David Bowie in Berlin

David Bowie File Photos
David the king of Pop. Chris Walter-WireImage@gettyimages.de

The late David Bowie was, without a doubt, one of the most influential artists of the last 40 years, releasing countless hits and creating a huge global fan base. Three of his most important works, “Low,” “Heroes” and “Lodger,” were created when Bowie lived in Germany.

Safe Haven Schöneberg

Today, life in Berlin-Schöneberg pretty much symbolizes the old West-Berlin. Back in the seventies, it was not an overly exciting place to be. But on the other side, it was still in Berlin, one of the few places where the western and the eastern world, the two sides of the Iron Curtain, lived door to door. This was where the Cold War manifested itself. At the same time, West-Berlin was an island, cut off from the rest of the Bundesrepublik. Thus, Bowie’s living circumstances in themselves were extreme.

After spending some time in Los Angeles, the London-born artist fled the hedonistic and excessive lifestyle of California and, following travels throughout Europe, ended up in Berlin in 1976. He took refuge in an apartment in the western part of the then divided City between East and West Germany. He came to Berlin for the relative anonymity. Barely any other place in the world could have given that to him.

Apart from living a “normal” life (well, as normal as it can get if you are David Bowie), the two years Bowie stayed in Berlin became some of his most productive ones. He wrote and recorded the two albums “Low” and “Heroes” in the famous Hansa Studios. The studios were located directly at the Berlin Wall, which you could see from the recording room’s windows. It’s safe to assume, that the vivid political situation had a strong impact on Bowie’s music.

Another big influence on his records of that time were contemporary German bands such as Kraftwerk, Neu! or Can. Some of this music was introduced to him by Brian Eno, who contributed to “Low” as well as “Heroes.” Even though “Lodger” was not recorded in Berlin, it is usually counted among the records of the “Berlin Trilogy.”

The Godfather of Pop, Iggy Pop

Bowie himself also served as an influence during his Berlin years. When he moved to the divided city he was accompanied by none other than Iggy Pop, now known as the Godfather of Punk. The relatively unknown Pop, who was also suffering from a heavy drug problem, moved into Bowie’s apartment and later into the place next door – rumors say, he had to move out because he repeatedly plundered his host’s fridge. Bowie took him under his wings and produced the first two of Pop’s solo albums, “The Idiot” and “Lust for Life,” including the huge success “The Passenger.” Bowie further arranged most of the music on both records and joined Iggy Pop on tour as keyboard-player.

During his Berlin years, Bowie also starred in a movie that was shot in the “Mauerstadt” (a nickname for the divided Berlin that translates to “Walled City”). Even though it stars many famous actors and actresses, “Just a Gigolo” didn’t raise much awareness and was labeled a debacle.

From the outside, the song “Heroes” might be the signature song for this period in David Bowie’s career. It seems the song caught the hope and simultaneously the melancholia of living in West-Berlin at the time. It spoke to many people and voiced what was their view on the world and the future. Interestingly enough, “Heroes” was not an instant success but rather a slowly rising star.