Happy Bank Holiday to everybody!
I've just got back from an amazing weekend away in Berlin, a city that I've always been keen to visit, and whilst everything is still fresh in my mind I wanted to share some of the fantastic street art and the alternative subculture of Berlin that I have discovered just in these past few days.
Now I'm not writing a travel review here or planning on a history lesson but a few basics must be said. Some cities you can visit and always feel distant, a stranger, however Berlin has a vibrant, young and cosmopolitan atmosphere, which is why I have found it so accessible and easy to indulge in. It truly is a city that is dripping in history and you can feel it everywhere you go, whether it's noticing bullet holes in the sides of buildings or bumping into remaining segments of the Wall, it is history that is still very fresh and visible. Berlin has clearly been through much pain and suffering and yet so much character and urban life can be found thriving in a city that has regenerated from the rubble.
Berlin is of course well known for its street art and many graffiti and stencil artists flock to exhibit their work on its infamous walls. The beauty of street art is that it is often found in obscure nooks of the urban landscape, however discovering it all, as a tourist who doesn’t know their way around a city, can be difficult.
Of course my keen and beady eyes always want to be treated to as much as possible so last week I looked up a few tours that might focus on street art. But it was actually a friend of a friend who sent through a link to a tour company called ‘Alternative Berlin’, which immediately caught my focus. To quote them directly –
“Our unique tours will give you an authentic local experience of Berlin’s famous underground subcultures, alternative lifestyles and street art and graffiti scenes in a safe and respectful way.” - Alternative Berlin Website
We thought we would give the free tour a go, (students always like to hear the word free), as linked above, as it seemed to cover exactly what we wanted to see around the city. The tour groups are kept quite small, around 10 – 15 and there is no booking needed you simply turn up at the designated point at the right time and off you go. The tours are led by locals that are genuinely interested and insightful about Berlin and its subculture. As they work on a customer tips basis, it prompts them into actually making the experience worthwhile and interesting.
Our guide, Bart, was originally from Holland but lives now in Kreuzburg, Berlin, and in his own words “lives in an alternative caravan with his alternative wife and alternative child and alternative dog and his alternative friends”.
Bart’s enthusiasm and knowledge of the street art culture was clear from the start and he was very keen for us to stray away from any main touristy areas leading us to the courtyard of Rosenthaler Strasse 39 near Hackescher Markt and to the student quarters of Friedrichshain and Kreuzburg. Bart’s English was impressive and he kept a friendly and relaxed atmosphere, which suited the experience. As he expressed himself the beauty of doing the tours for him is that the art is always changing, as new work is put up, painted over or vandalised, there is always something new to see.
Right - time to show you what the streets had to offer, I will mention briefly any known artists and their backgrounds but for those who are really keen I urge you to do your own further research into any that catch your eye.
C215 - Christian Guémy
C215 is a french street artist that I became aware of when researching for an A-level art project about 4 years ago and ever since have followed and enjoyed his work. Predominantly using stencils to produce his intricate stylized portraits, he always beautifully captures the personality and emotion of the subject with the simplicity of the linear forms. I can only admire the way he mixes strong splashes of background colour with more monochrome stenciling over the top, always managing to blend the artwork into the environment that existed before.
I recently found a piece of his in Shoreditch, London, so was rather happy when I spotted this piece in Berlin that even our tour guide had not yet seen. The subject of this piece along with many of Guémy's work is his daughter Nina, who has also become a stencil artist in her own right. C215 has just recently finished a large mural in Bristol, and I cannot recommend enough to look up more of his work.
AliCé - Alice Pasquini
AliCé originally from Rome, is a graphic designer, illustrator and street artist that I have only recently become aware of but have also fallen for her work. Her street art has similar stencil styling to C215 which is not unexpected as they are often in collaboration with each other. But it is clear whilst looking through her website portfolio that she has a natural illustrative talent and fantastic design flare. I found two of her pieces in Berlin although I'm sure there are others, one shown above and to the right. I myself am still discovering her work as I urge you to do too! Check her website out here.
Blu is the pseudonym of an Italian street artist who still conceals his real identity. He concentrates on making more political comments through his large scale work which are impressive to say the least. I won't say much more for this artist as the images of his works speak for themselves and there is too much of his work that is worth exploring that I'm going to allow you to do so at your own wish. If you click to the left I have added an incredible time lapse video of a project Blu did called MUTO which is a must watch and will capture your imagination!
I don't know how true the story of this artist is although our guide Bart did say he knew him personally. Mr 6 is known in Berlin for cycling around on his bike for six hours every day with a bucket of paint and a paint brush and he simply paints 6's on various walls, surfaces, basically anything he finds. There have even been rumoured sightings of dogs running through parks with a six painted on the side of them. People suspect that this artist was not very successful at school and the meaning behind the number 6 has something to do with the German grading system with 6 being the lowest a student can achieve. So if you are ever in Berlin keep and eye out for a random 6 painted somewhere because you will now know where it has come from.
I really could go on forever explaining the various other artists works that we discovered in Berlin and on the Alternative Tour. A few more names to look up are Jimmy C, Victor Ash, Alias, ROA and the One Up Group of Berlin. Below is a small gallery of other works and images I took on the trip. Please take a look and enjoy and if there are any works you are particularly interested in feel free to contact me and I can help you out. Do take a look at the 'Alternative Berlin' tour company as I can throughly recommend and if you are stuck for a city to visit in Europe then I can't rate Berlin enough, the nightlife, the art and the culture is all worth the visit! Would love to hear any comments about this post! All the best.