Berlin was one of those cities that I originally went to just because it was a major city that I wanted to check off my list. Sure there were things I was looking forward to doing there, but I didn’t arrive in the German metropolis with the same amount of excitement that I had for, say, Warsaw or Jerusalem. I had always heard good things about Berlin and even had a few good friends who lived there, but never would’ve anticipated that it’d be one of my favorite cities.
I now hold Berlin near and dear to my heart for many reasons. The first, of course, was the boy. The second, the third-wave coffee culture. The third, which surprised me the most, was the art scene. There were so many different layers to it; street art and graffiti; European classics; trippy Black Mirror type museums; and contemporary art galleries tucked away in cobblestone alleys.
Berlin Street Art and Graffiti
Of course, when most people think of Berlinese art, they typically think of street art. This is because Berlin is perhaps the graffiti capitol of the world, with dozens of underground Berlin street art tours, famous murals covering all corners of the city, and, of course, the East Side Gallery.
The best districts to see graffiti in Berlin are Kreuzberg, Wedding, Mitte, Prenzlauer Berg, and Lichtenberg. Here you can find original street art from iconic artists like the Berlin Kidz, El Bocho, Thierry Noir, Blu, Banksy, JR, and a couple installations from SOBR’s “IT’S TIME to DANCE” project.
I actually stumbled upon this hidden courtyard when I was wandering around the Hackescher Markt area. I couldn’t believe that I’d never read about it online or in any tourist guide because it is such a damn treasure trove. Every inch of the aged cement walls are covered in art, with pieces from El Bocho, Miss Van, and Stink Fish.
You’ll find a huge mural of Anne Frank attached to a little museum dedicated to the young author, 90s-style graffiti, tags, paste-ups, and a stairwell chaotically covered in stickers.
The Café Cinema, at the entrance of the alley, is a dim lit, slightly grimy coffee shop at the entrance of the courtyard. It’s one of those places who’s wooden tables are sticky with years of beer and coffee spills, but where you’ll always find good music, good snacks, and good company.
Accompanying Café Cinema in the courtyard is Otto Weidt’s Workshop for the Blind and the Neurotitan art store/book shop/gallery. I recommend also checking out the Monster Kabinett, which is basically the smoky result of when a haunted house meets an interactive robot museum meets a mad scientist.
The East Side Gallery is famous all over the world for being the longest open air gallery in the world, specifically running for 1,316 meters straight. The wall itself is what little remains of the Berlin Wall, but has obviously now been painted a thousand times over. Taking a stroll or riding a bike along the Gallery is a great way to see some of the most famous street art in the world, such as Dmitri Vrubel’s Bruderkuss, which shows a passionate embrace between Erich Honecker and Leonid Brezhnev.
Museum Island, Berlin
There are also has a ton of opportunities to see classic art, such as on Museum Island, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. On a little section of land on the Spree River, lies five world-class museums that cover evrything from Ancient Egypt and the Byzantine Empire to neoclassic and romantic art. Among the most famous artifacts kept in Museuminsel are the Bust of Nefertiti, the Pergamon Altar, and a collection of 500,000 rare coins, known as the Coin Cabinet, or Münzkabinett.
For those looking for more shocking, alternative artistic experiences, Berlin has no shortage of that either. I suggest checking out Designpanoptikum, the Buchstabenmuseum, the David Hasselhoff Museum, or the Monster Kabinett.
Berlin is not a city that you’ll ever be bored in. No matter what you’re looking for, Soviet history tours, famous street art, or polish pierogies, Berlin will always have what you want.