The Berlin trilogy: Day 1 in Bowie’s Berlin


Fortuitous timing – a week to the day after the surprise announcement of David Bowie’s passing I happen to be in Berlin. Where better to conclude a week of reflection on his music and life. I haven’t listened to anything else all week. Yesterday I picked up vinyl copies of Young Americans and Pin-ups at Alan’s, round the corner from my house. Today I flew into Tegel listening to Low and Station to Station, downloaded onto my phone in a somewhat torturous way over Heathrow wifi from Spotify because I left my iPod charging in the bedroom (we always leave one thing behind on every trip no?). From the vinyl frontier to the virtual meanderings of Spotify Bowie music is as resonant as ever.

I got a text at the airport from Thilo Schmied, ex-Hansa engineer and the main man for Bowie tours in Berlin, saying it was a long shot being able to do a Bowie walking tour tomorrow, my one free full day in the city. No worries really because I’ve done my research and reckon I can do a half-decent tour for myself if needs be. I’ll start from Hauptstrasse 155, Bowie’s old apartment with Iggy Pop. If I end up having to Do It Myself I’ll publish the tour here afterwards to help others stuck in similar circumstances. I bought myself a city map in WH Smith so I can plot the key Bowie landmarks on it.

Once installed in The Circus Hotel in Mitte late afternoon, I headed out for a wander. First stop, a T-shirt shop round the corner I remembered from my trip here last winter. A cool Bowie Berlin T on offer with an image from The Man Who Fell to Earth period and the words Berlin Friendship. Aladdin Sane playing when I walked in. A few doors down another fun clothes shop. Wild is the Wind playing when I walked in. Last night Thilo was at a huge memorial gathering at the Hansa studios with over two thousand people.

On the sombre day that was last Monday 11th the German Foreign office thanked Bowie on Twitter for helping bring down the Wall.

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This city takes its Bowie seriously and for good reason.

When Bowie played his landmark gig in front of the Reichstag in June 1987 he introduced his Berlin classic ‘Heroes’, recorded a decade earlier in the city, thus: “We send our wishes to all our friends who are on the other side of the wall.” Those friends could make out the sounds of the song from the other side and their cheering could be heard this side.

“It was one of the most emotional performances I’ve ever done. I was in tears.”

Bowie recalled the show in these terms: “We kind of heard that a few of the East Berliners might actually get the chance to hear the thing, but we didn’t realise in what numbers they would. And there were thousands on the other side that had come close to the Wall. So it was like a double concert where the Wall was the division. And we would hear them cheering and singing along from the other side. God, even now I get choked up. It was breaking my heart. I’d never done anything like that in my life, and I guess I never will again.”

So Bowie and Berlin are intimately linked and the city is a perfect place to celebrate and be thankful for this, in the words of a certain JeSuisDean (derived from elsewhere in relation to other persons):

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An old badge of mine from 1978 accompanying me on this trip


9 comments so far

  1. theluckhabit on

    Yesterday (Saturday) was the first day I listened to something other than Bowie since his death. Apart that is from a wonderful free improv. night at The Vortex jazz club last Monday when singer Cleveland Watkiss did a superb tribute (including Blackstar) with a band including some of the top UK players (Tony Kofi was superb). Appropriate I think in the light of the Blackstar album itself and its jazz connection.

    I had a strange feeling about Bowie for a few weeks – particularly since a photo found its way onto the internet showing him looking extremely ill before Christmas and hinting that all was not well. I had ordered the Blackstar album two months ago, which I would never do for a Bowie album (the ’70’s would have been different) sensing that it would be an event. Particularly surprising too because, taking the hype away, I didn’t think his last album was that great apart from the title track.

    What I have been doing is listening to some of those tracks that don’t get mentioned much but which are classics in their own right – ‘Lady Grinning Soul’ for example. And I discovered a gem – The ‘Gemini Spaceship’ track from Heathen. But the happiest thing for me is that the very last track on Blackstar is the best single track he has done since the ‘Scary Monsters’ album. It is so beautiful. A fitting end from a man whose life provided direction and meaning for those now in their ’40’s and ’50’s.

  2. […] in the absence of a professional (i.e. Thilo Schmied) I had to opt for a DIY Bowie tour of Berlin to mark the end of this sombre […]

  3. ArkAngel on

    I’m the same, Doug – just Bowie till yesterday (Saturday) when I tried some adjacent stuff like Eno (though it didn’t really do the trick). Like you it’s been interesting to have the Unusual Suspects emerge, the tracks that don’t get much recognition. I’ve really been enjoying Word on a Wing which is far from unknown but not one of the biggies nonetheless. I’ll give The ‘Gemini Spaceship’ a re-listen now.

    (I saw Cleveland Watkiss years ago at Ronnie’s – talented fella).

  4. theluckhabit on

    My diversion was a compilation of music from Burkino Faso ’74-’79. Did the trick. I put together my own little Bowie compilation on Friday – personal favourites – and listened to it today on the drive to London.

    • ArkAngel on

      I went to Burkina Faso during Melrose days but didn’t hear much music. That was at the time Salif Keïta’s Soro came out.

  5. theluckhabit on

    ‘Burkina’. Sorry.

  6. […] The Berlin Trilogy 1 [16 January, 2016] the first day oy my trip to Berlin in the days after his death […]

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