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Whether you are a professional photographer or a tourist, if you find yourself in the capital and largest city in Germany, you can’t miss the opportunity to shoot street photography in Berlin.
Underground Culture and Street Art
The first thing you have to do in Berlin as a street photographer is walk around and get a feeling of the city. Its streets, its people and its artwork are all begging to be photographed.
Simply grab your camera, your backpack and walk.
Starting from the S or U-Bahn station Friedrichstrasse, walk along Georgenstrasse until you reach the Museum’s island. Once there, cross the Spree and continue towards Hackescher Markt.
Visit Hackesche Höfe and Haus Schwarzenberg. Use Neue Schönhauserstrasse and Münzstrasse to nicely round-off your journey in Alexanderplatz. This 3km route will take you around several photography hot spots.
You have to be ready to capture everything. From the busy Friedrichstrasse station to the ugly, but lively, Alexanderplatz. You’ll pass by outdoor Tango dancers, coffee-shops, hipster areas and everything in between.
One place, in particular, you cannot miss is the Haus Schwarzenberg Street-Art Alley. You enter the courtyard of this creative space via Rosenthaler Strasse. There you will find a café, an independent cinema, some museums and exhibitions. Peculiar metal sculptures and paintings by El Bocho, Miss Van, Stinkfish and Otto Schade to name just a few, will be waiting for you to capture them with your camera. If this isn’t enough, you’ll find more artwork in the stairwells and shops located inside the Haus Schwarzenberg building itself.
Urban Cityscapes at Dawn
If you are looking for rough urban vistas, start from U-Bahn station Schlesisches Tor. Once there, walk through the Oberbaumbrücke to cross the Spree. Visit the Eastside Gallery if you haven’t done so already and continue walking all the way along Warschauer Strasse until you reach Revaler Strasse.
This 2km walk boasts amazing views from Oberbaumbrücke, awe-inspiring urban ugliness and stunning light at dawn and sunset. The area is always busy, day and night. Be careful though as things can get a little rough the closer you get to Revaler Strasse.
Don’t go alone at night.
Berlin is a big city with many things happening, all of the time. But there’s a particularly special place which oozes vibrant energy every Sunday: Mauerpark.
Its name translates to “Wall Park” and was a part of the Berlin Wall and its Death Strip. Reach U-Bahn Station Eberswalder Strasse and prepare to photograph hipsters, jugglers, musicians, hippies, cyclists, joggers, a flea market and much more.
From 3pm onwards, you will also be able to photograph Mauerpark Karaoke and its singers. You’ll find plenty of improvised sessions in the amphitheater. This home-made karaoke allows Berliners to perform their favourite song in front of around two hundred people. Singers take their performances very seriously, awarding them always huge rounds of applause.
I personally think Mauerpark is one of the best places for street photography in Berlin.
Many cafes and designer shops surround the area, the old Berlin Wall ran directly through the park. Cyclists love it for sightseeing. You cannot miss a Sunday in Mauerark.
The German capital is an extremely artistic city. There’s no shortage of photo studios in Berlin, so if you get bitten by the creativity bug and meet some interesting subjects, book yourself some studio time!
Once you have photographed the soul of Berlin, you may want to dedicate some time to its main landmarks.
To photograph the main landmarks of Berlin, you may need more than your backpack and camera. Equip yourself with a zoom lens, a wide angle lens and a lot of patience.
Visit during the evening hours and you will catch a sky full of dramatic contrast. If you are lucky enough to be there during the first few days of March or October, you will find the sun tracing a path right through the middle of the Brandenburg Gate while sinking into the horizon.
To obtain symmetrical shots, walk away from the Gate through Unter den Linden and use a zoom lens. The further you go, the more parallel the vertical lines will be. Or, to achieve a more imposing presence, do the opposite. Stand close to it and use a wide-angle lens. Avoid using digital zooms of some point-and-shoot cameras and smartphones, as they produce low-quality images.
If you happen to be there during bad weather, don’t despair. Rain and snow will reward you with great reflections from the cobblestones in front of the Brandenburg Gate.
Remember that the Brandenburg Gate is an important landmark in Berlin. Be prepared for the hordes of tourists and the many festivals and conventions held there. They will hinder your ability to capture this neoclassical monument in all its glory. To get rid of people in your shots, you may need to use a tripod, get multiple long exposures and do some editing in Photoshop.
It boasts a modern glass dome which allows a 360-degree view of the surrounding cityscape. The dome is open to visitors for free by prior registration and is certainly the best location to photograph the Berlin skyline.
A large sun shield that tracks the movement of the sun electronically will block direct sunlight for you, this will help you to control dynamic range and not blow out your highlights. Be sure to bring a zoom lens to photograph single buildings and landmarks. And, of course, a wide angle lens to obtain vast panoramas of the skyline.
When you finish photographing the skyline, turn around and amaze yourself, you certainly don’t want to miss the inside of the Reichstag. Its rich composition of curves, reflections and modern architecture will unleash your thirst for abstract photography.
Additionally, great shots from the outside of the Reichstag can be obtained after dark as the building is lit up by artificial light, highlighting its imposing figure in front of the dark background.
You’ll need to shoot long exposures with a tripod at night and if there are still people around, the feeble ghosts they project in your pictures will only add to the building’s imposing presence.
Berlin Holocaust Memorial
Located one block south of the Brandenburg Gate, this architectural masterpiece consists of 2,711 concrete slabs of different heights (0.2 to 4.7 m), covering 19,000 square meters.
Walking towards the centre of the monument, as the ground slopes down, the concrete slabs grow taller. This arrangement will allow you to experiment and create abstract light patterns and perspectives. Remember to be respectful, as this is not a playground but a memorial.
Remnants of the Berlin Wall at the East Side Gallery
No photographer’s guide to Berlin would be complete without mentioning the East Side Gallery. A protected landmark, this is a monument to the fall of the Berlin Wall and the subsequent peaceful negotiation of borders. It is a 1316m long collection of 105 murals painted directly on remnants of the Berlin Wall.
Due to the ideals it represents, the past for which it speaks, its unique beauty and the pleasant walk, it is a hotspot for tourists. The best way to photograph the paintings is to arm yourself with patience, set up a tripod from afar, take many long exposure photographs and stack them later in photo editing software to remove the people.
However, good street photography tells the story of culture and of people. Perhaps it is worth capturing a couple of photos of tourists taking selfies, enjoying the walk and eating ice cream while walking in front of a monument that represents rather different times.
Shooting street photography in Berlin can be whatever you want it to be. You can find many books on street photography dedicating their pages to its streets. So take this article as an invitation to explore the areas, feed your curiosity
and come up with your own ideas. If you are still looking for some inspiration, visit CO/Berlin, the Willy Brandt Haus and “Bildband Berlin” while you are there.