Plunge into Berlin's street art scene
The first thing you'll notice about Berlin is that it's covered in graffiti. Whether you're staring blankly at a station's walls, cramped in a cafe's bathroom or unlocking your own front door, there's no escape. It's rare to find an inch of the wall which hasn't been doodled on.
But obviously, this love for street art goes deeper than peeling posters and cool scribbles. Even if you're new to Berlin, it's easy to see that the UNESCO World Heritage Site, the East Side Gallery, has become a role model for what street art should be. If you take our Free Alternative Walking Tour, you'll hear plenty of stories about fame-hungry and daredevil artists. But you'll also get to know the driving force behind making street art a public voice. Urban art has become more than just a grungy past time for the open-minded Berlin art scene. Right, enough philosophising – time to show you places where you can find street art in the wild.
Believe or not, it is possible for street artists not to be at war with real estate companies. Urban Nation is an urban art association that is actually supported by the housing and rental firm Gewobag. Why would they do this? To foster a community spirit through art. The good news is it's working, thanks to workshops, exhibitions and colourful wall paintings which transform bleak buildings into open-air masterpieces. Urban Nation's headquarters on Bülowstraße 97 is redecorated every season by renowned artists – a symbol and a case in point of Berlin's churning cityscape.
Hatch Sticker Museum
Don't laugh – the lampposts of Berlin make it clear that stickers aren't just for schoolchildren. Everyone's sticking things up around Berlin, whether it's to advertise the band they started last week or to speak out against political injustice. Street artists such as Shepard Fairey (the guy behind the Obey posters) and SP38 (whose 'No Money No Art' slogan rips into gentrification) are among Hatch's stock sticker art, which you can buy at the museum or even online. The kind €1 entry fee even includes a free sticker!
Although this is one of the most alternative places in Berlin, it's hard to call it 'off the beaten track'. This is because to get to it, you take the train to Hackescher Markt, push your way through the hoards of market visitors and even pass a Starbucks on the way. Once you find an archway wall-papered with stickers, you know you're in the right place. In Haus Schwarzenberg, street art is everywhere – and there are constantly new works cropping up every week. Almost every inch of wall that you could feasibly reach with a ladder is covered. This is thanks to the non-profit art collective's enormous support for both established and up-and-coming street artists, giving them space where they won't be fined for vandalism. That art can thrive here is all the more impressive considering that the organisation doesn't get any funding from the state. If you need help picking out your SOBRs from your Sopes, then grab one of our Alternative tour guides (gently).
If you've never seen RAW Gelände before, then just mentally prepare yourself for the grunge and explosion of colour. The whole complex used to be a train repair works, but after it was closed and left abandoned it slowly started attracting hip clubs and bars, which brought the creative crowd along with them. Urban Spree makes RAW as much a day time venue as a night-life hotspot. It's pretty multi-purpose, boasting a beer garden and a bookshop, plus of course a gallery and a ton of curated urban art. The wall facing the street Warschauer Strasse is constantly being painted and repainted, whilst all around it the layers of street art slowly build up.
© Rosalee Edwards
Panke does not like limits. Especially when it comes to what a single space can be used for. Do you want music? Do you want film? Do you want poetry slams? And after doing all that you'll probably want either a beer or a coffee, right? Of course, they've got those, too, and – most importantly for us – some cool street art. As you walk up to the courtyard entrance on Gerichtstrasse 23, right opposite you'll notice an abandoned monster of a swimming pool. This used to be home to the club and art project Stattbad, and tell-tale posters, paintings and murals by famous artists are still hanging around after its closure. But once you've stopped mourning Stattbad, head into the chain of courtyards. Right at the end and through some art-covered tunnels you'll see Panke. Make sure you go right out to the garden so you get a view of the cute little Panke stream and some artwork along the water (how did it get there?!).
East Side Gallery
No article on street art in Berlin would be complete without the East Side Gallery. With just some simple plaques to tell you the most important dates, the paintings are left to speak for themselves. Many of them are original, and these are the most famous. The 'Fraternal Kiss' between East German leader Honecker and Soviet leader Brezhnev is actually an accurate copy of a 1979 press snap. The old East German motor, the Trabi, is pictured smashing through the Wall with the date of its collapse on the car's licence plate. And of course there are Thierry Noir's colourful faces, the first licks of paint to go on the east side of the Wall (even before it fell!) and the inspirational spark that inspired Berlin to invite artists from all over the world to paint the East Side Gallery in celebration.
OK, call us wise guys, but it's true – just take a walk around almost any district and you'll soon be your own street art expert. If you want some gems to aim for, here are a couple.
First up, there's Alice's hidden romantic pastel portraits, one on the Oberbaumbrücke and one in on a public telephone on the corner of Wrangelstrasse and Falckensteinstrasse. Around those streets, you'll also see some stunning and sometimes terrifying murals by Nomad, Blu and Jimmy C.
The district of Wedding is famous for throwing urban art and community together. Take the 2011 Wedding Walls project for example, which saw buildings turned into canvases. One of the most eye-popping is a huge monochrome mural by renowned artist BLO on Genterstrasse 61.
Our final X on the map is in the doorway of Raumerstrasse 7, where you'll find one of the Little Lucy pieces by world-famous El Bocho. The adorable Czech cartoon character is pictured gently slicing up her pet kitty into a döner kebab. Yummy.
At first, you might find looking for or at street art a little daunting. It's obscure, anonymous and often tricky to google. But in Berlin, street art is pretty in your face, so the finding part is actually not as hard as you think. Once you get to know a couple of names, slowly the breadcrumb trail will lead back to collectives, urban galleries and an entire network of artists and art lovers. Want to know why Berlin is called Europe's street art hub? Just go outside and you'll see why.