12 Mar Getting Our Paint On: Street Art Tour in Berlin, Germany
Berlin is a city famous for its wide range of street art, murals and graffiti. The art found in the city comes in all shapes and sizes, but I didn’t realize just how diverse it could be or how in-depth the history was. That all changed when we went on a street art tour in Berlin.
We joined the Street Art Workshop & Tour with Alternative Berlin Tours and spent the afternoon wandering around the city while learning about street art. Then, we made our way to a workshop in a warehouse to create our own piece. It was a fun way to dig into the street art culture in a very creative city.
Exploring Berlin’s Street Art
Our tour started at 12 p.m. near the base of the Alexanderplatz TV Tower in Berlin. All participants need an AB Metro ticket for the tour, as you will be taking multiple trips on public transportation over the next couple of hours.
All of the guides for this tour are street artists and graffiti writers, so you know you are really getting an inside look into this fascinating, creative world. Rob, our guide for the afternoon, hailed from Australia, but he has been living in Berlin for years. He is a street artist himself and has experience working for a renowned gallery in Berlin.
We spent the next couple of hours zipping around town and learning all about the different types of street art and artists in the city. The art in Berlin is always changing, so we were able to check out some fresh works as well as some older iconic pieces of art. Some of the works that we spotted might be gone already, and there are surely many new creations since our visit.
From looking at all of this art around the streets of Berlin, you would think it must be legal, right?! But, unless an artist is specially commissioned by a building owner, it is not legal and is seen as vandalism by authorities. If an artist is caught creating a piece, they will have to pay a fine and could be thrown in jail. However, city officials have little incentive to remove the art because it attracts visitors from around the world. It’s a catch 22 indeed.
I didn’t realize just how many different types of street art there are. Stencil art, throw ups, mural art, paste ups, tagging, adbusting, and burners, are just a few types that you can find. Tagging is basically the artist spray painting their signature onto any surface or wall.
Paste ups are when a piece of art is created off site and then it is pasted onto a surface with adhesive. One paste up that we saw was by an artist called SOBR. He has a project called “IT’S TIME to DANCE”, where he essentially creeps on people at parties and takes photos of those who show a love of dancing. He then turns the images into paste ups and spreads the joy of dancing on the streets.
I have always wondered how some of the giant murals were painted and I was surprised to find out that many of them are stencil art. To lay down some stencil art, an artist will plan out and create the stencils out of materials like cardboard or paper and then bring them to the site to stencil the work on a wall. The paint can be layered to create various dimensions and looks, and it can be a relatively quick way of painting.
One of my favorite pieces that we saw during the tour was Victor Ash’s “Astronaut Cosmonaut”. It is located in the Kreuzberg neighborhood and it is one of the most iconic and pictured murals in the city. The history on this piece is deep, but it has to do with the Cold War, the space race between the USSR and the USA, Berlin subculture, and a desire to escape. One of the really neat things about this piece is at certain times of the day, the shadow of the flag from the car dealership across the street aligns perfectly with the astronaut’s hand.
We also made a pit stop at the Berlin Wall—you really can’t talk about street art in Berlin without mentioning the historic Berlin Wall. By most accounts, the west side of the wall was the birthplace of the graffiti culture in Berlin. After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the East Side Gallery was born. Artists from around the world were invited to paint on the empty side of the wall in 1990. The paintings were meant to inspire hope and celebrate reunification after the city’s negative past. There are now over 100 murals painted along the wall, and it is one of the largest open air galleries in the world.
Another topic that we discussed was the motivation behind many of the artists to create the work that they do. Some of the artists do it just because they want to, but many are motivated by political or cultural reasons. Street art is a way to take a stand and send a message in a very visible mannerr. Some of the many artists we talked about were Shepard Fairey, Berlin Kidz, Nomad, Poet, Cornbread, Blu, 1UP, Just, and C215. While many of the artists have different styles and motivations, there are unwritten rules and codes of conduct between the artists. The tour covered many topics in depth and we left the streets with so much information our heads were practically bursting!
Creating Our Own Art
After touring all the fantastic art outside, it was time to make our way to the workshop location to create some art of our own. The artist garage is located inside an old abandoned margarine factory, and it is filled with art from wall to wall.
We settled in for a lesson on how to create our own art and the different tools we could use. We learned how to hold the cans of spray paint, different spraying techniques, how to create a color gradient, about complementary colors, and more. Once we had received some insight and instruction, it was time to get creative.
There were a pile of prints that we were able to turn into stencils—I decided on a penguin and Micah picked a portrait of Chuck Norris. We took our time cutting out the black print in the image, and we were left with a stencil for our next step.
Next up, we made our way back to the garage, grabbed a piece of canvas, and set up shop at a table with spray paint. For the background of the image, we sprayed a mix of solid colors, then added in some texture and patterns.
Once our background dried, it was time to spray on our design and add any additional touches that we felt were necessary. And, voilà! Our paintings were done. I’m not the most artistic crayon in the bunch, so my art projects always turn out like I’m still in elementary school. Micah, on the other hand, always seems to come up with a pretty cool end product. So, here are the finished pieces…don’t judge us too hard, ha!
The painting portion of the tour lasted for the final hour of the tour, and it was a really fun way to end the day. Not only did it give us an appreciation for the talent of the artists on the street, but it was great to get creative in an unexpected way and it brought the tour around full circle. It ended up being one of our favorite afternoons in Berlin, and one we won’t be forgetting any time soon!