I chose to do an alternative Berlin tour because, well, I’m an alternative kind of person, and I was delighted to discover that our guide was a trapeze artist who had come to Berlin at 15 and joined the circus. She was a street art enthusiast and took us to hidden alleyways and quiet corners of the city to showcase the work of the artists and tell us stories of their style, method and the risk involved.
We hopped over from Mitte to Kreuzberg on the metro to roam the streets learning about the Turkish community, the impact of the wall here and the gentrification threatening the soul and people of the area. We learnt about protests and riots and the uncoolness of social media – many bars and clubs in Berlin ban photography and promotion is only through word-of-mouth.
We found a home built around a tree in a strip of land that was neither east nor west Germany when the Berlin wall was still standing. A local man claimed the land, fought the authorities and was eventually allowed to keep it. He’s now in his 90s and sits outside in the summer chatting to anyone who wants to know more.
The tour ended by the East Side Gallery where my friend Bekki and I had ended up the day before too.
Next to the gallery is an afro-caribbean beach bar with sand, deck chairs, reggae music, great food and all set up as a non-profit organisation to benefit the community. We were surprised to find loads of people relaxing there in the sun or sitting on the edge of the river dangling their legs over and drinking Berliner beer, despite it being early afternoon on a week day. There are many freelancers in Berlin so it feels less rushed and frantic than London – people simply enjoy the present moment here.
We ended up chatting with two Nigerians about life, politics and philosophy for hours until the sun had long set. We ate jerk chicken wings and drank beer, feeling completely welcome as alternative Berliners. See yesterday’s trip to the Berlin Philharmonic to see Nils Frahm here.