It goes without saying that Berlin is an alternative city. Not only is it home to some of the most internationally well-known nightclubs and bars, it’s also home to a community of counter-culture loving souls who number in the tens of thousands.
Alternative people in Berlin are not the quiet minority like they may be in other cities; instead, in Berlin, they’re the noisy majority.
Every aspect of alternative culture is covered within the most adventurous neighbourhoods, with Kreuzberg and Friedrichshain as the most orderly chaotic examples of how the most open-minded in the city choose to live. One aspect that really shines out throughout them both is the street art and graffiti that decorate both areas, and with such loose laws around street art in the city – seeing some people paying less than a €15 fine for posting stickers – it’s no surprise people are addicted to the art.
Wandering beneath the rail bridge beneath Kottbusser Tor, you’ll find dozens of the best stickers from Berlin’s many novice and veteran artists. But, for a better experience and understanding of the people behind the paint, a tour with Alternative Berlin is highly recommended.
Together with the veteran street artist who – understandably – chose not to reveal his street name, the tour walked and learned about the neighbourhood of Kreuzberg and the street artists who’ve tagged its walls for the past twenty years.
On every wall, there are graffiti tags with more tags to either side and above them. The respect for other artists is clear to see, and our tour guide gave us a full background of the many unwritten rules in the street.
No one tags over another writer’s tag – unless it’s really awful and worth covering.
One piece that is highly unlikely to be covered up any time soon is the simple black and white work that covers the entire side of a five-story building in the district.
Standing beneath the artwork, the history and technique of the Spaceman is explained, and it’s amazing to think how much time and effort went into it.
Close by, on the corner of Oranienstrasse and Skalitzer Strasse, is a piece by the Belgian artist ROA, who’s been getting a much-deserved, increased level of love and attention from street art lovers across the world.
As we continue our route towards the equally alternative neighbourhood of Friedrichshain, we learn more about the unique styles of the elite graffiti writers of Berlin and the typical path they all take, from their simple beginnings to their hard-earned elite status.
Before we leave Kreuzberg, we have time enough to see the large yellow face that stares down from the side of a block of apartments.
The yellow man with a unique bulge is another great, unique feature by Os Gêmeos, the duo of identical Brazilian twins Otavio and Gustavo Pandolf.
Crossing over the Oberbaum Bridge, we learn why today Berlin only has one masterpiece by the Italian artist BLU left in its skyline; plus, the gentrification story behind the removal of his most famous piece is fascinating to hear from someone who’s in the know.
Across the bridge and into Friedrichshain, we observe the countless amount of stickers, murals, and graffiti tags before we board a train towards our final destination and our chance to leave our own mark on Berlin.
The final hour spent at the graffiti workshop is the highlight of the tour by far. The history learnt and landmarks seen within the few hours of the tour are all worth the bargain, sub-€20 price, yet the graffiti workshop tops everything off perfectly.
Inside a former factory and warehouse complex, a number of tables are set up for the whole process of stencil graffiti; from choosing the stencil, cutting it out, preparing your table, and applying the paint.
No prior experience is necessary, as a brief lesson is given before you grab the first can of neon-coloured paint, yet it’s great to try without any knowledge at all and just allow yourself to get creative. Channel your inner Banksy and leave your own mark on Berlin.
If you’re not an artist, have you done your own graffiti before? Would you like to try the street art workshop? Let us know your thoughts down below!