Berlin is cool. There is no other word for it. Old mixes with the new in this, dare I say it, hipster paradise, all of which culminates in a veritable photography playground. Here are my favourite places to shoot in (and near) Berlin.
I have to start with this one, and it’s a lot to unpack. Originally an abandoned train graveyard, this plot was taken over by the young raver generation after the wall came down. It initially served as an underground rave (through which you had to enter through a toilet in an old kebab shop, seriously) but was continuously shut down by law enforcement citing dangerous conditions. Eventually, through ways and means known only to the local crew, the plot was purchased by the government and gifted to the community as an arts hub. What it has become is eclectic at worst. It is treasure trove for the urban photographer. still the site of daily underground raves, it is also a warren of outdoor lots which each host parties at various times of the day. It is a hotbed of street art and junk art, providing a multitude of backdrops ranging from colourful to political, and constantly changing as the abundant wave of Berlin artists sweep through it on rotational basis. There is an underground skate park, a food truck art graveyard, a street art museum and a tattoo shop, all nestled behind the train station and which can only be found if you look for it. This location provides hours of camera fodder.
Some of my highlights include – a giant toucan made up of scrap metal, the ‘alien’ themed glow in the dark entrance to the dark rave, and the indian inspired food truck.
Treehouse On The Wall – Kreuzberg
This glaringly obvious relic of the Berlin Wall can be found in the artsy neighbourhood of Kreuzberg. The story goes that when the wall was up, there existed a ‘no mans land’ between the east and west walls in which Germans who hated the wall would dump junk. A resourceful man, Osman Khalid, who was evicted from his squat, came along and built a home out of this junk in that strip. As there was no jurisdiction in that zone, he could not be kicked out, although legislation was introduced to prevent others from doing the same. After the fall of the wall, the government unsuccessfully attempted to evict him, and eventually ended up allowing him and his family to continue to reside, where they still do to this day. The Treehouse itself is an artwork, comprising of bits of junk and painted over by graffiti artists on invitation by the owner over the years. The house even has it’s own garden where Khalid and his family would grow vegetables.
This location is also a central landmark to the Kreuzberg neighbourhood, famed for it’s street art. So take your time appreciating the house before wandering around the area for hidden gems by local artists.
Originally a Jamaican shanty town type settlement, YAMaica is now a thriving community that boasts a riverside beach, shanty type food kiosks and an underground music venue all on the river. The site is very pro-refugee, so the art here is highly political, a massive contrast to the modern architecture mid-construction on either side of it. The river offers a unique view of the changing Berlin skyline, the Alexanderplatz TV Tower looming over condominiums struggling to rise amongst the remains of old Berlin.
Located an easy 40 minute train ride from Berlin, Potsdam is a European gem. The massive park is home to five magnificent castles (summer homes for German royalty) all of which boast varying architectural styles – baroque, marble, gothic. The park itself is a nature lover’s dream, comprising of sprawling tree-lined paths, clean hedges, rose gardens, fountains and a beautiful lake. Reminiscent of older times, Potsdam holds onto its charm while providing a clean landscape for the modern outdoors-lover. It is not unheard of to have six hours pass here without realizing it. Entry to the grounds is free, and each castle provides entry by donation.
An indoor outdoor mall located just on the outskirts of the Mitte neighbourhood, Hackescher Markt is a shopping centre pieced together by five themed courtyards. Each courtyard was designed by a different but prominent Berlin artist, and the entire mall looks like a museum. Take a gander through boutique style shops while taking in the ever-changing architecture of this block.
Easily my favourite, yet possibly dangerous, spot. This is an abandoned children’s hospital located in Weibensee (10 minutes out of Berlin central). The entire complex is locked, requiring some fence hopping skills to enter. Law enforcement has resigned itself to the droves of curious visitors, and for good reason. The hospital is a museum to street artists. Wander the ground and encounter piece after piece of gorgeous graffiti all in a decidedly spooky atmosphere. Watch out for potholes when crossing the grounds from building to building, and be wary of wooden stairs (stick to concrete) as you wind your way to the final stop – the reception building. Here you will find each room decorated in a theme (pink walls and ceilings with hearts, yellow walls and ceilings with bananas, blue walls and ceilings with clouds, etc) and find it hard to resist a few hundred snaps. The location has cropped up in a few fashion shoots, and is also ever-changing, so expect something new every time you go there.
Finally, Berlin itself is an architectural gem. The city provides a range of landscapes to shoot from such as the twin churches of the Gendarmenmarkt, the rolling lawns of the Tiergarten and the cobbled streets outside the Brandenburger gate. The remnants of the Berlin Wall have been fenced off (unfortunately due to vandalism) but still work if you can get the right angles in. It is important though to remember that, beautiful as they are, Holocaust monuments are not backdrops, and to treat them with the respect they are due. Happy snapping!