Street art, urban art projects, squat houses, and communes. The Real Berlin tour with Alternative Berlin takes travellers on a walk us through Berlin’s counter culture history, from the student protest movement of the 1960s and the rise and fall of the Bader-Meinhof gang in the 70s to the May 1st riots in the 80s and birth of the Love Parade in the 90s.
The first stop for our small group of travellers from around the globe is the Hackescher Höfe, a complex of courtyard buildings built around the turn of the 19th century, at the historic marketplace, Hackescher Markt.
“It’s gentrified now but just 10-15 years ago, the Hackescher Höfe was much more arty and cutting edge,” our guide, Mark tells us, as he leads us to a courtyard entrance where some of Berlin’s earliest street art can be found.
Mark describes some of the street art techniques we’re seeing, such as paste-ups and tape art, and points out work by some of the city’s more significant street artists, such as El Bocho, and characters such as ‘Little Lucy’.
To illustrate the impact of street art on Berlin’s citizens, Mark tells us about the ‘Linda campaign’, when an artist who wrote poignant love letters all over the city to his ex Linda, asking her to come back to him, captured the imagination of sympathetic Berliners who were eager to see the couple united. The campaign went off for a year until the artist finally came forwarded and admitted it was an art project, to see how people would react.
Deep inside the courtyard Mark shows us one of the enormous mechanical creatures produced by the Dead Chickens Collective. The artists space can be visited; check the website for details.
We take the train to Oranienburger Straße, Mitte, where we visit Kunsthaus Tacheles (Yiddish for ‘straight talking’), once a department store in the Jewish quarter that served as a Nazi prison that was occupied by artists in 1990. Now an artists’ collective with workshops, performance and exhibition space, Tacheles is open to the public and can be visited; donations welcome.
We head to multicultural Kreuzberg next, where Berlin’s punk rock movement, squat culture and the student movement erupted in the 1960s and 70s, and later in the 1980s and 1990s German-Turkish rap and breakdance culture. David Bowie, Iggy Pop, and Brian Eno all hung out here and played at the SO36 club, Berlin’s CBGBs, which is still a fixture on the music scene.
More infamous residents, included the communist urban guerrilla organization, the Baader-Meinhof gang, later known as the Red Army Faction, which from 1970 to 1998 were responsible for thirty-four deaths, most of which occurred in the German Autumn of 1977.
Mark takes us to the building that gave birth to the gang, named after member Tommy Weisbecker, who was shot dead by the police. It’s now covered in enormous murals. We also visit the nearby Gallery of 50 faces, which boasts huge faces of building residents alongside more famous faces.
We take a train to the Nollerndorfplatz gay district next – the “gateway of creativity in Europe” according to David Bowie, who once lived here, naming the period as his most important creatively. We drop into the dimly lit El Dorado, the city’s first gay bar, for a warming drink, before wandering by the former home of Christopher Isherwood , author of The Berlin Stories (which inspired the film and musical Cabaret), and a low-cost housing project built around a colossal concrete air raid shelter that features painted satellite dishes, another art project.
Next, we take a look at the enormous astronaut mural by Viktor Ash, on our way to the lively Turkish market where we take in the atmosphere and grab some snacks before heading to our last stop, Dr Eckstuck art café, known as the Sistine Chapel of street art.
At 4.5 hours long the tour isn’t short, and it’s jam-packed with so much historical detail that it could be a little overwhelming if you don’t have any knowledge of Berlin’s cultural history. But like the terrific street art we’ve seen it’s the little details that makes this more than just a stroll through some of Berlin’s most fascinating areas.
Alternative Tours also offers a walking tour focused on street art with a practical stencilling workshop that sounds like fun.
Getting there & around: try Flighthub to find cheap flights to Berlin. From the airports to the centre, you have a choice between airport express trains and buses. Once there, the Berlin underground or U-Bahn and S-Bahn are all you need for getting around the city.