I absolutely love street art. And where better to get my street art fix than in Berlin?
When I first visited Berlin, the street art and graffiti was absolutely everywhere, and I had never seen anything like it. I loved it, and was the start of a new obsession with street art around the world. Riding the S-Bahn and seeing all of that art and colour on the drabbest of surfaces had a lasting effect on me, and made me fall in love with Berlin.
Experiencing Alternative Berlin’s Street Art Tour & Graffiti Workshop
When I discovered the Alternative Berlin Street Art Tour & Graffiti Workshop*, I was excited, although the thought of a tour and street art clashed a little in my mind, the fact that it was with Alternative Berlin made me feel happy. These are the people who offer late night underground (literally) tours of Berlin. I was really upset to learn that they didn’t run the tours in winter, as it’s too dangerous, which made the tour sound even more appealing!
When I read about the fact that at the end of the street art tour you get to make your own art, I was all the more intrigued.
And so one Saturday morning in Berlin, Sean and I made our way on U and S Bahn’s to Alexanderplatz, where a wild wind whipped raindrops into our faces and the imposing, yet conveniently helpful TV tower guided us to our meeting place.
Our guide was tall, ginger and a Berliner for five years. A street artist with a penchant for making jokes and talking a lot, he made for a perfect guide through the streets of art in Berlin.
We hopped on an S-Bahn and found ourselves in Kreuzberg. Our guide led us beneath the S tracks, providing relief from the little drips of rain being spun around by the wind.
First up, a paste up by El Bocho. The Berlin-based Spaniard’s Little Lucy creations are scattered all around the city. Inspired by a children’s television series, they feature Little Lucy killing her cat in various ways.
These paste ups are my favourite kinds of street art, due to their detail and finished nature. It is the type of street art I imagine myself choosing, if I were so inclined. 😉 Also, due to the fact that they are posters, if caught, you will be fined for littering, rather than vandalising.
For anyone who has no knowledge of street art and graffiti, this tour is packed with information. For graffiti and street art enthusiasts, the tour is reminiscent of a street art safari, where well known artists such as Po and ROA will pop from the sea of colourful art and scribbles, much to your excitement.
Even for someone who hates street art (whaaat?) this tour would still be worth your time, if only for the fun exploring of the city, hopping on and off public transport and seeing the different sides of Berlin.
You will receive an education on graffiti artists, and their methods. You will learn of the literally death-defying lengths these people go to to decorate the city, and to leave their mark. The heaven spot, for example, refers to a high up and hard to reach spot where artists leave their mark, a place that is a perfect spot as it’s hard to remove, but so difficult to reach that it could lead to the artist falling and winding up in heaven for real.
I was surprised to learn that it is because the city of Berlin is in such debt that the graffiti is able to flourish. I was under the romantic illusion that all of the of people of Berlin are so cool that they enjoy the art on the walls of their city.
The tour reveals street art and graffiti large and small. Below is Victor Ash’s The Astronaut. This large scale image was painted using the grid method, where an artist will divide a small scale version of the image into grids, so as to make it more manageable to create on the side of a building.
Below is Nature Morte by Belgian artist, ROA.
Os Gemeos are twins from.Sao Paulo who are famous for their depictions people with yellow skin. The twins realised that in both of their dreams, everyone had yellow skin. They then incorporated the yellow skin into their work.
Near Watergate, you will find this striking mural by Italian artist, Blu. The large monster is made up of lots of small people, and the monster is putting the only white (different) person into his mouth. Our guide’s theory was that it represents fascism, with the people coming together to create a monster, and then picking on the one who is different.
Unfortunately, Blu’s most famous creation (in collaboration with JR), an image of two men unmasking one another, as a symbol of East and West Berlin getting to know each other- was painted over by artists in December. The site where the iconic art stood was to be turned into apartments by a developer. People tried to get the mural recognised as a protected site. Blu was said to be disillusioned with the gentrification of the Kreuzberg area, and the rising rents pushing the local people out. With his consent, fellow artists covered the mural in black paint, much to the dismay of those who were trying to preserve it.
Lutz Henke explained the decision in a Guardian article, take a look as it’s pretty interesting. One part stuck out for me;
“Still, why would an artist agree to destroy his own work instead of endorsing official attempts to preserve it as a public work of art? Out of despair? Clearly not. Rather out of sorrow. From the first moment of their existence, Blu’s murals were doomed to disappear. It is the nature of street art to occupy space in celebration of its uncertainty, being aware of its temporality and fleeting existence.”
After wandering the streets of Berlin, there was one more S and a bus to catch to take us to the artist’s studio for the second part of the Alternative Berlin Street Art and Graffiti Workshop Tour. The Black Market Collective is located in an old building that’s found through an alleyway. The scent of spray paint hits you as soon as you enter, and the brightly coloured art, spray cans, postcards and prints is music to your eyes.
There are tables with rubber mats and scalpels spread out that bring me straight back to art class. We are given a large stack of printed silhouettes and chose one to scalpel.
After painstakingly removing the black from the white (some people regretting their complicated choice), we are then brought to the back, where we are given a tutorial on the methods of creating something beautiful with spray paint. We learned about layering and giving the 3D effect of a multi-layered stencil with just one layer.
Then, we are let loose with squares of canvas and all the spray paint you could want.
The ultimate kid in a candy shop moment!
Spray painting is really, really fun. So much fun, that I was reluctant to stop with my little piece of canvas, I wanted to do more and more.
In the end though, it was time to stand back and admire our work. The fumes from all of our creations was making me feel a bit hazy, so we retreated to the area selling postcards and prints, where we faced the very difficult choice of deciding what ones to buy.
It was only hunger that tore us away from the very cool studio, and we left feeling inspired. Inspired to take up street art and graffiti, if I’m being honest.
So, what’s the Verdict on the Alternative Berlin Street Art Tour & Graffiti Workshop?
The Alternative Berlin Graffiti Workshop and Street Art Tour provides an ideal lesson in street art. Having a guide give you context for the art work is great, and walking around the streets of Berlin is a perfect way to see the city, even if you weren’t into street art.
However, my hunger for street art was only increased by the tour, and I would have loved to have seen work by artists such as Vhils (who chisels his art onto walls) and Alias, but it is impossible to see the full range of street art in Berlin in just a few hours!
You can use the Alternative Berlin street art tour as a jumping off point, and then continue to explore by yourself the next day.
The part of the tour in the artist studio was a lot better than I had expected. I thought we would be allowed to have a go at spraying some cans, but I didn’t think we would be doing stenciling, and getting a lesson in different techniques.
I’d easily recommend the Alternative Berlin Street Art Tour & Graffiti Workshop.
* I went on the Alternative Berlin Graffiti Workshop and Street Art Tour as a guest of Visit Berlin. All of my excited and enthusiastic thoughts are all my own! You can’t fake this shit!