Alternative Tour of Berlin: City Planning Thoughts

Walking tour focusing on culture and creativity in Berlin

Today we took a tour of alternative Berlin. We had taken a historical tour of Berlin on the 13th but today’s walking tour focused on sources of innovation and creativity in Berlin. The tour focused on art and graffiti, urban culture, alternative lifestyles, cultural icons like the YAAM Beach Bar, and artists’ squats. Themes that ran through these sights were significance of the areas and current city planning problems including the tension between preservation of Berlin’s history and modernization initiatives that might spur economic growth.

The alternative tour focused on many aspects, including the graffiti culture in Berlin. Although this tag does not look that impressive, there is a large fine since this is a very public area under the Berlin train station. Graffiti artists often gain credibility for the measures they took to tag the area and this tag becomes arguably a bit more impressive when considering the likelihood of a big fine.

We started our tour at Alexanderplatz, one of the best-known public squares in Berlin. It was a central meeting place during communist rule in East Germany. It has the iconic Fernsehturm television tower and the surrounding shops are very commercialized—including a Starbucks and other shopping chains. Like much more of what we would see, Alexanderplatz demonstrated the tension between history and modernization are affecting Berlin’s growth and redevelopment.

We saw quite a bit of street art on the alternative tour and this sculpture spoke to the theme of an increasingly commercialized world. The Native American is wearing the cliche I

Another aspect of alternative Berlin relating to city planning that we saw was in the Hackescher Markt area, specifically the Spandauer Vorstadt area. A number of artists’ squats, workshops and galleries sprang up here in the early 1990s. The area we walked through was a former artists’ squat and now has a flea market, a beer garden, the Anne Frank Zentrum (home of the Anne Frank: Here and Now Exhibition), and the Monster Kabinett (part art gallery, part haunted house holding massive robotic creatures, metal sculptures, and insect-looking beasts). This former art squat describes the action of artists to occupy (squat) in abandoned buildings and using these to create art. The concept of art squats, some of which are still open, really spoke to the alternative culture of Berlin and how different conceptions of housing are in the United States as opposed to in Berlin. Art squats in Berlin seemed to be much more accepted in Berlin than squatting would be in the United States.

Hackescher Markt had a really great market with jewelry, produce, coffee, spices, and lots of food.
This is the former artists’ squat that now has two beer gardens, the Anne Frank exhibit, the small flea market, and graffiti and art on the walls

My favorite part of the tour was when our guide mentioned YAAM Beach Bar, which our group went to after the tour ended. YAAM is an acronym for “Young African Art Market” and is located on the River Spree. YAAM is a cultural hotspot and has a club, beachbar, and gallery, complete with sand, hammocks, and picnic tables. YAAM is incredibly laidback and although it’s really close to some of the main attractions in Berlin, namely the East Side Gallery (the largest remaining section of the Berlin Wall), it is not face paced and is a really unique area.

Mediaspree is one of the largest property investment projects in Berlin and aims to establish telecomm and media companies along the section of the banks of the River Spree where YAAM is located. Unused or temporary occupied real estate is to be converted into office buildings, lofts, hotels, and other new structures. Our guide said that YAAM’s current location is its third location due to these Mediaspree plans. YAAM is temporarily thriving in its current location, but only time will tell whether it will be able to survive the increasing commercialization of Berlin.

To the right of YAAM we saw the Mercedes-Benz arena being built which to me really embodied the increasing commercialization of Berlin. The arena is being built right by the East Side Gallery and Mercedes-Benz. That is the type of mix between history and modern initiatives that this alternative tour and all of our time in Berlin kept demonstrating. We can debate the merits of this commercialization and the Mediaspree plans, but it will likely take active citizens to keep places like YAAM from being bought up by larger corporations. This alternative tour demonstrated all of the careful planning that must go into city planning initiatives in a city that will likely keep growing for quite some time.

-Jennifer Craft