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Doing Street Photography in Berlin

· 7.May.2019

Berlin is a wonderful city for street photography. Before getting into the street photography part let me give some background information about Berlin. Berlin is the capital of Germany and as such a big city with 3.5 million inhabitants. More importantly Berlin is a vast city, New York has more than twice as many inhabitants but in terms of area Berlin is the bigger city. For a street photographer this means so will find less people on the streets compared to cities like London, Paris or New York.

Berlin has an excellent transportation system of U-Bahn (subways), S-Bahn (city trains), busses and trams. A system of night busses will get you home after hours. An AB day pass is your best choice and very affordable with 7€. The C area defines the outskirts of Berlin and neighbouring cities like Potsdam, it is usually not needed. You can buy these tickets at any subway or S-Bahn station. There is also an app for your smartphone. Please note: if you buy a ticket, you need to stamp it at one of the red boxes before entering a train.

Overall Berlin is a fairly safe city and there are no “no go” areas. But like in most major cities there is crime and street violence. It’s a good idea to keep an open eye, this is particular true in the grittier neighbourhoods like Kreuzberg, Neukölln and Friedrichshain.

Berlin is a cash driven city, you will find many places that will not accept credit cards, this is particularly true for bars, coffee-shops and restaurants.

Finally: Service and Anglo-Saxon style of politeness are no concepts that Berliners tend to embrace. So if you encounter a lack of service or overall politeness, it is not personal. That is simply how Berliners roll.

But isn’t street photography “verboten” in Germany? 

Is street photography allowed in Germany? That is the question I get asked a lot by visitors from abroad. The short answer is “YES”. Street photography is allowed in Germany. And there is a very active street photography scene in Germany. Recently the German supreme court ruled that street photography is to be considered as an art form – and creating art is within your constitutional rights. Things get a bit more complicated when you want to publish your image. If your subject is recognizable, this person has a right to its own image and may object to publication. In that case it would be for the courts to decide which right ranks higher in that particular case.

From a practical point of view: over the many years that I have shot street photography in Berlin, I have never being sued. As a matter of fact I never had any notable problems shooting in the streets of Berlin following these basic rules:

  • be friendly – a smile goes a long way
  • respect the privacy and intimacy of your subjects
  • show your subjects in a dignified way
  • delete an image when asked to

But now let’s hit the streets of Berlin. If you are in Berlin and want do a street photography workshop or a photo tour, I will be more than happy to show you around.

Mitte (the center)

Mitte is the central district of Berlin. Many of the well known Berlin sights are located in Mitte.

  1. Potsdamer Platz

Potsdamer Platz is a modern architecture: offices, shopping malls, cinemas, bars and restaurants, all built after unification. Potsdamer Platz has a huge underground world (subway station, S-Bahn station and a railway station) which means it is a wonderful place to shoot even if the weather outside is nasty. Potsdamer Platz is particularly intriguing at night. Neon lights and reflections make for a great mood. Additional tip: Within only a two minutes from Potsdamer Platz you will find one of the 3 remaining watch towers of the Berlin wall, just enter and follow Erna-Berger-Strasse till the end.

Potsdamer Platz.

  1. The memorial to the murdered jews in Europe

The Holocaust memorial is a 5 minute walk away from Potsdamer Platz. It a 19,000 square-meters wide area that is covered with 2,711 grey concrete slabs. For a street photographer two approaches are interesting: Shooting from the outside the memorial as well as inside the memorial. If you shoot inside, you need to be very fast to get a shot. You will see your subjects only for split seconds. From a photographic point of view the memorial is interesting as long as there is day light, both on cloudy days as well as on days with harsh sunlight. Over the years I did the memories series on the holocaust memorial and its visitor.

Holocaust Memorial.

  1. The Brandenburg gate

Certainly the most iconic sight in Berlin, flooded with tourists during daytime. Yet there are always some interesting people showing up. The Brandenburg gate is aligned in an West – East direction. This means you will have lovely light during sunrise and sunset. The Brandenburg gate is 5 minutes away from the holocaust memorial.

The Brandenburg Gate.

  1. The Government district

The government district was newly built after the unification. Huge and very modern buildings along the river spree. Tip:  A 70-85mm lens will serve you well in addition to the standard wide-angle lens for street photography. The government district is 10 minutes away from the Brandenburg gate. For inspiration see the berlin flat white series that I did on the government district.

Government district.

  1. Museum’s island

Museum’s Island is a small island in the spree housing several museums. The place is vastly romantic. If you are into shooting inside museums, I would recommend the “Neues Museum” and the “Alte Nationalgalerie” (new museum and old national gallery). While you are already at the place, check the Hackesche Höfe and the Haus Schwarzenberg near by. Hackesche Höfe is a fully refurbished old commercial complex, now housing a theater, artsy shops, a cinema, restaurants and bars. Haus Schwarzenberg is an artfully run down building housing a museum, bars and a a small cinema. There is plenty of street art in the court. Haus Schwarzenberg gives you an idea what Mitte looked like before unification.

  1. Alexanderplatz

Alexanderplatz is the central square of Berlin. Please expect ugliness and the most eclectic architecture. Yet with several tram, U Bahn and S-Bahn lines crossing, a railway station, many department stores and shopping mall, cinemas and last but not least the tv tower,  Alexanderplatz is always busy with people. BTW You can get to the 40th floor of the Park Inn Hotel and enjoy an amazing view over Berlin (4€ p.p). #thattoweragain is the Instagram hashtag for the tv tower.

Alexanderplatz.

Mitte – Kreuzberg

  1. Checkpoint Charlie

Checkpoint Charlie was the place where Russian forces would enter the allied sectors (West-Berlin) or allied force would enter the Russian sector (East-Berlin). So most of the time there was nothing going on. Today Checkpoint Charlie has become a very artificial tourist trap. And this of course makes it an excellent hunting area for street photographers.

Checkpoint Charlie.

Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg

  1. RAW area – Eastside Gallery – Oberbaum bridge

RAW stands for Reichsbahnausbesserungswerk (train repair center), today it is partly in ruins, it houses bars, clubs, a street art gallery, artist workspaces and more. There is a lot of street art and murals. It is one of those unique, improvised and transitory Berlin places. Please note: There is usually quite a bit of drug trade going outside of RAW. So keep an open eye.

Eastside gallery is the last part of wall standing covered with street art created in 1990 after the wall came down.

Finally Oberbaum bridge, a gorgeous view over Berlin. The light is particular nice during sunrise and sunset.

Eastside Gallery.

Prenzlauer Berg

  1. Subway station Eberswalder Strasse – Mauerpark

The subway station Eberswalder Strasse and its immediate surroundings are one of the most interesting spots for night street photography in Berlin. The area is filled with bars, clubs and restaurants and remains busy all night. At the same it is a very safe. The above ground subway station adds a nice touch.

Mauerpark is interesting on Sundays. Then this piece of urban wasteland will transform into a flea market and a street food market, there will be all sorts of street musicians, graffiti artists and sometimes even a huge outdoor karaoke show. As a street photographer you can spend the whole Sunday at Mauerpark. Sunsets are very nice here. BTW: Berliners don’t get up early, so showing around 1pm is just fine.

Mauerpark.

Schöneberg-Charlotttenburg

  1. Wittenberg Platz – Breitscheidplatz – Zoo Area

The center of West-Berlin is a busy shopping and office area. Worth visiting: There are 3 excellent photography exhibition places with in walking distance from the Zoo area:

  • Museum for Photography, Jebensstraße 2-3, 10623 Berlin
  • C/O Berlin, Hardenbergstraße 22-24, 10623 Berlin
  • Camera Work Photo Gallery, Kanstraße 149, 10623 Berlin

C/O Berlin usually has the most interesting exhibitions.

Zoo area Berlin.

Street photography in Berlin when the weather is ghastly

Berlin weather can be unpleasant, particularly during winter time. So here are some sheltered locations that work well for street photography.

You can shoot inside the

  • central station,
  • Alexanderplatz railways and subway station.

Personally I like to go to museums as well. These  museums provide wonderful photography opportunities for street photographers.

  • Alte Nationalgalerie,
  • Neues Museum (both museums island) and
  • Hamburger Bahnhof (close to central station)

Only in Berlin

Finally 3 locations that are unique to Berlin and well worth a visit:

– Tempelhof Airfield

Former inner city airport. Walk along the runways and feel the void.

Tempelhof Airfield.

– Flaktower Humboldthain

On the roof of a former WWII bunker you will have a magnificent about the northern Berlin area.

– Spy station Teufelsberg

Abandoned NSA spy station, lots of street art, great vista. You need to book a tour.

Teufelsberg Spy Station.

Martin U Waltz

Martin U Waltz

Martin U Waltz is a multi-award winning photographer, educator and writer in Berlin. He is a founding member of the Berlin1020 Street Photography Collective and the curator of the German Street Photography Festival. Martin has written and co-authored several books on street photography. Martin is a passionate photography teacher. He offers personal photography coaching and street photography workshops in Berlin.

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