Berlin street art stories

Berlin street art stories

Back in September, I was eager to dive into Berlin’s underground scene. So I signed up for a tour with Alternative Berlin to get a proper introduction.

But I accidentally signed up for a street art tour. I didn’t realize my error until I showed up at the East Side Gallery. Fancy that.

Street art is not something I’ve ever paid a lot of attention to. I just never particularly enjoyed it. But like my guide explained, street art tends to get confused with graffiti an awful lot, so it comes with negative connotations.

Street art = more carefully planned (usually legal and often commissioned) artwork in public spaces. Graffiti usually refers to those ugly tags that jackasses spray paint everywhere (including over beautiful street art) in some shitty attempt to gain notoriety.

I’m clearly not a fan of tagging.

Berlin is a quirky alternative city. And very politically charged. So as you can imagine, there’s a ton of street art.

Make Art Not War street art in Berlin

It’s interesting to note that the tour guides often have to switch up their schedule last minute, because street art is pretty fluid and what’s there one day is often gone the next.

This tour ended up being one of my favourites so far, just by total chance. Here are the stories behind some of Berlin’s more famous street art/artists. I don’t have photos for them all, sadly.

BLU in Berlin

BLU is an Italian street artist who’s most famous for his two Berlin works that don’t actually exist anymore.

At the Curvybrache in Kreuzberg, two black walls stand. Formerly they were covered in two massive murals: a man adjusting his tie while his hands are bound in gold chains, and another featuring two masked men trying to pull off each other’s masks.

BLU Berlin

(Credit: Flickr CC/Max Noisa.)

Why were they destroyed?

Curvybrache was once a notorious squatters area, housing hundreds of homeless, refugees, rejects, etc. A rich investor who planned to transform the space into fancy apartments bought up the land. People fought for years to control the open space as a way of saying this is our city, we get to make decisions too, and everyone’s tired of gentrification.

Ultimately, the camp mysteriously burned down, and the squatters were forced off. The land is still empty, likely waiting for its value to increase. After the fire, BLU hired painters to paint over the pieces because he didn’t want their iconic status to increase the prices of the apartment rentals. Such is Berlin.

(The painter left two pieces: an extended middle finger, and “CLAIM YOUR CITY.”)

However, you can still see BLU’s artwork around Berlin. Near the Oberbaum Bridge in Kreuzberg is the hella creepy giant pink man made up of various other pink men. It’s a comment on individuality, apparently.

BLU's giant pink man

(Credit: Flickr CC/Sarah-Rose)

El Bocho

El Bocho likes to create macabre street art about his character, Little Lucy. This cartoon girl can be seen all over the city in various methods of killing her cat. Yes, you read that right. Whether dear Little Lucy is trying to shoot the cat or dismember it, she’s quite the little hell raiser.

Alice Pasquini

Stenciling is a new-ish kind of graffiti, whereby stencils are prepared in advance and then pasted to public spaces (probably illegally). These take a LOT of work because of the number of stencils required. But the results are beautiful.

stencilled street art in Berlin

Alie Pasquini is one artist who uses stencils beautifully. She tends to target dirty, graffiti-laden pieces like garbage cans and telephone boxes. I guess it’s her way of making Berlin just a little prettier.

Mein Lieber Prost

Mein Lieber Prost gained notoriety in Berlin for tagging buildings with smiley faces all over the place. Keep on the lookout for one while visiting Berlin. They’re everywhere!

The faces aren’t anything special, but I love his story. After getting caught by police a few times while creating graffiti, he racked up some impressive 20,000+ euro fines.

In true Berlin fashion, the community banded together and threw a raging party at one of the nightclubs. And Mein Lieber Prost paid his way out of trouble.

Os Gemeos

These Brazilian twins are bit of a big deal. They’re known worldwide, and have earned enormous amounts of money for work commissioned in New York City.

Their cartoon caricatures are pretty distinct. In Kreuzberg (yes, again!), you’ll see a five-storey high yellow man on Oppelner Strasse.

yellow man

Apparently one of the brothers dreamt the night before of living in a world with yellow people. He found out the next morning that his brother had the same dream.

Roland Brueckner and Linda’s Ex

This is another one of my favourite street art stories.

Brueckner started tagging images all over the place in 2002, mourning his breakup with his girlfriend, Linda. There was a lot of angst and general emo attitude.

But Berliners really, really cared about this heartbroken guy and even started reaching out to Linda via local press.

But the whole thing was a darned hoax. Well played, Roland.

Other Artists

I came across what MIGHT be a Jimmy C piece while on my tour. James Cochran is an artist from Australia, and his work is inspired by traditional Aboriginal dot paintings. And so Jimmy C leaves his mark everywhere with his unique drip style painting. Each piece is completed with hundreds of bursts with a spray can.

I can’t seem to find this piece in his online portfolio, but it seems to be his work and he’s spent a lot of time in Berlin. Either way, love the technique.

Jimmy C

Then there’s this guy, whose name I can’t recall, or maybe he’s anonymous. At any rate, I can’t find him. He managed to produce this piece near a playground in Kreuzberg. He snuck out here in the middle of the night with only a paint roller attached to a broom handle, and yet created this piece of art from the ground.

black and white graffiti Berlin

So, yeah, safe to say I have a little more respect for street artists these days. There are countless others besides these guys, but now you’ll have an inkling of what to look for.

  • January 18 2016

    I did that tour (intentionally!) and really enjoyed it- we saw so many things other than the street art (I think this was the longer tour you had to pay for), weekend markets, a ‘squatter’ camp etc. Lots of history too. If you ar ein ever in London there’s a guy who started an (unrelated) company called Alternative London – it’s now a bigger company with many guides, tours and activities, but I still think they do the “pay what you want” street art tour.

    • January 21 2016

      Nice! Perhaps that was supposed to be the alternative tour I missed, hahaha. “Alternative tours” in general seem like a great idea.

  • January 18 2016

    I took this tour a few years ago and LOVED it. It’s really cool to not see a single mural in this photo essay that I saw on the tour I took. The ephemeral nature of street art is what really draws me to it and clearly the streets of Berlin are constantly changing, thanks to the artists who make it so colorful.
    Britany recently posted…Write at Home (and that thing I swore I’d never do)

    • January 21 2016

      I never took the time to realize just how amazing that is, Britany, the “ephemeral nature of street art.” But you’re so right about all of it

  • January 18 2016

    Funny, I was reading about street art in Berlin just the other day! Thanks for the post – great to find out more about it. I’m so ridiculously excited about being there soon…

    • January 21 2016

      You’re going to LOVE it!

  • January 18 2016

    great pictures!
    I love Street Art and found Berlin one of the best cities to explore. You basically can’t miss it :)
    Sarah recently posted…Falling in love with Laos in Luang Prabang

    • January 21 2016

      Agreed, even in my gentrified neighbourhood of Prenzlauer Berg, there’s lots to find!

  • January 19 2016

    First thought upon entering Kreuzeberg and seeing the urban art: “What a cool funky place this area is.”
    Second thought upon finding and devouring a “vegan” ice cream sandwich (so much better than it sounds): “I want to spend my life here.”
    LC recently posted…Morocco in Winter is Always a Good Idea

    • January 21 2016

      Haaaahahaha. Those are totally reasonable reactions.

  • January 19 2016

    What a wonderful mistake! Ha. I’d definitely be interested in taking a street art tour simply because I know nothing about it. I’m in love with that first photo. “She tends to target dirty, graffiti-laden pieces like garbage cans and telephone boxes. I guess it’s her way of making Berlin just a little prettier.” I love that!

    Thanks for sharing, Candice! :)
    Lauren Meshkin @BonVoyageLauren recently posted…My City Guide to Porto: Where to Sleep, Eat & Explore!

    • January 21 2016

      You’re very welcome! I’m actually surprised by all the attention that this post has received, haha. Clearly I’m lagging behind on the street art scene!

  • January 20 2016

    Loved this! When I lived in NYC I would love taking the7 train to Chinatown Queens and stare out the window at all the amazing street art xo

    • January 21 2016

      I’ve never paid attention to the street art in NYC but I’ll have to on my next visit!

  • January 20 2016

    Love the stories behind these works of art! If I visit Berlin again, I will definitely make sure to go out of my way to see the street art, esp. in Kreuzeberg.
    Julia recently posted…Adventures and Eats: December 2015

    • January 21 2016

      You definitely should! I’d imagine that most of the commissioned works will still be around

  • January 25 2016

    Great post, I love it! I adore street art and Berlin is just perfect for it!I became interested in it some 3-4 years ago, learnt the difference between tags, murals, stickers, stencils etc and now it’s kind of my thing, I keep finding it everywhere I go! I’m glad you discovered it too :) when you come to Warsaw I will show you some cool murals as well :)
    kami recently posted…5 days in Malta – my itinerary

    • January 25 2016

      Yes! I’m so happy I did that tour, it was such an eye opening experience

  • January 28 2016

    So glad you’ve had a chance to check out the street art in Berlin! Did you find any by Banksy yet? There’s an old bunker in the northern part of the city, and he has a piece on there. Also, Invader (the guy who makes tile mosaics) should have some work in the city, but I spent a day trying to track it down and had no luck. If you happen to find anything by him, can you let me know?

    • January 30 2016

      I will! I’ve heard of him, but haven’t seen his work either. And nope, I haven’t seen any Banksy. THAT would be awesome to see.

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