There are few things cooler these days than street art — the rebellious grown up sibling of graffiti — which utilizes spray paint, stickers, sculpture, and more to create public art, pretty much always at the expense of someone else’s property (and often with a political message). And while such hip self-expression isn’t 100% legal (In 2013, legendary British street artist Banksy infamously engaged in a cat-and-mouse war with the New York Police Department for a whole month), it’s still gained massive public acceptance in the last ten years (See: Academy-Award-winning street art documentary Exit Through the Gift Shop, Shepard Fairey’s Obama “Hope” poster, and thousands upon thousands of Instagram accounts).
And if you love street art and want to see it at its best with your own eyes, there’s one place you need to go: Berlin.
The dynamic German capital attracts artists from all over the globe and its ever-evolving street art scene reflects the city’s unique history and eclectic present. Street art in Berlin goes back to the days when the city was literally divided and West Germans painted graffiti (that ranged from simple political messages to elaborate pieces) on their side of the wall that the Soviet Union built to keep East Germans from fleeing. Today, the city is covered in street art of almost every kind–in shop windows, standing freely in parks, projected on underpass walls, and more.
But street art isn’t permanent, making almost every glimpse unique, as well as easy for tourists to miss out on completely. So how can you delve into Berlin’s complex artistic subculture when you visit? Well, you can…
Explore the Scene on Your Own
Taking your own self-guided tour through Berlin to seek out art isn’t as hard as it sounds. By just checking out a few sites and updated online lists, like Awesome Berlin and Street Art Berlin, and even the official Vist Berlin website, you can find the exact locations for plenty of elaborate and famous pieces. But be forewarned, a well-researched approach to touring street art kind of takes out the wonder and surprise of the experience.
If you’d prefer a more unplanned style, which is more about stumbling upon work as you walk the city streets, you’re best bet is to head to Berlin’s Kreuzberg and Friedrichshain districts. They were some of the first areas where international artists settled in the 1990s and are now home to numerous galleries as well as some of the most vibrant examples of public art in the city. From graffiti to paste-ups to stencils to sculptures, there’s no shortage of art on which to feast your eyes in these eclectic districts.
One must-visit spot is the Raw Tempel in Friedrichshain. It’s a former industrial space that has become a large arts complex (one of the biggest and most established in the city) that brings together music, theater, drinking and politics. The complex is comprised of four buildings that host visual and performance art, arts and crafts classes, a variety of concerts, lectures, and social activities. Since its inception in 1998, international street artists have adorned the Raw Tempel and surrounding area with graffiti and murals that draw inspiration from nature, politics, and the human body (among other themes).
Or Take a Tour with a Local Artist
Probably the best way to ensure you don’t miss out on anything amazing, in terms of street art, is to sign up for a guided tour of the city with someone who knows all the places to spot street art in Berlin.
Companies like Alternative Berlin (who charge only 20€ per ticket) work with local artists who will take you on a detailed tour of street art created by international artists in Berlin. In addition to showing you some of the city’s most impressive stencil art, throw ups, mural art, paste ups, tagging, ad busting, and installations, they’ll provide you with insight about the artist’s inspiration and motivation behind each piece. Since Berlin street art is always evolving, you may even get to watch an artist working on a new creation. Alternative Berlin’s tour ends in an abandoned margarine factory turned artist co-op in one of the newer arts hot spots, Lichtenberg, where visitors have the opportunity to try their hand at various techniques seen during the tour and can even get to take home a canvas that they painted!
Have you taken in the street art of Berlin (or another city)? Have any pieces or experiences you want to share? Lave them in the comments section below.