Berlin is a city of glamour and grit. I didn’t want the cookie cutter tourist version of Berlin. I wanted to see the gritty underbelly of this vibrant beast. My couch surfing host suggested some tours and one was the street art tour from Alternative Berlin.
The Street Art Tour is three hours of Berlin’s technicolor underground. Our tour guide took us to nooks and crannies of the city I would have never found on my own. The eclectic street art is from artists all over the world. I even recognized art from a Tel Aviv artist. While we were exploring the street art world we were also learning about the colorful history of the city.
This is a free walking tour available three times a day by the TV Tower. Make sure to tip your guide kindly. For this walking tour don’t forget to get a subway pass for the day because you do zigzag all through the city.
Some of the sights we saw:
The Eastside Gallery is the remnants of the Berlin Wall. In 1989, when the wall fell, the government decided to commission murals from over 100 artists to create the world’s largest open-air mural collection. This took a grim reminder of the city’s dark history and created a collections of artists’ voices.
The tour only takes 15 minutes to talk about The Eastside Gallery but this is well worth a second look if you have time. The side facing the street is all commissioned work and the other side facing the park is illegal work. The images are change every day.
Address: Mühlenstrasse between Oberbaumbrücke & Ostbahnhof Subway stop: Warschauer Strasse
YAAM is a 20-year-old artist community. There are a variety of events taking place here like music, street art, sports and more. Most importantly this is where people come to learn and practice art. There’s stands of different African food and a small club on the property.
When I came to YAAM on my own I was greeted by a guy who kindly shook my hand and asked if I needed weed. I said no but he kindly invited me to come to the club after I had some food. My chef was previously an astronomy teacher who taught in Japan and also once lived in Canada and America. He came to Berlin for a change of pace. Don’t be afraid to talk to anyone at YAAM. It very much feels like a family environment.
*There are vegan/ vegetarian friendly options.
Tree House on The Wall is a unique sight in the Mitte district. Herr Kalin is somewhat of a local hero. In 1983, the Berlin wall was still standing. He had figured out that there was a piece of unclaimed territory in a small curve in the wall. He wanted to create life in this sad little corner. So he made a home with his own hands out of scraps and planted a garden. When the wall fell in 1989, the locals supported Herr Kalin continuing his garden. Now there is a little two story treehouse in the middle of the metropolis. You can see Herr Kalin working on his garden or drinking a cup of tea.
Address: Bethaniendamm 23, 10997 Berlin (approximate address; adjacent to the Sankt Michael Church)
Tacheles is an abandoned building brilliantly covered in art. It was once a central administrative office for the Nazi Party. There are rumors that prisoners of war were kept and interrogated there. In the 1980’s artists and activists squatted creating a community hub of forward thinkers. This community helped transform Berlin from a war torn city to a cultural Mecca. The building is now shut down and there are rumors of it being demolished soon.
Address: Oranienburger Strasse 54-56a
Turkish Market is a bi-weekly market every Tuesday and Friday from 11-1:30PM. The Turkish market wasn’t on the day I was on the tour. I went the next day and got some delicious, cheap street food. There’s tons of vegetarian options here! This is also a great place to get gifts for family and friends.
Address: Maybachufer Subway Stop: Schönleinstrasse
The tour gives you much more information about these sights than I detail here.
666 Pub Crawl gave me a taste of eclectic Berlin’s nightlife. Like I’ve said before, I love pub crawls when I’m traveling alone. And this pub crawl is specifically tailored to show you the unconventional parts of Berlin. I want to emphasize, they take pride in bringing responsible adults on these tours. They warn all crawlers that they have a strict no bullshit policy: Don’t get drunk, don’t be annoying or you will be booted off the tour. The tour is 15 Euros, this includes entry and 6 shots. The bars are always changing depending on the day of the week.
First, we met at a flower power, themed bar. Seventies music played in the background and everyone sat around to chat a bit before the crawl started. It was a good group for a Wednesday about 15 people.
Next, we went to a ping pong bar. Basically, you get a paddle and go in a circle trying to hit the ball. It goes really fast and if you miss you’re out. The game begins with like twenty players and will come down to two players for a sudden death round. It was so fun! I suck at ping pong but it really doesn’t matter. Everyone gets an A for effort.
The bar after, was a little underwhelming. It was a small bar with fooze ball tables. It was not as energetic as the previous place. But we quickly moved on.
Then we went for a bit of a walk to a hip hop club. I fell in love with this club. Everyone was dancing, singing and different people came up to rap and sing. I almost didn’t want to leave!
Finally, around midnight- 1 AM we got to this club. It was really underwhelming it was early on week night. So the club pretty much just had the pub crawl attendees.
So my only critique of this pub crawl is I wish it started a little later so it ended at like 3 AM. (Most clubs don’t get started until around 3 AM in Europe) It would also be nice if it ended at a better club. The pub crawl guide said she’d recommend better clubs but I didn’t really want to go by myself. But I suppose that was somewhat my fault for not coming on the weekend!
It should be noted that partying Berlin is a little different than in other places. Thursday to Sunday the clubs don’t close. My couch surfing host said sometimes they’d wait all night in line and get into the club at like 6 AM and just party all day and night. People just live at the club all weekend, literally. If I ever go back, I’d love to hit up the club scene but I’m sure it’ll take a lot of Red Bull to get through it.
Alternative Berlin took my short four days and made me feel like I’d experienced the city. There is still so much more I’d love to experience in Berlin. My short time there only scratched surface of what this city has to offer. It truly is a vibrant city with a different rhythm from any other place I’ve been to.