hidden courtyard of Haus Schwarzenberg from Rosenthaler Strasse is a sudden change of pace and feel, from generic streets full of chain stores and crowds to a courtyard full of street art and independent businesses. Here you can find a mural of Anne Frank outside the museum of her life, independent galleries cinema and Café Cinema bar.
The walls of the courtyard are lined and ever changing with murals and tags, such as Prizmu’s F*ck Wars series. See also works by established graffiti gangs such as ‘1UP’. New artwork springs up every day, and even some more old-fashioned yarn bombing has appeared.
Taking the U Bahn to Kreuzberg (you’ll need a ticket), you can see the contrast in the neighbourhoods and the sheer amount of graffiti in this ‘up and coming’ area. One of the most famous pieces is the cosmonaut by French artist Victor Ash.
A walk through the lively park leads to Kreuzberg’s oldest building ‘Künstlerhaus Bethanien’, a former hospital, centre for the squatter scene in the early 70s and today a combination of artist’s studios and contemporary exhibitions. The artist’s squat beside this gives an insight into the nonconformist attitude of the area.
Penultimately, a poignant stop at the house of Osman Kalin who passed away in 2018. When the wall was built, a small part of East Berlin was left on the wrong side and turned into a dumping ground. In 1982, Kalin seized this land and built a home there. It was made entirely out of scrap materials; known as ‘Baumhaus an der Mauer’ (treehouse on the wall), it still stands today as a listed building.
The final stop is YAAM, a mixture of riverside beach bar, street art gallery and Caribbean food. Here you’re free to stay and chill; my tour guide JR stayed around for a beer and chat with the group. I also took it as a chance to get recommendations off someone who’s lived in Berlin a long time!
I hope you enjoyed this post and would consider going on the tour yourself! Or would you prefer to do a self guided tour? Let me know in the comments.