Why I didn’t visit a single gallery or museum in Berlin (and why this isn’t your average Berlin city

Berlin’s museums and art galleries are not sh*t.

At least, according to the Internet they’re not. I honestly wouldn’t know. I’ve never been to any of them.

Before you pin me as a Philistine, let me just say that I love visiting art galleries...

…for about two hours. After that, museum-fatigue sets in. No matter what the calibre of the exhibitions are, my brain says “Enough!” and I need to get out into some fresh air and press the reset button.

Berlin skyline

But my reasons for dodging museums in Berlin are also somehow connected to what happened as I sat down to write about the experience.

In each case, I felt overwhelmed.

Just as I felt paralysed at the thought of visiting one art gallery after another in one of the world’s most culturally-rich cities, I was likewise struck dumb when it came to writing about Berlin.

As we engage with the web, we are deluged with information. Punch in the search for “Berlin travel” and you’ll get 250 MILLION results.

That’s a lot of people who loved writing about Berlin.

As a reader, where do you start? And as a writer, what do you add?

The German flag on the Parliament building

Berlin: Things to see and do

If you’ve stumbled upon this blog post hoping for a city guide to one of the coolest cities in the world, you’ll be disappointed if you’re expecting a standard list of where to go and what to tick off the list.

If you would like this sort of thing, you can head to Berlin's official tourism website instead. Or even one of these three sites: Time Out; Lonely Planet; Atlas Obscura.

I loved these sites; each one was brimming with useful info, hints and tips for what to experience in Berlin. And they sure saved me the effort of creating a bucket-list for travellers.

This blog post is my story of Berlin. You get something a little less comprehensive, but hopefully a whole lot more authentic and personalised.

My couch-surfer host Jonathan and I, out for a night in Berlin
My couch-surfer host Luis and I after an all-nighter in Berlin's clubs

Why I dodged the museums

I arrived in Berlin in May 2015 during a coach-riding, couch-surfing odyssey around Europe, determined to experience Germany’s capital after hearing so many cool things about it.

But in the months leading to this trip, I had seen some pretty huge changes in my life.

I’d experienced a break-up with a partner of four years. I had almost quit my teaching job (it was more a case of the world’s longest sabbatical as a prelude to eventually leaving) and I’d discovered how to live life out of a bag.

Essentially, I’d become a contemporary nomad and adherent of the anti-establishment mob.

After five years of living in London, struggling to pay for a lifestyle I didn’t really want, I’d had enough of wandering around galleries looking at art curated by institutions I could no longer relate to. I was suffering from acute gallery-fatigue (London has a lot to look at) and had developed an intense dislike for the elitist art world.

It’s no surprise then that trawling Berlin’s galleries and museums was not high on my list of things to do in the city.

Graffiti in Berlin

Berlin's art bonanza

I’ve got quite a socialist attitude when it comes to art. I think art should be accessible to all. It irritates me that anyone should have to pay to see it and irks me even more that a lot of art is privately held and only gets seen by the sort of people who keep gun-dogs and have an offshore bank account.

My theory was that if a government starts shutting away its treasures and charging people for the privilege of seeing any of them, the populace would become culturally poorer somehow. Like they might all devolve into tracksuit-wearing chavs like Vicky Pollard at any moment. Or a Philistine at any rate.

Graffiti in Berlin

But in Berlin, not so.

Considering that you must pay to enter many of Berlin’s best galleries and museums, it’s quite interesting to find that there is so much unbridled creativity splurging all over the city.

The whole city thrums with creative energy, with art decorating the exterior of buildings all over the place, and artist communes thriving in the abandoned warehouses and apartment blocks. It felt like the bohemian movement was alive and well here, sticking a huge finger up at institutionalised art.

Graffiti in Berlin

My first evening was spent walking along the East Side Gallery; an open-air exhibition painted on the remains of the Berlin Wall.

Graffiti in Berlin

Graffiti-lovers will have an orgasm in Berlin. Street art is everywhere and there are even websites dedicated to walking tours that guide you to the best bits. Berlin’s offerings of mammoth murals make London’s Brick Lane look like an alley with a couple of tags doodled down it.

Graffiti in Berlin

Where I stayed (and why you’ll want to know)