Its May and it’s almost June. Such a brilliant time to be in Berlin and in the city and as I have already told you, it’s the season for sun, fun and games!
Last year, I went to Scotland. One of the things that we did there was to go on a walking tour which even though I have been to Scotland many times, gave a closer insight into Edinburgh.
In January, I went to London. I mean. What can I say? I even used to live there LOL! Having said that, just because you live somewhere doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t keep yourself up to date with changes and developments, so I went on a City of London Square Mile tour, and had an invigorating time.
Living in Berlin, boy! There are loads of changes, updates and movements of this place and that place. Quite frankly, just because you saw something last year, doesn’t mean that you’re going to see it again this year, so do hurry up and visit LOL!
So yesterday, I decided to go on a walking tour with a difference. A walking tour that will give you a deeper insight of what it means to live in this brilliant beautiful city. I went with a company called alternative berlin tours and out of a variety of seven, I chose the real berlin experience walking tour.
What a day I had. The sun was shining, people were out and about, and I had briefly met and shaken hands with the Royal British Legion in Berlin. I had also just dropped “The Tall Young Gentleman” so that he could go on a camping weekend, in the suburbs of Brandenburg.
We met the alternative berlin tours guys at 12:00 and the meeting point was under the TV tower at Alexanderplatz, next to Starbucks. In fact, I actually met the owner of the company – Adie – a bearded, leather-clad, rock fellow who you knew, was going to show you a good time!
Our tour guide was an Australian bloke from Melbourne called Liam. Quite an easy name to remember as the name Liam is a popular Irish name and since I’m from Manchester, I’ll also stick in the fact that Liam is also one half of the sibling group – Oasis.
Not this Liam though LOL!
We were a small group of six.
A young couple from London, a Swiss guy who actually came from Germany, an American, two young South-German couples who had recently moved to Berlin, and myself, a veteran expat local!
We started off in Mitte and then took the train to that most wonderfully diverse of places in Berlin – Kreuzberg. If you come to Berlin, do try to visit that suburb of Berlin.
It’s strange because even though Berlin has only about 3.4 million people and is obviously a European capital city, it doesn’t feel like a city. It feels and looks like a huge leafy suburb with splats of urban identity.
This walking tour was a real berlin experience in itself and I’m really pleased that I chose this tour.
Kreuzberg is the part of Berlin where young creative artists, the student body, people looking for a better life, and people looking for an alternative lifestyle, go to. Basically, if you’re young this is the place. Its cheap, its friendly and its a community mishmash of people, culture, colour, and creed.
Kreuzberg is also where the likes of David Bowie and Iggy Pop used to hang out, make music, and get creative, as do other artists. Street artists.
All around the city is street art that is both beautiful and provocative. If you know the legend of Banksy, you’ll know that he spent a reasonable amount of time in Berlin too, but all his artwork was carved or chiselled out, and sold to collectors abroad.
We learnt about the history of the city-state that is Berlin and why it attracts a certain type of person. In fact, when I first came to Berlin, I lived in Kreuzberg too. I had a huge rent-controlled apartment near the river which didn’t have a bathroom, and in which we hauled up steel-buckets of coal every week. It was worth it though ‘cos I was living in a 19th century building and my share of the rent in those days, was €17.00 per week!
Now I live in the more gentrified section of what was previously East Berlin – in Prenzlauerberg. I still live in a huge apartment but you can bet your Nelly that I certainly didn’t pay €17.00 for it!
Berlin has a lot of community gardens and lots of mini farms dotted around the city. In fact, there’s a sort of farm about 10 minutes from my home which has sheep, pigs, goats, and horses. Right in the middle of the city, and you can feed them too!
Berlin like Manchester, is a river state and the river runs through the city.
Berlin also has lots of lakes and next week, it’s Father’s Day. In Germany, hordes of men take trips to the lakes, singing loudly, and carting crates of beer and sausages around with them.
Kreuzberg also has a river running through it and at the weekend, you can have brunch or just relax while you people-watch. We also have residents who live in their caravans or river-barges, or who just randomly set up tents. It’s free accomodation and technically not illegal to chill-out in your sleeping bag of an evening.
With your mates and a careful BBQ!
We mustn’t forget that the other reason why Kreuzberg is so famous is because this particular suburb had the Berlin Wall running right through the middle of it. During the in-between time when the Wall actually fell and the time that the government got it together, young people were leaving the East to go West, or leaving the West to go East.
Mayhem and confusion.
For some, let the good times begin.
A confusing time means that you can pretty much do whatever you want, and Berliners did.
Cue the squatting era!
The houses were there for the taking and it pretty much remained that way for a very long time.
In 2013, the last couple of homes had the squatters evicted. A few houses have been bought by former-squatters, so that these houses would be open to people of the same ideology or supporters of the cause, with donations expected.
If you need information about where you can eat and drink for free (with donations), do let me know!
Our real berlin experience walking tour then took us across to the river bridge and into the Eastern part of the city – Friedrichshain.
Friedrichhain is a student haunt and caters for the bars and clubs that line the river, most of which have now been taken over and sold to developers in order to establish office buildings, and luxury apartments and hotels.
Clubs and music venues that are still there are places like Berghain, Bar 25 and Yaam. We were lucky enough to be allowed to go onto the premises as the club was being renovated and decorated with street art, and there were huge and serious-looking, bouncers around. We also met the artists who were really nice and didn’t feel too bothered by ignorant-but- we-want-to-learn-stuff tourists such as ourselves. They were so nice that our group were not asked for “a donation” and the barman even sold me beer for €1.00 rather than €2.50!
After that we went into the old “no-man’s-land” of East Berlin and crossed into what is now known as Mitte. Mitte is an upper-middle class part of Berlin and is also where the old Checkpoint-Charlie crossed into, as the military border was from Kreuzberg which was the West into Mitte, which was the East.
We had a well-deserving lunch break and sat and chatted in the park, In the sun-shine, and then it was time to carry on. We then went into Hackescher Markt.
Hackerscher Markt is a wonderful ex-Jewish area over-flowing with cafes, boutiques, independent shops, theatres, cinemas and art galleries. In fact, we went into one of the courtyards or “Hofs” and there are many in this area.
Liam took us into Hackesche Höfe or Hackersche Hoefe, which is the largest enclosed courtyard area in Germany and absolutely covered with street and metallic art on a huge scale owned by Haus Schwarzenberg and Monsterkabinett. The Anne Frank museum is also in this courtyard and has the constant coming of tourists and Berlin locals at all hours of the day. In the evening, the bars are opened, and there is an open air cinema and a club in the basement.
It was soon time to go to my area – Prenzlauerberg. Prenzlauerberg is a former East Berlin suburb and a hugely gentrified upper-middle class area filled with young professionals and start-up entrepreneurs.
Prenzlauerberg is also a mecca for alternative living and health as the first vegan restaurant and supermarket opened up here, and we have loads of organic shops and yoga and Pilates studios. In fact, a few years ago I took up Tai Chi myself in order to align my chakra with the sun!
Prenzlauerberg is also a former upper class Jewish area as well as an area that had the most amount of breweries in Germany! Our tour didn’t include going to a brewery but we certainly ended it in a German way aka in a beer garden called PrataGarten. And so it was, our group had a lovely time and ended it with lovely glasses of kristellbier!
What a great tour. Here’s the info:
WHAT IS THE ALTERNATIVE BERLIN TOURS?
Exactly what it says on the package. The idea of an alternative tour is to show tourists and visitors the raw, urban, artistic side of Berlin, and also to support and promote the history, and pre-development of the city, both before and after the Berlin Wall came down.
WHAT IS THE REAL BERLIN EXPERIENCE WALKING TOUR ABOUT?
The real Berlin experience walking tour is about an alternative way of seeing the city of Berlin by moving away from the ordinary tourist trail and exploring the cultural, subcultural, and counter-cultural background scene of Berlin’s street art and graffiti history, through the eyes of locals living here.
DO I NEED TO UNDERSTAND GERMAN?
These tour are in English. If English isn’t your native-language not to worry, as half of my group happened to be German native-speakers, and they did fine!
WHAT DO I NEED?
A pair of good shoes, a rain-jacket in case it rains, a pair of sunglasses, possiby a hat, a huge bottle of water, a few Euros for lunch, and a huge smile!
Yes. This tour cost €12.00 and was well worth the price.
If you’re feeling particularly energetic, there’s a twilight berlin tour €20.00, an alternative pubcrawl tour €10.00, a street art workshop €15.00, a green tour €15.00, a taste berlin tour €45, and if you’re really broke, down and out, or simply hung-over, free tours which cost €0.00!
The tour is also rather long but I was prepared for that so don’t make an important appointment immediately after. You might want to hang-out with the tour-guide and other members of your tour group, over a beer or two.
Don’t forget to get yourself a public transport ticket. A day card for zone A and B is better, so that you are more flexible to move around.
I absolutely loved it.
Yes, I’m a Berliner. I’m a British Berliner.
Yes, I live here and that’s perfectly fine.
Everyone should do a walking tour of their own city every now and then, if only to make sure that when guests come to visit, you know exactly what you’re talking about or can lead them to someone who does LOL!
WHAT IF A WALKING TOUR ISN’T MY CUP OF TEA?
Keep reading my blog. There is more to come!
Tickets for the Real Berlin Experience are €12.00.
Approximate walking time: 4.5 hours. Our tour was about 5.5 hours.
Every Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday. At 12:00.
The meeting point is at the Alexanderplatz TV tower next to the entrance of Starbucks.
For more information about alternative walking tours please contact: Alternative Berlin Tours.
This article is not sponsored and even though I received a complimentary ticket, all opinions and the wonderful doner kebab and lovely cold beers that I happily consumed, are my very own! Every week for the months of May and June, I’ll be writing about summer time in Berlin, and what to do when you get here.
Next week, I will be writing about the hip-hop ballet production of Mozart.
At the end of May, Berlin will be hosting a Travel Massive bloggers event so if you’re in town, come join us on 27.05.14.
I will also be attending the Berlin Music Video Awards 2014, taking place between 28.05.14 – 31.05.2014. Are you coming?
Watch this space!
Have you been on a walking tour? Have you been up close, and experienced street art? Do you know your own city?
See you in Berlin.
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