David Bowie in Berlin

David Bowie’s Berlin period became a myth of this city: In 1976, the Thin White Duke moved together with Iggy Pop in an apartment in Schöneberg. During the following months, Bowie recorded three of his most important albums here: the “Berlin Triology”, which also includes his maybe most beautiful song, “Heroes”. But David Bowie not only played music in Berlin. He and Iggy Pop also enjoyed the culture and the night life of the city – meaning: doing all kinds of drugs and having all kind of sex.

Tobias Rüther, editor at “Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung”, has written an amazing book about Bowie’s Berlin period. In “Helden”, Rüther not tells all the anecdotes and biographical stories, he also analyzes how the culture of Berlin influenced David Bowie’s music. More about that in an interview with Tobias Rüther after the jump.

In the end of the 1970ies, David Bowie was one of world’s most famous pop stars, and naturally, he lived in L. A. Why did he wanted to go away from there, and why did he choose Berlin?

Bowie wanted to conquer the U. S., that was his plan, when he started making music. When he arrived there at 1974 or so, it was a huge success for him, his tours war bombastic. If you listen to his album „Young Americans“ you can really feel how excited he was about this new world. But at some point, he must have gotten really lonely, too.

At least that is how he described it in several interviews. He speaks of some kind of “art-homesickness” for Europe, which might got worse by listening to the German pop music of that time. Bowie and Iggy Pop would drive around in L. A. with their car listening to Kraftwerk. Or to „Neu!“ from Düsseldorf, maybe the most important German band of all time. Both Kraftwerk and Neu! had nothing to do with American and British rock music, and that seems to have appealed to Bowie.

Additionally, he met writer Christopher Isherwood, the author of „Goodbye in Berlin“, in spring 1976. Isherwood used to live in Berlin in the 1920s, and he wrote that book about his time there, which was later turned into the movie „Caberet“. Bowie was very enthusiastic about it – that was a place where he wanted to go as well.

In my opinion, his decision to move to Berlin was a mixture of nostalgia (because of the roaring 20s) and his wish to embrace the future in the present. That means: he wanted to get in touch with the most revolutionary and innovative pop music that was made during that time – which was, in fact, music from Germany. Another reason was that he wanted to get away from all the drugs he was taking. And he was pretty messed up because of that!

What is your favorite story about Bowie’s time in Berlin?

There are quite a few. For instance: at one point, he panically threw himself under the mixer in the Hansa-Studio, because he was so afraid of the border guards from the eastern side (the studio was right next to the wall).

It is also funny that he used to go to the Brücke Museum all the time in order to look at the expressionistic paintings. That makes him sympathetic in my point of view. He wanted to learn, he was tired of his rock star lifestyle, as he had somehow realized that this was not all that there is to it. Instead, he wanted to be an artist with an mustache and everything else that belonged to it. That’s why he once again started to paint while being in Berlin.

To me, the funniest thing is still that he would go by bus all the time. Bowie and the Berlin bus drivers – I wish I could have seen that!

How did Berlin change David Bowie?

You just need to look at the pictures taken before and after his Berlin period. Before he came here, he was a fragile, thin, pale guy, that you wanted to give a cup a soup. He looked really scary. Additionally, he started talking confused things in interviews. He talked about UFOs, he stated that the British need a new „Führer“ – these were all bizarre political ideas that he was not able to reflect thoroughly.

When he finally moved to Berlin, that all changed. Suddenly, he looked healthy and relaxed again. The colors of his faced reappeared. You just see that he is all good.

Especially he enjoyed that the people of Berlin did not care about him, that he was able to walk around in the city without being stared at. And by being surrounded by German history, as you always are in Berlin, he got also cured of his Führer fantasies.

Why did Bowie move away from Berlin?
The experiment of doing art music with Brian Eno was finished successfully. That was one thing. And then he had a new endeavor: Playing theatre. He got the offer to play the main part in “Elephant Man”, and therefore he had to go to the U.S.

I think, he had found what he was looking for in Berlin: quietness, inspiration and new ideas. Bowie just moved on after that, following new ideas for his career.

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<a href="https://www.iheartberlin.de/author/jens/" target="_self">Jens</a>