Sandemans City Walking Tours
Walking tours focus on many different angles of the city, and are run every day from Brandenburg Gate in front of Starbucks, at 10 a.m., 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. Sandemans City Walking Tours offer a free 2.5-hour tour, taking you all around Berlin’s most historic sites, such as the site of Hitler’s former bunker, the Berlin Wall, and Checkpoint Charlie. Enthusiastic, energetic, and friendly tour guides provide many interesting explanations and insights. Other tours available start from just €12 and range from the Sachsenhausen memorial to a pub crawl, from the Third Reich to discovering alternative Berlin and the rise of Berlin’s exciting art scene.
The Berlin Wall
Berlin, a city cut into two from 1961 to 1989 by two concrete barriers with a 160-yard ‘death strip’ in between, consisting of watchtowers, flood lights, and trip-wire machine guns. Loved ones were separated, and what is so fascinating when you walk around the streets of Berlin today is that many people that you pass will have experienced living through this era. The Berlin Wall Memorial is located at Bernauer Straße, but something not to miss is the East Side Gallery – a 1.3 kilometer section of the Berlin Wall situated on Mühlenstraße, joining Friedrichshain and Kreuzberg. Along this strip of the wall are 105 paintings expressing freedom and hope for a better future created in 1990 by artists from all over the world. It is thought to be the largest and longest standing open air gallery worldwide.
The Vibrant Street Art Scene
Street art is visible all over Berlin. Some places definitely worth visiting are the East Berlin districts of Kreuzberg and Friedrichshain, but consider starting in Mitte where Auguststrasse is lined with art galleries including the KW Institute which showcase the best of contemporary emerging art.
Some street artists to look out for often have works in the most unusual corners of the city, including Mr. 6 who travels around Berlin on a bicycle leaving his mark as a trail of some 650,000+ number sixes painted all across the city. No one knows why a number six – some believe that it corresponds to the grading system in German schools where six is the worst mark you can obtain.
Blu, another great street artist in Berlin, had created large murals on a building in the Muhlenstrasse area, where many protests took place against the gentrification of Kreuzberg. After a fire resulted in a man’s death, police came and sectioned off the entire area. Later, the buildings were to be sold and Blu’s art used as a selling factor. Opposed to every aspect of this, the artist had people black out the huge wall murals during the night. Additional interesting work can be seen by the artist SOBR, who claims there is not enough love so plasters the walls with dancing people showered in glitter. Lastly, among many others, look out for Just, who writes his name and blurs the word using a fire extinguisher, Victor Ash, a Copenhagen-based artist from Paris – one of his famous works in Berlin being the Astronaut Cosmonaut created in 2007 – as well as works by Oliver O. Rednitz, xoooox, and French artist Sp38, which all can be found on walls along the streets of Berlin.
PRO TIP: The best time to come to Berlin if you are an art enthusiast is late April to the beginning of May, when participating galleries open their new exhibitions that always include some great newcomers to the art scene.
Artistic Housing Projects
Staying on the theme of art, but diverting slightly, two interesting housing areas can be seen in Koepi 137 and Baumhaus an der Mauer. The first, an autonomous housing project on Köpenicker Straße 137, is a squat that has been in existence for over 17 years. The building was owned by Petersen and Partner, who went bankrupt and left the site to Commerzbank, who has tried on several occasions to auction it off. However, due to each inhabitant’s right to stay for a certain amount of years, the building must now be left as it is until the contracts are all up. The latter, Baumhaus an der Mauer in Mitte, is where Osman Kalin set up his treehouse home on an area of land left by the GDR during the construction of the Wall. Built in 1989 and still standing, thanks to Kalin successfully fighting against the attempts of the authorities to tear it down in order to build a road, today the treehouse has a plaque with a telephone number where people can contact him to arrange a guided tour around the house and garden.
Grunewald and Peacock Island
Escape the city for a day and visit tranquility by taking the historic number 218 bus to Wannsee, which heads through the Grunewald Forest, River Havel and Wannsee Lake and ends up near Pfaueninsel (Peacock Island). You can visit the island by means of a very short boat trip across the river costing around €4 return. Visiting in autumn is simply extraordinary, as the vibrant colors of the leaves shine through. The forest has many interesting trees, flowers, and of course peacocks, which can often be seen strolling around.
Eating and Drinking
There are so many fantastic bars and restaurants in Berlin. If you’re in the Friedrichshain area, stop by en-route at Haferkater, literally a kiosk in the street serving coffee. Order to go from the kiosk, or sit inside its little hut-inspired area. A great place to go to kickstart the day with some breakfast and a morning coffee.
If you’re looking for an evening meal, head to Schiller Bar, a restaurant with a twin bar right next door. Burgers in the bar are recommended. Tuck into a pulled pork burger with halloumi, fries and chili-cheese sauce, or order in the restaurant which offers a variety of different dishes including typical German styles such as currywurst with potato salad or wiener schnitzel.
A Must-Visit Live Music Venue – Antje Øklesund
Berlin, known for its art scene, has something completely alternative in the form of a hidden venue called Antje Øklesund. From the outside, it appears closed down but this underground bar could be one of the best kept secrets in the capital. Tucked away in the trendy district of Friedrichshain, it’s almost impossible to find the entrance. On arrival at what seems like a rundown industrial yard, there will be a flicker of a tea light. Through a knocked through hole in the wall, it is here that you enter and go underground. Atmospherically lit it goes well with the likes of the downbeat electronica bands and DJs that often play at the venue. An undercover and interesting venue, where random occurrences are somewhat normal.