After having cooperated with Original Berlin Tours for a while, the time had come to go on their free alternative walking tour ourselves. Luke and I chose November for our walking tour and, hence, had to deal with Berlin’s mostly unpredictable November weather. Despite the cold and wet weather, we were eager to go and meet Jamin, our tour guide, at 12:15 a.m. at our hostel lobby, where the guests get picked up for the free alternative tour every day. Even if we were a bit grumpy first because of the rain, the tour guide Jamin cheered us up right away with his friendly and open-minded Australian attitude.
Jamin came to Berlin about a year ago and immediately fell in love with the city’s free and alternative lifestyle. He especially appreciates the atmosphere and culture of the young and dynamic districts of Friedrichshain, Kreuzberg and Neukölln. After having lived in Berlin for some time, Jamin moved to the open air squat “Cuvry” right next to the famous Oberbaumbrücke. As you can imagine, Jamin was the right guy to give us a really authentic insight into Berlin’s alternative scene.
Our first stop on the tour was the RAW area in Friedrichshain, just 5 minutes away from our hostel. Jamin told us that the cultural area hosts galleries, light installations and a number of bars and clubs. He also warmly recommended the self-brewed red beer from Kreuzberg and the reggae parties at the “Cassiopeia” club. In World War 2, the RAW area was bombed and partly destroyed. In the years between the 60s and 90s, the space was a no-go area as the GDR government didn’t allow citizens in there. In 1989, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, artists started to settle at the RAW area, squats were founded and the buildings served as perfect canvases for graffiti art. Actually, the RAW-tempel as it is today, only still exists because of the artists who occupied the area after the fall of the Berlin Wall and thereby prevented its destruction. Today, the open and non-profit organization “RAW-tempel e.V.” is using the area for socio-cultural purposes, art spaces and cultural events. Instead of occupied houses, there are several art studios at the terrain nowadays.
After Jamin told us about the RAW-temple’s history, he introduced us to a number of Berlin’s street artists and to “paste up art”. We looked at a paste up art piece of “Rob the Dog” and found out that it is legal to paste up pieces of art on public spaces because one can remove those pieces easily, in contrast to graffiti. Also, it is legal to draw on existing advertisement. The next artist we got to know was “Jimmy C.”, an Australian street artist who painted a beautiful, large piece inside the RAW-tempel. Outside the RAW-tempel, Jamin pointed out more street artists and we started to recognize the different artists later during the tour. One of my favorites was “El Boucho” who does a lot of paste up art, like for example a series of pieces showing “Little Lucy” (a small girl) killing her kitty in many different creative ways. That might sound a bit violent, but El Bouchos pieces are indeed very funny and once you know Little Lucy, you will see her again a lot in Berlin’s streets.
On the way to Kreuzberg, we stopped to look at the NAVA building which was renovated by “Media Spree”, Berlin’s biggest investor project which aims to develop communication – and media companies along the riverbank of the Spree River. Hence, Media Spree does not approve of squatting along the Spree River and often gets criticized by the alternative scene of Berlin for closing down squats and alternative spaces. On the way over the famous Oberbaumbrücke, Jamin also told us that all the graffiti at the bridge was recently removed by the government apart from one small beautiful piece of art, which Jamin could save.
In Kreuzberg, we walked along small streets, exploring more cool street art, discovering small local playgrounds and listening to funny stories of Jamin’s life in Berlin. We gazed at graffiti on the top of buildings and listened to horrifying stories of artists who painted while dangling upside down being held just by their feet. Furthermore, Jamin told us about a campaign to beautify Kreuzberg which engage artists for painting large pieces of art on Berlin’s streets. The alternative tour ended at the Cuvry squat where Jamin lives. We passed by different small huts and tents – some very simple, others really creative- and finally stood in the entrance of Jamin’s own small house. Jamin used a wall from an old cellar which stood there already and constructed the rest of the house on his own. The Cuvry squat is located directly by the Spree River and has an own beach where the squatters host beach parties in summer. It was very impressive to take a look behind the scenes of Berlin’s alternative lifestyle and to discover a true Berlin squat. After having taken the tour with Jamin, Luke and I agreed that the tour really delivers what it promises: An authentic insight into the vibrant, alternative scene of Berlin Kreuzberg and Friedrichshain.
Curious? Then just ask us receptionists at Industriepalast about the tour and for starters, you can watch the following video showing an interview with Jamin. Have fun!
By Norma and Luke, receptionists at Industriepalast
is Berliner by choice and a passionate backpacker himself. As a receptionist he knows the real hostel life; as a blogger he's been writing for Industriepalast Hostel's Berlin blog since 2014.