Our trip to Europe was in full swing. After a great train ride from Frankfurt to Berlin, it was time to explore the city. Our first order of business was an Alternative Tour of Berlin. Generally, I would not recommend doing an alternative tour prior to a tour of the main sites, but with only 2 1/2 days in Berlin, our schedule was tight. This tour, however, did not require any knowledge of mainstream Berlin.
We booked this off the beaten path tour through viator. But it can also be booked directly from Alternative Berlin Tours. They offer a variety off tours focused on different aspects of the Berlin counterculture. This type of tour takes you beyond what the usual tourist sees and gives you a real perspective of the city. As someone who leaves a city and thinks about whether I could live there someday, these tours are extremely informative.
This is four hour tour is 14€ (about $17). This is really indicative of the cost of living in Berlin. The cost of living in Berlin is significantly lower than most major cities in Europe. Another option offered by Alternative Berlin, is a free 3 hour alternative walking tour. Keep in mind free tour guides make money based on tip. So please give a good tip if you take a free tour.
Berlin is the Most Interesting City in Europe
Berlin is one of the most interesting cities I have ever been to; maybe the most interesting city. Definitely the most interesting in Europe. I have been to 17 countries in Europe. Visited major cities and ventured off the beaten path. I loved it all, but Berlin is something special. As the capital of Germany it has an interesting place in history. It was at the center of world war I, and the center of World War II. Between the two World Wars Germany was over 90% destroyed, and left a wreck.
After the war Germany was split into Eastern Germany and Western Germany. The Soviets controlled the east, while England, France, and The United States controlled the west. Berlin is located at the heart of Eastern Germany. Just like the country as a whole, Berlin was split in two. The west became this island of democracy in a sea of Communism (the Red Sea?). As someone who was born right as the wall was falling, I find this time in history intriguing.
Berlin became a city of dualities upon reunification. The West is more gentrified, wealthier, and more modern. Due to the influx of money from the capitalist countries the West was able to rebuild from World War II significantly faster than the East. As a result West Berlin looks very much like most modern cities and suburbs.
However, Just a few train stops from the West you have East Berlin. The East is grungy and gritty (in the best of ways), has huge art, music, and nightlife scenes, is home to a huge squatter community, and has become the home base for a lot of immigrants to Germany. Due to being cash starved after the war, it developed slower, and most of its main architecture has a very 80s feel to it. The East has tons of character, tons of charm, and is tons of fun. What I love is just how quickly things change just by walking a few blocks.
Alternative Berlin Tour
We met tour tour guide right, Callum, in front of the Berlin Radio Tower in Alexanderplatz.
Originally from Scotland, he immigrated to Berlin in his late teens. He came to Berlin because of its cheap cost of living and fantastic art scene. In the time since he has truly immersed himself in the East Berlin counterculture to the point where the owner of Alternative Tours recruited him to be a tour guide. He is extremely knowledgeable. It truly is his life and it shows.
From Alexanderplatz we headed to the Prenzlauer Berg neighborhood in berlin. In the 1990s Prenzlauer Berg was the heart of the Berlin arts scene and home to many of Berlin’s students. Prenzlauer Berg, however, has undergone some gentrification. Rent prices have gone up and students have fled to the cheaper neighborhood of Kreuzberg.
Now, it is home to major shopping centers and chain stores, but some of its residents are still holding on to the old ways.
Kastanienallee, was one of the biggest squat houses in the 1990s. Despite investors purchasing the houses around it, the owner of Kastanienallee has allowed it to remain a squat house.
From Prenzlauer Berg we headed back towards Mitte. In the midst of a fancy shopping district full of high end shops is an artist’s haven. This alleyway, near the Museum Blindenwerkstatt Otto Weidt (a really cool museum about a shop owner who employed blind Jewish people and this them during WWII), is completely covered in murals. Similar to Freak Alley in Boise, there is some beautiful alternative art on display.
We then headed to Kreuzberg. When the students and artists left Prenzlauer Berg they headed to Kreuzberg. Despite being a little rough, Kreuzberg is cool. There is literally no better word to describe it. It is the current heart of the Berlin art, music, nightlife, and food scenes.
No matter where you look in Kreuzberg you see street art. This is not graffiti. The artistic level is well beyond spray painting bad words on the sides of buildings.
While in Kreuzberg we checked out a one of the few buildings that survived World War II. This former hospital, turned squatter house is now an art studio that has rotating exhibits.
While the art exhibits were not really my style, it was home to one of the coolest things I ever seen. When the berlin wall fell the East German military/police just abandoned armored personnel carriers tanks. Squatters claimed these vehicles and converted them into tiny homes. Unfortunately, because these are people’s homes we did not take pictures.
Our final stop was Friedrichshain where we ended out tour at Yaam Beach near the East Side Gallery. The caribbean area of berlin.
The Alternative Berlin Tour allowed us to take a headfirst dive into Berlin’s unique counterculture. Berlin’s tumultuous history made it the most interesting city in Europe.