Alternative Berlin

The irony of meeting at a Starbucks at Alexanderplatz is not lost on alternative Berlin tours. This cliché meeting point was picked out of convenience rather than an apt starting point for the tour that follows, however, and means that the tour group I am part of can easily meet before beginning the tour of the less known Berlin. Our tour takes place on an extremely cold winter’s day, the whole city encased in a layer of snow and ice, making every sight more spectacular but also causing me to curse my ineffective footwear approximately every ten minutes.

Macchiato Muttis

We hop on a tram and start our tour in Prenzlauer Berg, home of the “macchiato muttis.” After some background information on the origin of the district name (Berg means mountain in German – pretty funny considering Berlin is one of the flattest cities ever), we admire some pieces of the Berlin wall, two of many scattered around the city.

Moving on we are introduced by our guide, Dora, to the two beautiful water towers, known by the locals as “Fat Herman” and “Thin Herman” – my advice, do not google these terms. The history behind these water towers, as with most of Berlin, is more macabre than meets the eye.

Fat HermanPrenzlauer Berg’s “Fat Herman” has a dark past. Photo: Chris Phillips. 

Thanks to the once working class demographic of the area, the larger tower was used by the Nazis as the first concentration camp, the acoustics of the tower lending themselves to amplify the screams of tortured prisoners. Today the sound effects of the tower are put to a much better use – by artists creating sound and light installations. This is a typical example of how art has been used to heal this once war-torn city and put its past to rest.

Pictures of Prenzlauer Berg

Also in Prenzlauer Berg is Kollwitzplatz, a square memorializing the famous painter, sculptor and wood cutter Käthe Kollwitz whose work was dedicated to her son, whom she lost to WW2. A statue of this famous woman resides in the park the square is based around, next to her previous home. The space provides another tribute to the artist as well as the statue “Mother with her Dead Son” at the Neue Wache and the museum for her in Charlottenberg.  

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