Berlin’s walls play canvas to a world class collection of street art. The city is strewn with masterpieces. From the minute to the monumental, an attentive stroll through the Strassen is bound to uncover some work of creative beauty liable to stop you in your tracks.
Aimless wandering through such a sprawling city can get tiresome though. Luckily for those In the Know there’s an easier way to feast your eyes – by hopping aboard the U1 with this free guide. If you haven’t wrapped your head around Berlin’s public transport system yet, get clued up with our guide How to Bahn.
Between Warschauerstrasse and Nollendorfplatz Berlin’s oldest underground rail defies all convention by travelling above ground. Six metres above ground in fact. From Friedrichshain, through Kreuzberg to Schöneberg, the eastern section of the U1 has been rolling (with the odd interruption due to wars and walls) for over 100 years. The historic line also happens to slide right by many of the cities most iconic urban artworks.
The eastern terminus of the U1 is a gateway into the heart of hedonistic Friedrichshain. This once industrial working class neighbourhood suffered severe damage during world war two. Most of the area was rebuilt using a typically drab east German palette. When the wall fell, colour flooded in, with the rundown buildings and industrial spaces lending themselves to raves, squats and of course graffiti.
The area occupied by R.A.W. was once part of a train repair factory, or Reichsbahnausbesserungswerk (there’s a reason Germans love acronyms), which operated from 1867 until 1995. Instead of letting the sprawling grounds fall into disuse, a local initiative purchased part of the property and turned it into a sub-cultural community centre. It’s bricks brandish some of Berlin’s most striking street art, making a wander through here at any time a delight.
One United Power
Cross the busy intersection of Revaler and Warschauerstrasse and meet the glare of the 25 metre tall swiss army knife created by Swiss duo One Truth. The creative brothers Pase and Dr. Drax from Zurich were invited in 2016 to complete this play on Swiss stereo types.
In 1990 artists from 21 countries were invited to paint a section of the recently felled Berlin wall. The 106 murals they created transformed a symbol of oppression into one of peace. The longest open air gallery on earth has become Berlin’s most enduring urban art spot.
Berlin’s most instagrammable bridge, the Oberbaumbrücke spans the river Spree, connecting creative hubs Kreuzberg and Friedrichshain. This major artery between east and west was severed with the construction of the Berlin wall in 1961. The bridge was not to be re-opened until 1994.
On the Kreuzberg side of the bridge look for italian artist Blu’s beautifully monstrous piece, the Pink Man. Get a close up by the entrance to the night club Watergate. Sadly two other even larger works of Blu’s were painted over at the artist’s request in retaliation to the gentrification of the area.
Directly across the road from the Yellow Man is a simple yet striking (if a little aged) whole wall piece by Berlin-born Nomad named “Rounded Heads”. A stalwart of the local graffiti scene, Nomad has long been internationally recognised, even being invited by Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher to live with them for a month in Las Vegas.
Descending the stairs from Görlitzer Bahnhof, you may have the sudden impulse to swing a swift about turn and head straight back up from whence you came. The dingy, pee-stained underpass which welcomes you is almost always inhabited by (harmless) drug dealers. Breathe through your mouth, politely decline and push on through – the area around this station is well worth going through a little discomfort for.
At the corner of Oranienstrasse and Manteuffelstrasse, admire Roa’s beautiful still life composition, draped the entire length of a five story firewall. Using almost entirely black and white spray paint the Belgian artist produces striking images of (on occasion dead) animals native to the area.
A number of local artists collaborated on this project, an expression of locals’ reaction to often reckless commercial development in the area. The message is clear: Kreuzbergers refuse to see their community as squares on a Monopoly board.
Known for his photo-realistic work, completed entirely with spray cans, Australian Smug One has created an instant Kreuzberg classic here. This was his contribution for the Berlin Mural Festival of 2019. Definitely worth a gander from close up.
Kotti is a whirlpool in the soupy sea of Kreuzberg. You never know what’s going to float to the surface here. Notorious for alcoholics, drug addicts and pickpockets, it’s best to have your wits about you. But do just that, stride through the chaos, and you’ll be rewarded with a true Berlin experience.
If you see a column of rune like symbols, usually in blue and red, you’re looking at the work of Berlin Kidz. A local crew who as well as undertaking death defying acts of guerilla art also ride on the roofs of trains for a laugh. In case you thought street art was childs play, these guys prove how serious some take the pursuit, literally risking their lives for it. The Pichação style they use comes originally from Brazil.
Victor Ash’s otherworldly image of an astronaut suspended in space is one of the largest stencil murals in the world. Portuguese Ash claims the cold war space race and the music of David Bowie as inspirations for this, one of Berlin’s most iconic art works.
Much less congested than nearby Kottbusser Tor, Heinrichplatz makes a perfect place for a pit stop. Whether it’s liquid refreshment or something more solid you are after, this intersection and the area around provides plenty of scope for sustenance. There are also some fantastic works of art on the walls.
The letters on the house at Oranienstrasse 18 don’t spell words, rather word endings. They are Turkish suffixes which when used, subtly change a words meaning. Local artist Ayşe Erkmen created this work in 1994 to create a deeper appreciation of the Turkish language among the community.
One of the first in Urban Nation’s One Wall project which, since it’s origins in 2014, has brought dozens of artists from all corners of the globe to beautify the German capital. Don John out of Denmark typically combines exotic wildlife with people to create surreal scenes like this one. An unfortunate side effect of bringing art to the urban setting is the opportunity for vandalism which sadly is the case with this work.
Shephard Fairey has long been an influential figure in street art. With his signature, balanced and striking compositions, as well as his popular clothing label Obey, he is practically a household name. He has paid multiple visits to Berlin, this mural being completed in 2014 as part of the One Wall series curated by Urban Nation.
The duo out of Valencia were invited to the cold north for the Berlin Mural Fest in 2019. On this house, situated at Friedrichstrasse 9 they’ve created one of their impressive signature blends of classic and contemporary art.
Another 2019 addition from the Berlin Mural Fest was this work from Aryz. On the same house just one door down from his compatriots’ work, the young Catalan artist produced this retro wrestling scene using his signature pastel-hued palette.
Jadore Tong AKA S.Y.R.U.S. is a Cambodian/French artist based in Berlin. Here he has transformed the entire building into a wondrous work of art. From soaring glaciated peaks to the sea floor Tong brings the peaceful energy and raw beauty of nature to the city with this masterpiece.
Tommy Wiesbacker Haus (named for a communist activist who was shot by West German police in 1972) has long been a symbol of anti capitalism in West Berlin. Like the neighbouring building, this house is covered top to bottom in art, although here the theme is anarchic to the point of apocalyptic. Inside is a smoke stained punk bar with graffiti strewn courtyard which is much more hospitable than may first appear.
Situated in the north of Schöneberg, Nollendorfkiez is not as hectic when compared with some of the stops at the other end of the U1. The rather plain architecture around the station belies this neighbourhood’s free spirit. Nolli has long held an important place in Berlin’s gay and party scene. With the cities finest collection of street art just a short walk away, this place is worth stepping off the Bahn for.
The two Spanish artists couldn’t have created more contrasting figures with their One Wall collaboration. On the left, Deih XLF’s piece feels like a glimpse into another dimension. Especially when placed next to De La Mano’s more grounded black and white work. This from De La Mano actually covers another from the same artist which was damaged during renovation of the building.
Opened in 2017 Urban Nation is less an art gallery than a giant work of art. With an astounding collection of work on the walls inside and out, and the most colourful bathroom of any museum, the gallery successfully brings the spirit of street art indoors.
Two giants of the street art scene, D*Face from London and Shepard Fairey from the states, came together in 2017 to create this striking collaboration. So much symbolism can be drawn from these two faces painted using differing artistic styles, a soldier tense and aggressive, a woman fearful yet calm.
And that concludes your sweeping introduction to Berlin’s street art. For those seeking more creative goodness, point your peepers towards Haus Schwarzenberg, Teufelsberg and ArtPark Tegel. Those interested in exploring a different facet of Berlin altogether could check out more In the Know itineraries here.