Weeping Wall

David Bowie and Berlin.
The reason I wanted to go to Berlin was David Bowie.
For those who don't know, Bowie moved to Berlin in 1976 to escape his LA demons brought on by some pretty serious cocaine abuse.
He shackled down in Berlin with Iggy Pop, and despite the brevity of their stay, forged a lasting bond with the city. A relationship that was to come full circle in 2013 with Bowie's return from seven years of silence to surprise the world with 'Where Are We Now'.
A beautiful homage to the city and people of Berlin.

In the late seventies Bowie recorded 'Low', 'Heroes' and 'Lodger' (although Lodger was finished in Switzerland) as well as producing Iggy's 'The Idiot' and 'Lust for Life' in the now legendary Hansa Studios in Berlin. The studios and other landmarks in the city have become places of pilgrimage to Bowie fans all over the world.

I'm not going to attempt to analyse Bowie's Berlin period, for that read Thomas Jerome Seabrook's excellent 'Bowie in Berlin' book. The book introduction alone is worth it as it recalls Bowie's encounter with a Berlin drug dealer which became 'Always crashing in the same car'. A story Bowie later retold to a BBC concert audience in 2000.
I'm just going to point out a few Bowie landmarks that may be of interest next time you visit.

Berliner Dom, Berlin's cathedral on Museum Island appears, as many Berlin landmarks do, in the video for WAWN. I took this photograph on my first visit to Berlin in the severe winter of 2010. We actually got snowed in as all flights were cancelled.

Berliner Dom, Berlin

The centre of the Berlin Bowie universe is Hansa Studios, located just a five minute walk from Potsdamer Platz. It's a very different place to what existed there in the 1970s. 
The Bowie walking tour run by the excellent Berlin Music Tours (who are the only people who will get you inside Hansa Studios by the way) does an excellent job of highlighting the huge changes in that area. Hansa Studios in the 70s was a solitary building in bleak surroundings. The modern glitz of Potsdmaer Platz was previously taken up by one of the largest sections of the Berlin Wall death strip and was essentially a wasteland. It's almost impossible to comprehend that scene today with a visit to the shiny, glass facades of Postdamer Platz. 
But the wastelands surrounding the studios were to present Bowie with his most famous song lyric, as engineer Tony Visconti took a break from recording and walked from the studios and kissed backing singer Antonia Maaß in the shadow of the Berlin wall. 
All watched by Bowie from the studio control room window. And 'Heroes' was born.

Hansa Studios, Berlin. 1970s. Courtesy of Hansa Studios

On our first trip to Berlin we visited Hansa Studios. The old control room of Hansa studios is now a bar as part of a function room. But the window ledge that Iggy used to perch on and chain smoke is still there. As well as the window behind the control desk that Bowie spied on the lovers from. As a Bowie fan you can't fail but to embrace the history in the room and it's certainly a moving experience.
The grand hall is still used as part of the modern day studio facility and is hugely impressive room with wonderful wooden walls and chandeliers.

Hansa Studios, Berlin. 2018. 

Iggy Pop said of West Berlin in the seventies “In Berlin you had a city that was built to hold millions of people, and in the western half there were very few people – around half a million – and most of those were draft-dodging, grumpy German students, resistant to any western influences
This combined with the need to keep ten of thousands of soldiers occupied, made Berlin a creative hub fueled by access to cheap excess and a toleration of anything goes. Bizarrely this situation helped prove to Bowie that he could remain artistically important, without the need for mind-altering stimulation.

Potsdamer Platz Station, Berlin

The first line of 2013's 'Where Are We Now' references catching a train from Potsdamer Platz.
But there was no train or subway station in Portsdamer Platz whilst he lived there.
An in-joke to the people of Berlin perhaps?
Speaking to German Bowie fans there is no doubting the significance of the song and what it meant to them as he returned from nowhere in 2013 to lament about his time in Berlin. There is the wonderful line about the 20,000 people crossing the bridge at Bösebrücke, 'Fingers crossed', not knowing if the border guards would actually shoot them in the confusion that surrounded the fall of the wall.

Bowie's famous 1987 gig at the Reichstag and his comments "We send our wishes to all our friends who are on the other side of the wall" where accompanied by riots on the other side of the wall, the focusing of years of frustration by young Berliners who could now hear the music but not be allowed to see the concert.
A week later Reagan urged Gorbachev to "Tear down this wall".
It was the start of the end, and two years later it was gone.

Potsdamer Platz, Berlin

Any visit to Berlin has to take in a visit to a Photautomat machine, the back and white strip of four photographs is the perfect Berlin memento.
This one is opposite the famous Martin-Gropius-Bau Museum, which again features in the WAWN video, probably as it displays part of a permanent exhibition of the Berlin wall. The museum was also the host to the Berlin leg of the hugely successful DAVID BOWIE IS exhibition in 2014.

Photoautomat, Berlin

My favourite Bowie Berlin landmark is his unassuming apartment at Hauptstraße 155 in Schöneberg.
If only for getting drunk at the Café Neues Ufer next door, a favourite haunt of Bowie and Iggy forty years earlier. There is a memorial plaque now at his old apartment although I'm not alone in not being too keen on it. It is possible to take a peak at the hallway, which also appeared in the WAWN video.

Self-portrait. Hauptstraße 155 in Schöneberg, Berlin

Hallway, Hauptstraße 155 in Schöneberg, Berlin

The Café Neues Ufer is a few doors down from Bowie and Pop's apartment and is tastefully decorated with Bowie mementos.

It's also a great bar. I would heartily recommend finishing any Bowie tour here, getting a little bit drunk and them eating next door at the superb Turkish restaurant Imren, which is a very popular canteen-style place - The food is excellent.

Café Neues Ufer, Schöneberg, Berlin

Café Neues Ufer, Schöneberg, Berlin

So a whistle stop tour of a Bowie's Berlin, but no-one says it better than the man himself, so take five minutes to enjoy the incredible 'Where are We Now' video. 
Happy birthday David Bowie.x 


  1. Cheers to David, Mate! Well written ... gonna checkout the Turkish restaurant Imren ;-)
    And Cheers to Shirley and Elvis as well!


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