The Alternative Tour of Berlin

Jennifer McDermott
Oct 14, 2014 · 5 min read

So, my best friend surprised me with a visit on Friday (there was screaming down the intercom and a run-hug) in Berlin, the city I moved to with my fiance a month ago.

We wanted to do something to get out the house and spotted a free alternative underground Berlin tour going down. The tour promised to show great street art, music spots and alternative scenes, and lasts for 3 hours. I had been to all the places on the tour before but I did learn a few new things, which is always great!

As a side note, I did think that the tour could have included some more music facts, as it was very focused on the street art. I’m very into my music and it would have been cool to have some places pointed out or knowledge imparted along the way. Nevertheless — it was really interesting.

The tour started by the TV tower in Alexanderplatz, where we hopped on a tram to the nearby Hackescher Markt. There we saw our first graffiti under the bridge on the tour and learned why graffiti isn’t cleaned up in Berlin. Berlin is a poor city and they just don’t have the funds to dedicate towards cleaning the walls after people have graffiti-ed them. In fact the police team dedicated to finding and arresting street artists only consists of 25 or so officers; a losing battle, really.

We also learned about “trainbombing”, which is an exercise in which a street artist group called “1Up” pull the emergency stop cord on a moving train, and with the 3 minutes they have before the police arrive, they jump up and proceed to put their tag all over the train.

An artist and his work: Alessandro Cemolin draws cities directly from his mind onto paper and then uses coffee to put them on the wall[/caption]

After this we headed over to Rosenthaler Platz way, where we were taken back in time down a little alleyway to the 90s. This little section has been purposely kept in the decaying condition it would have been in just after the wall fell in 1989.

I was pretty chuffed I knew this part already but it was very interesting to hear it in more detail: after the wall fell, lots of people in East Berlin just up and left their homes, leaving even most (and I believe maybe all) their possessions behind (remember that scene in Goodbye Lenin?).

This meant lots of abandoned homes = lots of squatters. Young people, mainly artists, came over and lived in these places for free. They opened bars and clubs, and pretty much whatever they wanted. Creativity bred.

The little alleyway in Rosenthaler Platz had also been kept that way for another purpose — when a young group of artists were kicking about in the alley trying to find somewhere to live and work for free they happened across Otto Weidt’s old workshop. They discovered that Otto had had a workshop for blind and deaf Jewish workers during the Second World War.

He fought to protect these workers from being deported, and was truly an incredible man. The artists thought Otto Weidt’s story should be told, so they created a museum, Blindenwerkstatt Otto Weidt, still there to this day. There’s lots of art to see in this alley way too, as well as a bar and a few shops, and a moving metal monster museum. Well worth checking out.

From there we caught the train to Kottbusser Tor station in Kreuzberg (just down the road from where my fiance works!). The guide told us about the area and once again imparted some really interesting social history of the place.

Kreuzberg is home to a lot of Turkish families and this is due to a very interesting fact: during WW2, as is common knowledge, Berlin was reduced to rubble; almost destroyed. Turkey and Germany made a unique deal with each other. Germany had lost many of its young, able bodied men and Turkey had high unemployment. So, Turkey agreed to send over lots of young Turkish men to rebuild Berlin, providing them with work.

It was supposed to be temporary, they were given the name “Gastarbeiter” which means “Guest worker”. Of course, they stayed, which is why Berlin is home to lots of Turkish families today. Interesting, huh?

Kreuzberg apparently became a melting pot for cultures. Turkish, as well as other immigrants coming in due to the cheap housing, students, and anarchists all moved there. It’s a really, really cool place. It’s also home to a great street full of bars, called Oranienstrasse, definitely worth a night time visit (as well as some other really cool bars round there).

We headed down past the Bethanien building (an ex-hospital turned musical lessons for children/beer garden/restaurant) with some lovely gardens. Past there, there is a little treehouse type building belonging to Osman Kalin. The tree house sits in a little area that formally sat within a weird triangle point within the wall.

We were told that The Wall should have been down a different street, but as it was put up so fast that inevitably, mistakes were made, and so it was built down the wrong street. This created this weird “no man’s land” that didn’t belong to the West but as it was enclosed, it couldn’t really be controlled by the East. So, residents first started using it as a rubbish dump.

Osman Kalin, a Turkish immigrant, didn’t like this and wanted to put it to better use. So he created a garden, and from people’s rubbish, he built a house (that makes it sound horrid — it’s really a lovely creation!). When The Wall fell, the authorities tried to pull the house down, but residents of Kreuzberg campaigned. The nearby Church (who had been supplying the house with water) checked out the deeds and found that they officially owned the land, and decided that Osman could stay. He is still there to this day. What a lovely story!

Our last stop of the tour was down by the River Spree, at Yaam. Yaam is in a new location as unfortunately they were kicked out due to the Media Spree project (the selling of the land down the River Spree to large corporations), and apparently, and sadly, won’t be long until they are moved again. So please check it out before they’re moved.

We stopped there for a drink and then my friend and I went along to see the East Side Gallery, which is just round the corner, and is the longest existing stretch of The Wall, covered in art. Again, well worth a visit if you visit Berlin. It’s home to the famous “politicians kissing” art piece.

All in all, I’d recommend the tour, even if I have given most of it away! Check them out here.


Product Owner. Previously SEO & Digital Marketing. Northerner in London. Favourite pastime is eating, followed by learning new stuff.

Jennifer McDermott

Written by

Nee Hocking. Product Owner. Northerner. Nerd.


Product Owner. Previously SEO & Digital Marketing. Northerner in London. Favourite pastime is eating, followed by learning new stuff.

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