Berlin Through The Eyes Of David Bowie

Lara Hurtubise

International superstar David Bowie spent one of the most fruitful periods of his storied career – 1976-1979 – living in Berlin with fellow musician Iggy Pop. During this time, he kept himself separated from drugs and alcohol in a city divided. Bowie knew a different Berlin than that which exists today.

Berlin is one of the world’s most famous locations for music, which drew David Bowie to the city during the ’70s. The electronic scene had already begun in Berlin; this was an element that attracted Bowie. Having lived previously in Switzerland and The United States, Bowie decided to resettle in Berlin. During his time there, Bowie released two albums and spent much of his time with fellow musician Iggy Pop; one of his main incentives for moving to the city was his attempts to sober up.

Schöneberg was the Kiez (a German slang word for neighborhood) that Bowie called home. He lived in a yellow, five-story home at 155 Hauptstrasse, which still stands today. Schöneberg during the ’70s was a unique area, a common for outsiders and people who weren’t exactly mainstream. Since the 1920s, the neighborhood has been known for its acceptance of the homosexual lifestyle. Bowie resided on the first floor, on the left; Iggy Pop also lived in the building, although not in the same apartment.

Bowie was known to frequent Neues Ufer, SO36, Paris Bar, and Hansa Studios, where recording took place. All of these locations still exist in Berlin; all of them were in the West during the city’s years of separation. Neues Ufer, formerly known as Anderes Ufer, is only a few steps away from Bowie’s former apartment. The café was one of the first openly gay places in Europe. When asked about his sexuality in an interview with Jonathan Ross in 2002, Bowie would only say, ‘I was promiscuous.’

SO36 is a punk club that Bowie was known to frequent. It is located on Oranienstrasse and is still operating. Another location Bowie was known to visit was Paris Bar, which has a much different vibe. The bar is located near Savignyplatz and is more upscale than the other spots. Finally, Hansa Studios is located near Potsdamer Platz, which was a no man’s land during the years that Bowie lived in Berlin. Hansa Studios is the location where Bowie recorded his music; the studio overlooked the Berlin Wall, which Bowie said was an inspiration for his hit song ‘Heroes.’

Bowie produced the albums Low and ‘Heroes’ while living in Berlin. Having been inspired by the German duo Kraftwerk, Bowie learned to appreciate the electronic aspect of their music and incorporated some of it into his own work. Bowie worked with renowned producer Brian Eno while living in Berlin – the same producer who has worked with bands such as Coldplay, The Talking Heads, and U2. Some of Bowie’s lyrics reflect his time in Berlin; in the song ‘Sound & Vision’ he sings ‘Blue, blue, electric blue/that is the color of my room.’

Berlin was a special place for Bowie — important for his music and personal life. Being secluded in a Western city that was surrounded by East Germany made the city unique and an important sanctuary for the singer. After Bowie’s Berlin Era, he moved onto his New Wave and pop era and settled in New York City.

Berlin offers a Bowie music tour during the summer, through which visitors are able to experience what Bowie’s life was like in Berlin firsthand. Bowie’s love for Berlin always remained, with the singer returning to the city for concerts as his musical career approached its 50th year. His newest album, Blackstar, was released in early 2016.

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