Where Are We Now? : Day 2 in Bowie’s Berlin

So 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 week.

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Starting out from Rosenthaler Platz in Mitte I headed west to Friedrichstrasse where last time I was here (a year ago) I picked up a copy of Zeit, a small box set of Bowie’s four Berlin-related LPs – what a difference a year makes. Zeit waits for no man.

I took a small diversion past the Berlin Ensemble’s theatre (Theater am Schiffbauerdamm) where Brecht set himself up in 1954, as a tip of the cap to the Baal EP which showed me another dimension of Bowie in 1982.

Next a walk across Potsdamer Platz to set the Where are We Now? trail in motion:

Had to get the train
From Potsdamer Platz
You never knew that
That I could do that
Just walking the dead
Sitting in the Dschungel
On Nürnberger Strasse
A man lost in time
Near KaDeWe
Just walking the dead
Where are we now, where are we now?

There are a few panels of the Berlin Wall on display on the north side of the place and then a significant stretch of the banal concrete sections in Niederkirchnerstrasse (on the corner of which was the Blackstar poster above). The bands graffitied on that section indicate how frozen in time it is: Blondie, Madness, Lee Perry all get a painted name check. A few more individual sections stand in the grounds of the apartment blocks adjacent to the Hansa Studio in Köthener Strasse. It all helps get you in the ‘Heroes’ frame of mind. I tried to figure out where Bowie might have seen Visconti and his lover from the studio windows but it’s hard to figure as two walls are blank and there’s no obvious spot where the Wall would have been in sight from the front or back of the Hansa building so the lovers’ kiss remains in the imagination (which is probably where it actually was anyway).

Outside the Hansa Studio was a small shrine of candles and flowers, a child’s drawing and an empty wine bottle, as well as a black star. A couple of people stopped briefly to have a look. We listened to Breaking Glass on my phone there outside the building where it was recorded, and to ‘Heroes’. I took a few photos which I’ll upload when I get home – don’t have the gear with me.

Next stop was a bigger floral shine. This one outside Bowie’s old apartment (and Iggy Pop’s) at 155 Hauptstrasse in Schöneberg. That I do have a couple of photos from on my phone – I wonder why we still call it a phone as it’s about the last thing I ever use it for! The photos and messages lay nestled in pristine ice.

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Where Are We Now? At his front door

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Feeling Low

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There was a small gathering there, a shameless paparazzo getting in everyone’s way without caring, to remind us of the sort of crap DB had to put up with thanks to Fame and how it puts you there where things are hollow. It was an interesting sight to see but itself had a certain hollowness, people wanting to connect but in a slightly chilled way.

We went next door to have a drink to warm up at David & Iggy’s local (now called Neues Ufer). I had a read of Peter Doggett’s rather over-muso The Man who Sold the World: David Bowie and the 1970s whilst having a bet about whether they sell more cheese cake or apple strudel in Ufer. The cheese cake was good. The coffee hit the spot. The candle light added to the vibe. The Jean Genie suddenly put its head above the chat noise as daylight faded.

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The last leg was over in Charlottenburg.

A man lost in time
Near KaDeWe

I checked out KaDeWe (Kaufhaus des Westens), the largest department store in continental Europe. Then round the corner to the Ellington Hotel in Nürnberger Strasse…

Sitting in the Dschungel
On Nürnberger Strasse

Besides hosting jazz greats from Duke Ellington (the Thin Black Duke) to Ella Fitzgerald, from Lionel Hampton to Louis Armstrong (the Black Star), it was the location of the Dschungel night club, Studio 54 but at Nürnberger Strasse 53. We ordered up some suitably sophisticated cocktails to toast the Big Man containing all sorts of goodies from cinnamon  to absinthe. Got a bit of a buzz on; admired the art deco architecture, fixtures & fittings; and walked on down the road… as we walked past the Gedächnis Kirche (Remembrance Church) the bell tolled six.

Last stop of the day – the Paris Bar, arty hang-out of West Berlin prior to the fall of the Wall, a haunt of Bowie and pals. Now the East of the city is one big arty hang-out. On the wall, subtly placed among the floor-to-ceiling art works, is a slightly faded photo of Bowie beside a modern painting. It was a place for birthdays and special occasions among his circle so a fitting place to round off the day. We did our Desert Island Discs (again) after dinner over coffee – it’s been a few years since the last time and there will have been minor shifts though I haven’t checked back yet. Things move on.

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I’m going to put the addresses etc. of the above Bowie Berlin spots in the next post in case anyone wants to visit any of them in a DIY kind of way.

Sometimes I feel the need to move on
So I pack a bag, move on, move on
Well I might take a train or sail at dawn
Might take a girl, when I move on, when I move on

Somewhere someone’s calling me when the chips are down
I’m just a traveling man, maybe it’s just a trick of the mind, but
Somewhere there’s a morning sky bluer than her eyes
Somewhere there’s an ocean innocent and wild

[Move On from the 3rd of Bowie’s Berlin trilogy, Lodger – the one that got me a fantastic voyage to Vienna]

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Not so Low now

The Berlin trilogy: Day 1 in Bowie’s Berlin

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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

 

A Bowie moment: Ziggy Stardust plaque unveiled

I just found this video of mine (chopped in 2 bits – can’t remember why) from the day the Ziggy Stardust plaque was unveiled by Gary Kemp in Heddon Street, London – 27th March 2012.

Here’s the story of the day: Heddonism

And here are some unsorted photos also from that day

Bowie: The Next Day

I’m sure many people are feeling Bowied out by now with all the media coverage and social media outpourings but I still want to capture the moment (not least for myself), and book-end a sombre day with the reflections that have bubbled up in the last 16 hours on a truly great man.

David Bowie

One Bowie

{This is a picture from one of my old posts (hence the odd caption – I can’t recall the context) but I really love it, so…}

Like many people I immersed myself today in Bowie’s music – drawn initially, of all the 25 long players (studio LPs), to Station to Station (it was interesting where my heart took me when push came to shove). And then to Blackstar because he wouldn’t want us looking back too much. And on to Lodger because …well it got me thinking, why does that one resonate? – it was a moment when he had a significant impact on my life…

1979. I was mainly into punk. One evening I was at home laying across my bedroom floor listening to a radio show on Radio 1 called something like Conversations with Bowie. I think I may still have a recording of it on cassette tape in a drawer somewhere. During the long (two part?) interview, centred on the making of Lodger, his newest record, he mentioned an artist who was making a big impact on him around then but was largely unknown at the time. Egon Schiele. I’d never heard of him, and I knew a fair bit about art (for a 16 year old). He was very little known in Britain then. What Bowie said struck me and I made a mental note which I followed up…

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Thin White Bloke: a Bowie-like Egon Schiele

Fast-fwd to four years later >>> I won a travel scholarship (the Morrison Grant) from Girton College, Cambridge to study Egon Schiele’s work in Vienna. It was a significant landmark in my growing up, helping consolidate my interest in art and Modernism as well as providing a colourful independent travel adventure. Thank Bowie for that.

Another Teutonic moment: Exactly this time last year I went to Berlin with Enfant Terrible No. 2 (who loved it – the cafes, the wandering about, the whole vibe). On one of our flâneur sessions we stopped at a big record shop and I came across a box set called Zeit of Bowie’s Berlin period – Low, Heroes, Lodger and the live double LP Stage. I bought it as the perfect souvenir of a beautiful trip. I’m going back this coming weekend (apposite timing given today’s news) with Enfant Terrible No. 1. He was playing Bowie in his room at Bournemouth University last night, pulling a semi-all-nighter for an essay, pretty much when the star light was darkening over in NYC.

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Father & Son

And on the subject of family members, our cat is called Ziggy after Bowie’s Ziggy. I was looking for a pair of names for our pair of cats and the one that found favour after a social media call-out was Ziggy & Stardust. (Her hair’s even better than Bowie’s, well worthy of her name.)

My director showreel when I first went freelance was to the soundtrack of Sound and Vision. I can’t hear that song any more without seeing some of those pictures including an underwater swimmer shot by DoP Jack Hazan (Rude Boy, A Bigger Splash) and Martin Luther King delivering his I Had a Dream speech from within an H shape (which represented the word Hearing).

The last Bowie moment that comes to what is now a somewhat weary mind on this grey day is not either of the occasions I saw him play live – 1983 on the Serious Moonlight tour in Grenoble (we had fun because he was clearly having fun) and 1985 at Live Aid – but set in a North London exam room as I sat my O Level English. We had to write a creative story and mine was ‘inspired by’ (for which read ‘an unsubtle rip-off of’) Please Mr Gravedigger from his first LP (David Bowie of 1967), simply transposed into prose with lots of fancy adjectives. I got an A. I went on to do A Level and S Level English, then literature subjects at university, bringing us back to Girton.

Another half-thought emerges: as I approached those A Levels I grew heartily sick of school and spent the second half of the second year of 6th form in my dad’s house (not where I grew up) shacked up in a bedroom with two things for comfort: a pile of Jane Austen books and two Bowie cassettes: ChangesTwoBowie and Rare. I did no work, just read that pile and listened to that slightly off-beat pair of compilations. All the exam shit worked out fine and it was a suitably intense teenage moment.

Just four and a half moments of different scales where Bowie had a benign and positive influence on my life. There are many others, many associated with particular records or songs – from Let’s Dance in a small bedsit in Chambéry, Savoy when I first cut the umbilical cord from home (at Boulevard des Capucines chez les Pachouds) to V2 Schneider on the jukebox during a Baltic educational cruise aboard the SS Uganda) – many moments of intrigue, delight and inspiration from someone who ultimately is a true genius and by all accounts (many today) a real mensch.

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I & eye

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Big Ones

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Little Ones

Taking to the Wild Wind

Wild is the Wind – David Bowie

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Where Are We Now?

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I shared this on social media three days ago to mark Bowie’s birthday and record release. I repost it today for opposite reasons. What warms me about it is that is was sent to me by my oldest son. The circle turns. “Everything that dies some day comes back.”

Bowie: Blackstar Rising

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Just beautiful

I heard about the passing of David Bowie about 15 minutes ago as the sad and unexpected news broke on Radio 5 Live. It had echoes of the news at a similar time on the same station almost exactly 3 years ago when the beautifully resonant song ‘Where Are We Now?’ was suddenly unleashed upon the world as a present on Bowie’s birthday – 8th January 2013. But this was the dark twin. It was only on Friday that the world was enjoying a similar event – the birthday release of Blackstar, Bowie’s last album, as surprising and novel as anything he has ever done. As a jazz lover it was a delicious prospect. Despite listening to it across this weekend sadly there hasn’t even been time to start to absorb it.

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I don’t normally feel such deaths in a truly personal way (with the single exception of John Martyn) but this one is very resonant in a different way. The passing of this great son of London without doubt makes the world a lesser place and I’ll spend today absorbing it. It is not totally dark in that it feels like he lived a beautiful life.

The love of music; the persistence getting his break; the innovation, success, boundry-pushing; the re-inventions; right up to the surprise re-emergence in 2013; the happy marriage; the prioritisation of children/fatherhood; the tranquil oasis in his third great city London > Berlin > New York, a suitably great metropolis to be the backdrop for his final ascendance.

While I absorb the sad&sudden news here are some Bowie bits from Simple Pleasures part IV over the last few years:

4 for 66 (Happy Birthday David Bowie) [9 January 2013]

Heddonism [11 April, 2012]

100 Greatest Songs [12 January, 2008]

 

Rhodes Must Be Remixed

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All Rhodes lead to remix

Here’s my solution to the Cecil Rhodes statue controversy in Oxford. The Rhodes Must Fall campaign wants to have the statue of the in many ways rather nasty imperialist taken down from Oriel College, Oxford, his alma mater and beneficiary of his largesse. Rather than tearing down the statue like some dodgy authoritarian regime and airbrushing out history like a bunch of old Commies, let’s add another layer to it like the Brixton-based artist Hew Locke (son of a Guyanese sculptor and a British painter) did on the statue of slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol. Or put adjacent to it a bigger statue of, say, Nelson Mandela. Let’s add and be constructive…

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Hew Locke – Edward Colston from Restoration (2006)

Locke draped Colston in trading beads, coins and other accoutrements of empire. (Or to be precise, he draped a photo of the statue in this 3D mixed media – but why not do it directly on the statue itself for good (in both senses)? )

You can see some of Locke’s works in the last room of the ‘Artist and Empire’ exhibition currently [until 10th April] on show at Tate Britain (ironically – the Tate & Lyle sugar fortune having been arguably built on slavery).

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Edward Colston naked/unremixed in Bristol city centre

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Nelson Mandela slightly remixed with bird-shit, Parliament Square, London

Hew Locke talking about Restoration [2 minute listen]

The Simple Pleasures Best Film of the Year 2015-2009

2015

The Big Short

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2014

20,000 Days on Earth

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2013

The Wolf of Wall Street

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2012

Silver Linings Playbook

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2011

Midnight in Paris

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2010

Inception

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2009

Inglourious Basterds

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Compared to the Best Picture Oscar:

2014 Birdman – one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen, hated it

2013 12 Years a Slave – a worthy winner from Film4

2012 Argo – well done with a great turn from Alan Arkin

2011 The Artist – gimmicky but fun

2010 The King’s Speech – solid

2009 The Hurt Locker – admirably visceral

Compared to the Best Film BAFTA:

2014 Boyhood – a worthy winner for its innovation

2013 12 Years a Slave – proud that Brits & Film4 told this story to America

2012 Argo – with hindsight, Zero Dark Thirty may be the more enduring nominee

2011 The Artist – at least an imaginative choice for winner

2010 The King’s Speech – solid in a very British way

2009 The Hurt Locker – just not my cup of entertainment tea

Best of 2015

 

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The Big Short: Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling

Film:
The Big Short

Grandma
Me & Earl & The Dying Girl
The Hateful Eight
Chappie
Ex-machina
Amy

Male Lead:
Steve Carell – The Big Short

Bryan Cranston – Trumbo
Eddie Redmayne – The Danish Girl
Paul Dano – Love & Mercy
Samuel Jackson – The Hateful Eight
Oscar Isaac – Ex-machina

Female Lead:
Lily Tomlin – Grandma

Saoirse Ronan – Brooklyn
Anne Dorval – Mommy
Alicia Vikander – The Danish Girl
Greta Gerwig – Mistress America

Male Support:
Christian Bale – The Big Short

Ryan Gosling – The Big Short
Mark Ruffalo – Spotlight

Female Support:
Jennifer Jason Lee – The Hateful Eight

Cara Delevingne – Paper Towns
Rooney Mara – Carol
Kate Winslet – Steve Jobs
Julie Walters – Brooklyn

Director:
Adam McKay –The Big Short

Quentin Tarantino – The Hateful Eight
Paul Weitz – Grandma
Xavier Dolan – Mommy
Asif Kapadia – Amy

Writer:
Adam McKay –The Big Short

Quentin Tarantino – The Hateful Eight
Paul Weitz – Grandma
Greta Gerwig & Noah Baumbach – Mistress America

Editing:
Hank Corwin – The Big Short

Film Music:
Ennio Morricone – The Hateful Eight

Single/Song:
Long Strange Golden Road – The Waterboys

Listened to this year:
Where Did You Sleep Last Night – Nirvana

Album:
Modern Blues – The Waterboys

Van Morrison – Duets
Covered – Robert Glasper Trio
The Epic – Kamasi Washington

Gig:
The Waterboys – Roundhouse

The Waterboys – Colosseum, Watford
Van Morrison (No. 3) – Nell’s Jazz & Blues Club
Van & Tom Jones – Blues Fest – Millennium Dome
Marc Almond – Empire Shepherds Bush

Play:
Beautiful – Aldwych

Death of a Salesman – Noel Coward Theatre (Anthony Sher)
Guys & Dolls – The Savoy

Art Exhibition:
Peter Lanyon: Soaring Flight – Courtauld

Barbara Hepworth – Tate Britain
Frank Auerbach – Tate Britain

Book:
Purity – Jonathan Franzen

Read This Year:
The Long Goodbye – Raymond Chandler

A Streetcar Named Desire – Tennessee Williams
To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee
Then Again – Diane Keaton

TV:
Humans

Walking the Nile
House of Cards S3
The Murder Detectives
And Then There Were None

Sport:
All Blacks in Rugby World Cup Final at Twickenham

Event:
Paris climate change agreement

Dearly departed:

  • BB King
  • Warren Mitchell (Alf Garnett)
  • Leonard Nimoy (Spock)
  • Ron Moody (Fagin)
  • George Cole (Arthur Daley)
  • Anita Ekberg (Sylvia, La Dolce Vita)
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Warren Mitchell as Alf Garnett

Best of 2014

Best of 2013

Best of 2012

Best of 2011

Best of 2010

Best of 2009

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