Berlin urban art: Graffiti on the streets and in abandoned buildings
Art & Shit Berlin

Berlin urban art: Graffiti on the streets and in abandoned buildings

Murals are an urban religion in Berlin and tags and stickers are an indispensable part of everyday life. As we’re roaming around staring at the facades, every now and then we exclaim: “Here’s another one”. And another one. And another one. Man, they’re everywhere. On the shutters. On the rooftops. On manholes, doors, posts, benches, sidewalks… Scribbling has a long history indeed. Not only in Berlin, but generally. It didn’t appear recently with the advent of chalk or aerosol. Even in ancient Egypt, the  pharaohs asked their artists to chisel and scribble on the walls. They did this solely on internal walls because it wasn’t normal to put art into the street in those days. To our delight, that is considered perfectly  normal nowadays, especially in Berlin districts of Kreuzberg, Friedrichshain and Mitte.


Stickers and scribbles in Berlin toilets

Let’s begin with the smallest and most intimate places for scribbling. These are toilets, of course – popular places for leaving short, profound thoughts. You are expected to leave a signature or an inspirational message for future generations who need to use the loo. Perhaps some of them will be sad, so help them! Just remember how many times you’ve had a cathartic experience reading wisdoms inscribed on the metal lavatory door.

berlin urban art

Toilets in pubs often replace notice boards – “I’m for rental. I love punk and pizza. Draw me a sheep if you’re interested”. You may also stumble upon some inspirational poetry, some sad confessions, but absolute truths as well – “When she’s on the rag her Aryan blood is red.” There are also some practical questions such as: “How long should I scratch this wall? Where’s the fucking chalk?” If you’ve ever wondered why the toilet queues in Berlin clubs are so long, we’ll let you in on the secret – the main reason is the irresistible urge for scribbling. Toilets are definitely places where a lot of reading takes place.

berlin urban art graffiti

Mirrors in these quarters serve as a base for stickers. This form of subculture is more than 130 years old if we include among stickers the pieces of paper we all used to lick and stick all around.  

The sticker market in Berlin is simply incredible. It is so developed that you can even pay a visit to Hatch Sticker museum which has more than 30,000 examples of stickers. There is also a sticker fair called Berlin Klebt, which is held in July in the Yaam gallery. This is where you can find a large number of world experts in the sticker market. Some of them include: iAMOK, Takt32, Rolf, My Dear Prost, Darum36 etc.


Berlin urban art districts like picture books

Berlin is a synonym for the global gallery of contemporary art. In the midst of all this flamboyance is the Eastside Gallery – the unrivalled historical and ideological comic. This part of the Berlin wall measures 1.316 meters in length and was occupied by the artists immediately after the fall of East Germany. 118 artists from 21 countries all over the world rushed to a kilometer and a half of concrete and started painting its hideous bleakness. A few weeks later, this part of the wall was dubbed Eastside Gallery and on September 28, 1990 it gained cultural heritage status. It is the largest and longest open-air gallery in the world.

berlin urban art east side gallery

Keeping this gallery in reasonable condition is no mean feat. Its exposure to the weather conditions contributes to its day-by-day deterioration. The fact that it is located in Berlin where everyone loves to scribble means that it deteriorates even faster than usual. Perhaps there is no more space for new murals on these walls, but the solidarity between artists is fairly strong and since 2000 they have been working on the reconstruction of the existing works. The greatest initiative took place in 2009 when 87 of them embellished the walls for days on end.

Have you heard of RAW? It’s right there, close by. This place is both a flea market and a dumping ground, but above all it’s a gallery (Urban Spree). It’s studded with bars and clubs. RAW is what Savamala would have looked like if the scumbags hadn’t demolished it. You can find all street art techniques on these 5 hectares – everything from graffiti and stickers to 3D murals and junk yard sculptures. You can also come across a mixture of all these – for instance, a toucan made from a vehicle frame, supermarket trolley and a bicycle. It was put together in such a way that the revolving wheel represents its heart.

berlin urban art raw

A Portuguese artist by the name of Bordalo is the unquestioned authority in the world of 3D creations. This Berlin toucan is one of his masterpieces.

You can easily find districts similar to RAW in the suburbs. However, there is a special yard in the midst of the city which is considered to be something of a rarity. Haus Schwarzenberg is a place without a square inch of clean wall. This is one of those alleys where they must have strictly followed the rule: “One tag is an act of vandalism, a million of them is art.”

berlin urban art walls

Apart from street art, the yard, basements and rooms of this house also feature The Anne Frank Centre, Monsters Cabinet (a spooky junk yard museum of monsters) and Kino Central cinema where you can mostly see independent international films. In the cafés and bars that play alternative music, you can have a beer on the windowsill. There are also more than a dozen small arts and crafts shops. You can also get the chance to leave a mark on the wall, staircase or the handrails. Just do not write “He + She”. Try to be more creative.


The HAUS concept

On April 1, 2017 Die Dixons crew opened a building and named it The Haus. Admission was free of charge and the tour was possible only without a mobile phone. This five-storey building used to be a bank that was scheduled for demolition. In March this year, a group comprising 165 artists entered the place and painted every nook and corner – each and every hallway, room and toilet were painted. The tours lasted day and night. The number of people who wanted to see it was so large that they had to limit it to 199 at a time.

berlin urban art hause

The building was demolished on June 1, as it was originally planned, and this unique street art project took Berlin by storm for these couple of months. The crew behind the whole story believes that its success is mainly due to the fact that it lasted for a limited period of time. People were aware of the fact that in a couple of weeks all this would be blown to smithereens by a couple of kilos of explosive. It is believed that nothing of the sort will ever happen again. We don’t believe that. It’s October and the site and pages on social networks are stll active. The Haus simply has to happen again! If there’s anything in abundance in Berlin, it’s the buildings scheduled for demolition. Some ruins should not be tampered with because they represent a truly unique world.


Graffiti empire in abandoned buildings

Most of them are not hard to reach. They continue to decay, abandoned in the suburban parts of the city. However, some of them are unguarded and as such they are very popular for hanging out and organizing squatter parties with some acoustic music.

A documentary about Berlin ruins and what they hide: Abandoned Berlin (2016)

Photographers are the most frequent visitors. Only rarely does a tourist tour venture into these places. Entrance is the main problem. Whether they are guarded or not, the way into these buildings is by climbing over fences, walking through dense thickets, clambering over handrails and windows or going through damp underground rooms. Is it worth it? Definitely! A special kind of artists like to scribble in these places. Ken Plotbot is one of them. The work of this artist was made for abandoned buildings and derelict sites. Each work deals with the theme of nuclear disasters and features people in special suits with gas masks and skulls engulfed in smoke and fumes.

One of the drawbacks of ruins, apart from the fact that something might fall from above and knock you on the head, is that the artists often paint over one another’s work. This is why you can never know for sure if you’ll see the work you’ve been after. Regrettably, we didn’t.

berlin abandoned buildings balhause riviera

The work of Ken Plotbot on the stage of Ballhaus Riviere was unfortunately painted over. We were welcomed by cheerful hues of less prominent artists and a piano. However, his portrayals of specialists in hazmat suits could be found on the very outskirts of Berlin when this text was being written (October 2017). A whole bunch of specialists were hanging on the cisterns of an abandoned chemical factory of Rudersdorf.

berlina berlin abandoned buildings

A creepy anecdote is linked with the derelict site in Weißensee district. This children’s hospital was attacked by zombies in 1997. They ate all the children and turned the building into their home. OK… it sounds plausible. We do believe in these kind of stories. Nowadays, it is fairly easy to take a tour of this harmless Zombie hospital where the artists were at their most creative.

berlin abandoned buildings children hospital

Here you will find rooms with clouds, purple rooms with little red hearts, as well as bananas and Bananamen, rooms with flowers, carrots and muffins. Zombie hospital is propably the most typical example of street art in the numerous ruins. Perhaps in a month’s time you would be able to see them all. If you don’t have that much time, you should also consider visiting Spree amusement park, Barenquell brewery and Teufelsberg, a listening station from the time of Cold War.


Are there places with no urban art?

We’re sure that there are places with no street art. McDonald’s isn’t one of them. Neither is the church. Schools, hospitals and theatres aren’t on this list either. Art and freedom of expression have been rushed to the streets and have no intention of being limited in any respect but one. They lack fucking walls! Almost every organization that deals with promoting and supporting street art, such as Street Art Berlin, pleads with owners to address them if they would like to see their walls painted with some other colors. These “wall collecting” initiatives refer not only to Berlin, but the whole of Germany and maybe even the whole of Europe. And then somewhere behind the scenes, the artists sit around and negotiate an international exchange of square feet, so that they could scribble at one another’s.

berlin urban art restaurant

Truth be told, Berlin is one of the greatest street art galleries in the world. It’s both a city and a picture book. It’s on a par with or maybe one step ahead of Melbourne, Mexico City, Lisbon and Bogotá. Take a look around and see for yourself.


The writing of this story was aided by the German National Tourist Board