Unfortunately, our entire stay was cold, rainy, and windy (the kind of annoying bluster that blows your umbrella inside-out every five minutes). But fortunately, we braved the weather, traipsed through almost every neighborhood on the East side at least once (or twice), and found a couple national monuments hidden in the fog.
Perhaps the most interesting part of our stay was the alternative tour we took on Saturday afternoon. It’s the kind of free tour that is only really advertised by word-of-mouth, and having heard about it from a friend at the Colleg, we knew to meet our two thankfully-English-speaking tour guides in front of a tucked-away Starbucks in Alexanderplatz. Our tour guide, Summer, was such a character. With her deep, booming voice, theatric story-telling, and love for back-corners and satirical street-art, she took us on a three and a half hour loop of the city. She is a native of NYC, but now lives in Berlin, blogging about street-art and hosting comedy shows and her own art gallery. Berlin is one of the most popular cities in the world for artists, of every kind really, but particularly for street-artists. Summer showed us some of the more well-known tags/artists/pieces. Following are some of my favorites:
A street-artist discussion of sorts. The first is the center stencil of the little girl. The second is an artist who calls himself "Cut & Go," tagging other works with his iconic dashed lines and name tag.
Commissioned mural with painted "windows" displaying satirical visions of Berlin. The bottom portion is free space to street-artists.
And summer in the foreground.
Along the way we saw a number of these small 4 in. square plaques commemorating the former homes and business of Jews murdered in the Holocaust. They were controversial at first because they were on the ground, and thus could be stepped on/spit on/etc. But they stayed. Because the more you walk on them the more they shine.
Street-art/mural in one of the only courtyard in Berlin that has remained in-tact in pre-WWII condition. Now an open, legal space for street-artists.
Mullet man, shows up quite a lot around the city.
Alias. Perhaps my favorite.
Summer says this mural is an anti-capitalist, anti-fascist, anti-communist end-of-the-world type piece. Obvious, right?
An old Easter block-style residence is now the canvas for "the 50 Faces." 49 more of these on each support.
Berlin seems to be defined by a sense of haphazard transition. No one knows what it is, really. It has no defining industry or trade, no consistent design or lay-out, and an ever-changing population. It's widely known for it's street-artists, but defining a city by mostly-illegal art isn't exactly sustainable for anyone involved (particularly for the artists). To quote Summer, Berlin is just past it’s teenage years, still trying to figure out what it wants to be when it grows up. Only unified for 21 years, Berlin lacks a real “center.” Summer mentioned several times the urban-planning funk they’ve found themselves in. The city attempted to open up lots along the Spree River to large corporate offices, which the citizens contested, bringing with them a resolution to label the banks as community green space. Now the city is caught between commercial investors and citizens, green spaces and financial zones, and a past that brings with it many fault lines.
One final image. This happened to be the last building I noticed on our tour. Pretty fitting, even today.
"The border runs not between what is above and what is below, but between you and me" --side of a building near the old East/West border