In late 1976 David Bowie and Iggy Pop moved in to a flat in the largely Turkish immigrant area of Schöneberg in Berlin – Hauptstraße 155. They moved here to escape the drug culture of Los Angeles, via a short stay in Switzerland. Rumour has it that in 2021, five years after his death, Bowie may eventually give his name to this unassuming street.
Getting around in Berlin is simple due to the great transport system: buses, the U-Bahn [Underground] and of course the S-Bahn [trams] that inspired the Iggy Pop song ‘The Passenger’.
Of the so-called Berlin Trilogy of albums Bowie recorded during this period [Low, Heroes and Lodger] only ‘Heroes’ was completely written and recorded in the city, at the famous Hansa Tonstudio – although Iggy Pop’s ‘Lust For Life’ was also recorded here. Bowie’s ‘Low’ album and Iggy Pop’s ‘The Idiot’ were also partly recorded here. Although Lodger clearly has Berlin influences, none of the album was recorded in Germany. Visiting the city it is clear that ‘Heroes’ and the two Bowie produced Iggy Pop albums are the only genuine Berlin albums – both in provenance and in feel. From the graffiti strewn bars around Schöneberg including the now famous Anderes Ufer bar [now the Neues Ufer] where Bowie celebrated his 30th birthday, to the Gründerzeit darkness of Neukölln, the three albums capture the mood perfectly. Indeed I would say that only by visiting Berlin, and understanding some of its culture and history, can these albums can be fully appreciated.
Of course I had to visit the famous Bowie landmarks: SO36, the Paris Bar and the legendary Hansa Studios near Potsdamer Platz.
But it was by walking around Schöneberg and Neukölln, exploring the bars of Charlottenburg and Kreuzberg and learning the wonders of the S-Bahn that I came to appreciate the city. Added to all this is the constant reminder of Berlin’s past: the Wall, the ubiquitous graffiti, the memorials to the horrors of the Nazi era – sadness and hope living side by side. It is a city full of contrasts, none more so than the vast open minimalism of the Platz der Republik overlooked by the magnificence of the Reichstag. Perhaps all this came together when I visited Bornholmer Straße. Here the Bösebrücke and the Platz der 9 memoriaL, covered in graffiti contrast with the cherry blossom trees donated by the Japanese after the fall of the wall, and seem to sum up everything there is to say about this wonderful city – reflecting the melancholy of Bowie’s ‘Where Are We Now’.