Giant wall murals and colorful graffiti, Berlin is famous for it’s street art in every part of the city. The easiest murals to see are on a 1.3 kilometer section of the Berlin Wall along the Spree river called the East Side Gallery, the largest open air art gallery in the world. But if you want to see more fascinating, famous and obscure street art, rent a bike and zip around Berlin with freedom, flexibility, and speed on your own Do It Yourself Street Art Tour.
This tour starts at the Tommy Weisbecker Haus in the Kreuzberg District and ends at the East Side Gallery in Friedrichschain-Kreuzberg.
Tommy Weisbecker Haus
The Tommy Weisbecker House is a 5 story building entirely encased in a surreal mural. The building has an interesting history – until 1969 a company owned the property and used it for housing guest workers. After 1969 it was empty and the vacant property was occupied (squatted) by homeless youth and became a stronghold for militants in the violent period of the 70’s German Student Movement throughout West Germany.
Tommy Weisbecker was a 23-year-old anarchist and member at the heart of the left radical “Blues” and killed by West German police on March 2, 1972 in what was characterized as a premeditated political murder. A social cooperative started legally leasing the house one year after Tommy’s death and named the Haus in his honor. Today the Tommy Weisbecker Haus is apparently a little more mellow and continues to be a self-managed housing collective for adolescents, young adults, social and community projects and shelters for the homeless.
Elephant Playing with a World Balloon
In the same block as the Tommy Weisbecker Haus and adorning the back wall of another apartment building is the joyful, colorful Elephant playing with a balloon of the world showing the African continent. The beautiful work is by Jadore Tong aka S.Y.R.U.S. Jadore, described as an artist, inventor and designer, was raised in Berlin of French-Cambodian descent. He works in a variety of media from graffiti, canvas, interior design, graphic and illustration, magnet modular art, and SYRUS shirt designs. You can even get a bite with a big dose of urban art at his Asian Fusion restaurant Art Café Jadore in Berlin Mitte.
The paved lot below the mural is a basketball and soccer court for neighborhood play.
IMA Design Village Parking Lot
Biking down Ritter Strasse, you can’t miss the colorful mural on the wall and the huge mural on the building behind it. Titled “No Comment”, it’s another by the Berlin street artist Jadore Tong, done in 2014. The parking lot is decorated with many other colorful, fun, and beautiful murals.
The red clinker brick building is owned by IMA Group, an organization that purchases, restores, and manages rental properties in several locations throughout Berlin. The building complex, with 10,000 square meters of space, has quite a history. In the late 1800’s it was a metal goods and lamp factory and in World War II it was used as an ammunition factory and a military hospital. Restored in 2006, IMA Design Village is now a creative community space home to showrooms, studios, and apartments.
The Cosmonaut by Victor Ash
Just a couple of blocks from the IMA Design Village on the end of a building on Mariannenstrasse, is the famous Cosmonaut by Victor Ash. Done in 2007, the enormous piece is said to be the largest stencil drawing in the world.
Born in Portugal, Ash was raised in Paris and now lives and works in Copenhagen. He started as a graffiti artist under the names Saho and Ash2 and now primarily works on canvas, lithography and installations, exhibiting in museums and galleries around the world.
Hanging Dead Animals by ROA
Street artist ROA is known for his giant black and white murals of animals, alive or dead. Around the corner from the Cosmonaut, you can’t miss the enormous mural of dead animals, a rabbit, stork and deer hanging by their feet seemingly from the roof of the building, with the carcass of the deer resting on a dead ram. There’s a head of a dead boar in there too but you won’t be able to see it. Even if you don’t like the subject matter you have to appreciate the artistry.
A muralist from Ghent, Belgium, ROA is known for his obsession with animals and rodents and often paints them with visible internal organs. His animals are always representative of the area they lived in either currently or in the past, and his distinctive black and white street art is found in Berlin, Warsaw, Moscow, London, Madrid, Paris, Mexico City, New York and Los Angeles.
Yellow Man by Os Gemeos and The Lads by The London Police
Heading toward the Spree on Skalitzer Strasse, every building has some sort of colorful graffiti or mural. Lots to look at on your way to see the famous Yellow Man by Os Gemeos, a huge mural now partially obscured by a building. A couple of blocks south is the mural The Lads by the London Police.
Os Gemeos means The Twins in Portuguese, and these two street artists are identical twins Otavio and Gustavo Pandolfo from Sao Paolo, Brazil. Best known for their yellow-skinned characters, Os Gemeos got into graffiti first and later on started putting Brazilian cultural elements into their work. Large scale commissioned murals are now seen worldwide.
The London Police are known for their iconic Lads characters like those seen on the partially obscured wall of a building next to a playground on the corner of Wrangelstrasse and Curvystrasse. The original founding members of the London Police are a duo still producing slick artwork.
Pink Man by BLU
One of the most famous street art murals is the Pink Man by BLU on the end of a building at the west end of the Oberbaum Bridge. The Pink Man, done in 2007, is a monster made of thousands of tiny pink naked humans clasping, grasping, and squeezed one onto the other with frightened, desperate expressions, all struggling in tremendous efforts to hold on to their place in the monster. The only distinct individual is a white naked human terrifyingly balanced on the index finger of the monster, about to be plunged into the open maw of the monsters mouth – about to be swallowed up to join the conformity of the twisting, writhing pink mass.
BLU is an artist from Bologna, Italy, famous for massive scale works with lots to say.
Berlin Wall Falling Euro Rising by BLU
Continue along the west side of the Spree river and follow the road around to Köpenicker Strasse and past some interesting colorful graffiti clad buildings until you come to the enormous Berlin Wall Falling Euro Rising, also by BLU.
Stop on the west side of the Schillingbrücke (Schilling Bridge) and have a look at the mural and graffiti busy buildings on the east side of the river. A colorful mural at the rivers edge shows refugees in a boat with the slogan We Are People above and Refugees Welcome below.
East Side Gallery
Cross the Schillingbrücke, turn right at the next street and in a couple of blocks you are at the start of the East Side Gallery. After the November 9, 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall, 118 artists from 21 countries were invited to paint large murals about the Cold War Period on this almost mile long stretch of the inner wall in what used to be East Berlin. The art project started in February 1990 and continued through September. In 2009, the artists were invited back to mark the 20th anniversary of the East Side Gallery and to restore their work, which had deteriorated due not only to time but to graffiti vandalism and souvenir seekers chipping away at the wall. Now the restored murals are protected by a chain link fence. Take in the sights of all the wonderful murals, some easy to interpret, some obscure.
East Side Gallery Preservation
Favorites From the East Side Gallery
Es Geschah Im November (It Happened in November) by Kani Alavi
The evocative mural by Iranian born Berliner Kani Alavi shows a wave of people breaking through the wall. But they’re not all happy. Some look anxious, some look frightened, uncertain about the future. Those were the expressions Kani Alavi saw on the faces streaming from East to West, and the inspiration for his mural when he was asked to help start up the East Side Gallery in 1990.
Trabi Breaking Through the Wall by Birgit Kinder
The Trabant, nicknamed Trabi, was the most common car in East Germany. The wonderful mural by Birgit Kinder shows the Trabi breaking through the wall. Birgit Kinder repainted her original mural in the 2009 20th anniversary of the East Side Gallery restoration.
The Wall Jumper by Gabriel Heimler
The colorful Wall Jumper by Gabriel Heimler, restored in 2009, shows a man jumping over the wall. You’d think the man is jumping from East to West, but if you look again you’ll see he is jumping INTO East Berlin. The artist intended it to mean the man was crossing to buy up East German state companies.
Biking in Berlin is a terrific way to get from place to place to see the street art, it’s a big city but very bike friendly. Try it and bike like a Berliner!
Have you been on a Street Art Tour in Berlin? What are your favorite murals?