Born in London to an English mother and Swedish father (paper merchant), Berlin was originally an apprentice mechanical engineer before leaving that trade to enrol in the Beckenham School of Art at the age of 17. He then began training as an Adagio dancer. Retiring from dancing in 1938, he and his wife settled in a cottage on the Zennor moors.
A recent correspondent (2011) has noticed that most biographies of the artist appear to omit an interlude when Sven, his wife and children, lived in a farm-labourer type of cottage, one of two or three row cottages in Happy Valley, Treswithian, Camborne. [This was perhaps when he was studying at Redruth nearby.] 'About the only furnishings were a few upright chairs, an inverted half-barrel that served as a table, and small nude paintings of his wife on all the colour-washed walls. There was bread and water. The two, I think, little girls ran about barefoot. I was then fifteen or sixteen.'
Berlin studied under Arthur Creed HAMBLY at Redruth School of Art, describing Hambly as "the third of the Three Wise Men sent to guide my destiny" - also adding "but the special quality of integrity as an artist and teacher made him a unique person: a man of truth". At the outbreak of war in 1939 he registered as a Concientious Objector; in 1943, however, he joined the Royal Artillery, taking part in the Normandy landings. Discharged in 1945 on medical grounds, he suffered from nervous shock and the breakdown of his marriage.
Before joining the military, Berlin had met Ben NICHOLSON, Barbara HEPWORTH and Naum GABO and also helped at the Leach Pottery. On recovery from his breakdown, he rented an unoccupied building on the Island called 'The Tower', turning it into a sculptor's workshop. In 1950 he was evicted from 'The Tower' in order for it to be converted into a public convenience. He subsequently remarried and moved to a house at Cripplesease which was destroyed by fire in 1952. The following year he bought a gypsy caravan, moving to the New Forest to live among the gypsies there.
As well as sculpture, Berlin produced drawings, paintings and wrote highly regarded poetry and prose. His writings and aspects of his controversial and explosive life are fully explored on the internet, and remain of local interest in Cornwall today. His daughter, Greta BERLIN, is also a sculptor, and a piece of her larger work, The Couple, is in Trevelyan House, Penzance at the Hypatia Trust.