Many huge cities has free walking tours. It’s a crap-shoot when getting anything for free, but I figured it was worth a shot. Ron and I decided to check out this Alternative Berlin free walking tour. It was advertised as “see the ‘other’ side of Berlin in 3 hours.” Honestly, it was more like 5 hours. Instead of the traditional (and expensive) tours like the Berlin Wall or Checkpoint Charlie, we got to see the alternative side of Mitte, Friedrichshain, and Kreuzberg.
Our tour guide, Bart, has been doing Berlin’s alternative tours for about a year. he was filled with tons of information and seemed like an old pro. he was really nice and funny. He kinda walked a little fast, but everybody in Europe does. I’ve learned to just snap the picture as fast as I can and just run!
Berlin is filled with street art (aka graffiti), so much so that it looks legal. Graffiti is illegal in Berlin, but by the looks of it, it doesn’t look the cops really care. This tour mostly showed street art. This artist likes to go around town putting up “people” in random places. These “people” are just clothing placed to look like living people. It was quite surreal to see it so high up on a side of a bridge. It made me do a double take.
The street art in Berlin ranged in sizes. A lot of the really cool pieces were huge, like 8 stories tall. For something that is illegal to do, surely seems like nobody gets caught for it. Bart had said that artist will rent out scaffolds and draw in the middle of the night. This zombie picture was cool because from a far it just looks like an ugly pink blob, but when looked closely, you can see the blob is made up of people. That is why I call it the zombie. I’m amazed he/she got to finish this piece without being caught. I wouldn’t be surprised if he/she took a couple of nights to finish this up OR it was a street team. Either way, it’s magnificent.
The first real stop of the tour was at an art shop. Onkel Zozo Shop & Gallery is filled with posters of monsters. Each poster has a funny situation, like a huge hairy monster eating a book of knowledge. For whatever reason, I gravitated to this sock poster. I don’t normally wear sock, because of that, I’m always losing them.
Another interesting form of street art that is being picked up all over the world (but I have yet to see in Hawai’i) is yarn bombing. Basically, it’s knitted (or maybe crochet) pieces found on random places. Here I found a smiley face yarn bomb on a tree. A girl from Australia in my tour said that she once saw a bike rack covered with yarn. I find yarn bombing to be very fascinating. Just the thought of a young guy or girl knitting away so they can yarn bomb something is quite…well…a sight to see.
The famous treehouse of Berlin. This was the only piece of real history I got during the tour. During the days where Germany was divided by a great big wall, there was a small piece of unclaimed patch of land. It was quite small and no quite knew if it was on the East or West side of Germany. I believe it was later determined to be East Germany. Mr. Osman Kalin saw this unused land and decided to build a nice treehouse and started squatting on the land. I don’t know if Kalin started the squatting sensation, but he was the most famous. During those times, officials from East Germany checked out what Kalin was doing. Since it was right up next to the wall, they thought he was a spy or something. During those days, East Germany had a low tolerance to anyone who is against them. I don’t know how Kalin did it, but he managed to talk his way out of jail and continued to stay in the treehouse without any harassment. Now in his 80′s, he doesn’t live there anymore, but visits and maintains the treehouse. He is quite proud of his treehouse, which is a symbol of freedom to some. I was lucky enough to wave at Kalin. He was there, just sitting and looking at our tour walking by.
Lunch was an interesting experience. Who knew Port-Au-Prince was in Berlin? I bet you didn’t know that, uh? Amongst all the concreate and street art, my tour guide took us into an enclosed park with high walls. Inside I was shocked to find a sandy beach (minus the water) with volleyball, basketball, and half pipe. There was a Dj station blasting Notorious B.I.G…I felt like I was no longer in Berlin.
A nice outdoor Jamaican restaurant was serving some stews. Everything was in German, so I can’t really say for sure what I ate, but it tasted like a stew. One word of caution, don’t use the red sauce. It’s hot and deadly…brings the term pepper spray to a whole new level. My travel companion, Ron, laughs at heat, but this one almost brought him to his knees.
I’ve mention a couple of times of this “squatter” way of living. Well, squatting is a huge thing in Berlin, not everyone does it, but some do. Squatting is when someone lives in a building or land without permission. I’ve had this thought that squatters are homeless people, but in Berlin it’s sometimes homeless, political reasons, and art. I know it sounds crazy, but that’s part of the Berlin culture. Squatting is a part of the culture, it may not be acceptable, but it’s there. Police don’t take kindly to squatters. Usually the riot police comes out in full effect and start beating and arresting the squatters.
The Kunsthaus Tacheles is an art squatter place. It’s something I’ve never seen before. The Kunsthaus Tacheles used to a Jewish department store, but closed down after a couple of months. I have a slight feeling it had something to do with World War II, but we don’t get into that. After the Berlin Wall was demolished, squatters took over the building. The inside is covered with street art and urine, but on each level (I think there were four or five) are nice mini galleries (urine-free). I was shocked to see all different kinds of people in there. Some artist were young and others were old. They all different styles of artwork, but the same goal of squatting. It was quite fascinated. Although, it’s acceptable to look around, but it’s preferred if you bought something.
The free tour stopped at the Kunsthaus Tacheles. It was a great end to a great tour…I couldn’t ask for more. At the end of the tour, Bart had casually mention an alternative pub crawl, which peaked my interest. I met two lovely girls from the UK and decided to meet up with for this pub crawl. I didn’t forget my two traveling companions, Ron and Mike. For about 15Euros, we got to visit 5 alternative clubs and receive 6 free shots. We didn’t need to pay a cover or forced to buy any drinks. I found out that pub crawls were the best way to make friends and find lovers.
I can’t do a proper write up on the pub crawl. I don’t really remember much about it. Let’s just say, I had a lot of fun. No, I didn’t hook up with anyone…well, ya, I’m pretty sure I didn’t. The best bar/club was the bombed out train station night club that played reggae in one room and another hip hop. The club used to be a train station, then it got bombed out…that’s how it got it’s name. Here are some pictures I took during the night…it’s not much.
Berlin has been a whirl-wind. I really don’t know what I got myself into, but I’m glad that I did. I will never forget the people I’ve met in Berlin. It was truly an amazing time.