Adventure International

Free Berlin Street Art Walking Tour

Berlin street art is mind-blowing, and admission is free to the open-air street galleries located in East Berlin. Maximize your investment through a guided tour.

I did this last June since I only had one day to sightsee in Berlin during my whirlwind five-country tour of Europe. I booked a free walking tour of Berlin street art through Original Berlin Tours. 

Similar to the Free Tours By Foot offered in major U.S. and European cities, this company lets you take a free walking tour and then tip your guide. In today’s gig economy, this is a great way for an expert in architecture, history, or the arts to guide a tour and earn tips.

I booked the Berlin Street Art: 3-Hours Off The Grid Tour. My only requirements were learning from an English-speaking guide and seeing a concentration of street art and graffiti. You will see street art from artists from around the world.

Berlin Street Art

First, a little history lesson. Street art and graffiti date back to the 1970s. The Berlin Wall originally served as the canvas for the people’s art.

Who hasn’t seen the iconic Berlin mural that depicts Leonid Brezhnev and Erich Honecker in a social fraternal kiss? Painted in 1990 on the Eastern side of the Berlin Wall, “Fraternal Kiss” reproduces a 1979 photograph taken during the 30th anniversary celebration of the foundation of the German Democratic Republic. Dmitri Vrubel painted this “My God, Help Me to Survive This Deadly Love” mural.

“Urban art not only changes the image of the city. The lettering, tags and murals are always also an expression of the current zeitgeist. People have been spraying and tagging in Berlin since the 70s. Originally an expression of youthful protest, street art is now an established art form.”

Visit Berlin

But you don’t have to stay near the Berlin Wall to see street art. Visit the Legacy Wall in Gleisdreieck Park, URBAN NATION Museum and Bülowstraße, Streetart-Mekka Kreuzberg, and Moritzplatz. The city is a mecca for urban art.

“Today, graffiti has evolved into a multifaceted art form, representing social commentary, cultural diversity, and freedom of expression,” according to the Berlin tour company.

Friedichshain Neighborhood

Our group met outside a grocery store in Friedrichshain (formerly part of East Berlin) where our guides organized the walkers into English and German-speaking groups. My guide Susana Vasquez is an artist so she spoke from personal knowledge about the Berlin art community.

”Over 2,000 artists have street art in Berlin. Police focus on train art. Berlin is poor and sexy. Beautiful? No. Cool? Maybe. The owner can sue you for painting on his building,” she told us.

We started our tour walking across a busy city street to reach the neighborhood’s industrial section to examine Berlin street art. I learned that there are many different types of street art—“Murals, rooftops, bombing and tagging, stencils, paste-ups, and stickers are their language of expression,” according to my guide.

Stickers are an easy way for a graffiti artist to get started. You just print and place. “Try to find a bathroom without stickers in Berlin,” joked our guide. “The stickers can be ads, social commentary, or rebellion.”

Unlike an art collection in an art museum, street art is usually not permanent. Our guide reminded us that some graffiti lasts for a while but other images are painted over or re-stickered.

“ …some of it is for just a weekend, some lasts years and years.” 

Susana Vasquez

1UP

Among the most famous street artists is 1UP (One United Power). This collective’s work is spread throughout Berlin.

“They are 20 years in the street. Older members are 40. There are 40 people. They maintain their identity in secret. Most graffiti is illegal,” explains our guide. “They identify as family. They are based in Berlin but (their work is) also all over place (Tokyo, U.S., Colombia, etc.)”

Interestingly, they also work as a group for “train bombing (painting). “This is where they make trains stop. They only give 4 minutes to paint. It looks like they are dancing!” says our guide.

1UP only writes as a group. Typically a group writes the name or the group and the grafitti writer.

Graffiti Styles

After my 3.5-hour walking tour, I felt more educated about the styles of graffiti I saw.

Tags

The most important thing is identifying the graffiti by its “tag,” which identifies the graffiti artist’s name or symbol. This is the same as an artist’s signature on their painting. You can’t miss the tag for El Bocho, which he displays in a vertical row down the side of his mural. A former illustrator, El Bocho also specializes in giant cut-outs and installations. He hangs them at night.

Bombing

As discussed earlier, graffiti artists must work fast in order not to be caught. This is known as “bombing.” Our guide explained that they cover a large area, such as the side of a building, with bubble letters (known as throw-ups) or tags.

Murals

The murals featuring an oversized portrait of a Vietnamese boy left a lasting impression on me. “The most innocent people are the most impacted during war,” explained our guide. “The flag is a peace flag.”

Usually, the murals make a political statement or depict historical events. Over the last 50 years, there have been successive murals with the theme “Stop War.”

Stencils

This is a “pre-cut template” that allows graffiti to be sprayed quickly and repeatedly over a large “canvas,” such as a brick wall.

Lady in Gold

I was astounded when I discovered a “tape art” installation based on Gustav Klimt’s “Lady in Gold” painting. It was created in a hidden corner of a Berlin alley. Everything is pasted. If you stand close, you can see the layers of tape that create the woman’s billowing silver skirt.

“People interact with pieces differently. Art students will notice the Klimt reference. Berlin teenagers saw the doner first,” said our guide. (For reference, a doner is a Turkish kebab.)

Little Lucy

The graffiti artist El Bocho is famous for several creations: Little Lucy, Kalle and Bernd, Tina Berlina, and Citizen.

I can hardly believe that I could like Little Lucy since she terrorizes her cat. (She is based on a 1970s Czech TV series, Lucy—Streets bugaboo.) But the wily feline manages always to outmaneuver Lucy as she tries to drive over him. Little Lucy is a signature creation for El Bocho.

I am glad that Little Lucy’s cat has more than nine lives.

Visit Berlin App

While I didn’t discover this app until I was writing this article, there is an app that travelers can use for a self-guided street art tour, according to the Visit Berlin official website.

“What are the stories behind the murals? Which street artists were involved? And what messages do they want to convey with their works? You can find answers to these questions on our free app ABOUT BERLIN.”

“Let us explain the details of the murals and immerse yourself in Berlin’s street art scene.”

ABOUT BERLIN

This app includes videos and interpretive audiobooks in addition to the street art tours. You can download it for free for iPhone and Android.

Book a Walking Tour

I highly recommend booking a walking tour if you only have one or two days in Berlin. My guide, Susana, helped me understand so much about the psychology of graffiti as “people’s art” and the prominent artists. Since the Original Berlin Tours are very popular, I suggest you book beforehand.

If you enjoy street art, I’ve also written about the U Street mural district in Washington DC, the island street art in Isla Holbox, Mexico, the door art in Funchal on the island of Madeira, the street murals in Del Ray, Virginia, and the citywide street art festivals in Richmond, Virginia.

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  • Europe Diaries
    February 3, 2024 at 7:53 am

    Berlin is one of my favourite cities..something for everyone! Absolutely love such tours. Also, good to know about street art in DC..will try checking it out on my next trip

    • Terri
      February 3, 2024 at 11:34 am

      I am a Washingtonian so I love to brag about street art in DC. I hope you get to visit. Take a walking tour of the U Street neighborhood.

  • Jody
    February 3, 2024 at 8:04 am

    Wow, so cool! That art is incredible and tells such stories! Great article!

    • Terri
      February 3, 2024 at 11:33 am

      You are so kind! You really do find such wonderful stories through street art.

  • Laureen Lund
    February 3, 2024 at 8:10 am

    We loved Berlin and doing a walking tour was one of the best things we did. I’ve been hooked on walking tours ever since. Love your photos here.

    • Terri
      February 3, 2024 at 11:32 am

      Thank you so much! I am addicted to seeking out street art whenever I travel. It is so vibrant. I also will post videos on my Instagram site.

  • Bejal
    February 3, 2024 at 8:21 am

    Loved reminiscing about street art in Berlin through your post! I agree they have some fab artworks. We did a similar one and some
    Of the spots are places you would never find yourself.

    • Terri
      February 3, 2024 at 11:31 am

      Exactly! The guides seemed to know all the street art hidden in alleys or behind trees or down a deserted street. We walked for 3.5 hours. I am glad my post made you nostalgic for Berlin’s street art scene.

  • Sara
    February 3, 2024 at 10:54 am

    Haven’t seen this side of Berlin! Thanks for sharing!

    • Terri
      February 3, 2024 at 11:30 am

      I hope you get to visit. Most people hear straight for the Berlin Wall. I recommend visiting these neighborhoods in the industrial section of East Berlin.

  • LD Holland
    February 3, 2024 at 11:14 am

    I have always heard that Berlin was a great place for street art. Love seeing all the variety in the pieces you discovered on your visit. We would definitely check out the Berlin App to help guide us on our walk.

  • Linda
    February 3, 2024 at 11:15 am

    I have always heard that Berlin was a great place for street art. Love seeing all the variety in the pieces you discovered on your visit. We would definitely check out the Berlin App to help guide us on our walk. One day we will finally make it to Berlin.

    • Terri
      February 3, 2024 at 11:29 am

      I have wanted to visit East Berlin for years to see the street art. It is definitely worth a tour. I was excited to learn another the free app from the tourist bureau.

  • Sinjana Ghosh
    February 3, 2024 at 12:41 pm

    Great job exploring the city and finding such art. I understand the revolutionary aspect of it, and some are really beautiful. but some of these do look like vandalism too, and destroy the original aesthetics. what do you think?

    • Terri
      February 3, 2024 at 7:40 pm

      It is revolutionary. The street art does make people want to visit Berlin.

  • Jasmina
    February 3, 2024 at 3:33 pm

    Berlin is such a cool city with a very special vibe. I love the idea of the street art walking tour!

    • Terri
      February 3, 2024 at 7:39 pm

      A walking tour is a great way to learn more about the graffiti artists and their motivations.

  • Mohana Das
    February 3, 2024 at 5:02 pm

    So many different styles and I like how expressive street art is. Berlin is such an amazing city. We would love to visit and explore the art scene sometime.

    • Terri
      February 3, 2024 at 7:38 pm

      Berlin is a city that must be visited in Germany!

  • Sharyn McCullum
    February 3, 2024 at 11:14 pm

    I’e been to Berlin but only saw the ‘touristy’ hot spots and street art wasn’t a thing then. Good excuse to return!

    • Terri
      February 4, 2024 at 5:41 am

      This was my second trip to Berlin. I was determined to see their famous street art districts. The walking tour was great.

  • Irma R Franco
    February 4, 2024 at 7:06 am

    Very inspiring!
    Irma

  • Anja
    February 4, 2024 at 7:36 am

    I work in Berlin so it’s not a touristing vity for me.. .when I first moved to the area, I looked at lots of street art, and interestingly, a lot of it is now faded and gone – there is something fascinating about the ephemeral nature of these works. I am definitely pinning this and I am going to look at some of these works!