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Thu, 06/06/2013

David Bowie and Berlin

On March, 8th, ten years after his last album, the British pop star David Bowie released his newest album “The Next Year”. The day was choosen wisely: it was his 66th birthday. The songs on the album deal with getting older. Three month before the album was released Bowie had released the top-song of the album “Were Are we Now?”.

In it he reflects about his time when he lived in West Berlin from 1976 until 1978 (Berlin at that time was divided into East- and West-Berlin, with the East belonging to the communist states controled by the Soviet Union and the West, which was democratically oriented). Bowies seven-room apartment was on the first floor of the house at Hauptstrasse 155 in the district of Schöneberg directly above a car shop, which was left of the passage to the courtyard. In the video of “Were Are We Now?” the front of the house can be seen at 00:57. The images of the house, as well as all other images of Berlin are just currently taken, although the b/w images give the impression that they are historic images (which they are not).

David Bowie's time in Berlin was one his most creative (to learn more about West Berlin's subculture of the 70's and 80's read this article by Deutsche Welle's reporter Anna Ilin). Here he produced three album known as the 'Berlin Trilogy' which are “Low”, “Heroes” and “Lodger”. During this time he also produced two albums (“The Idiot”, “Lust for Life”) for his friend the punk-rocker Iggy Pop whom he not only helped to come to grips with himself but also helped to have a big comeback which includes one of his best known songs “The Passenger”. The albums were recorded at one of the world's most famous recording studios the Hansa Studios which are located very close to Potsdamer Platz. During Bowie's time in Berlin the area was a huge wasteland with the studio on its eastern and the Berlin Wall on its northern perimeter. Today the Potsdamer Platz Mall, a small park and a string of newly build houses (between the park and the Hansa Studios) are situated there.

Iggy Pop first lived with Bowie in his apartment but moved to his on place in the rear building because Bowie was tired that Pop always ransacked his fridge without filling it up again. Berliners love to believe that his “The Passenger” is a Berlin song that describes his reflections of riding the public transport system 'S-Bahn' (which, by the way, was then run by the East Germans and not by the West-Berliners) but that is not the case. Although it was recorded in Berlin and maybe it was even written while riding the S-Bahn, Pop got his inspiration from a movie billboard he had seen before coming to Berlin in Los Angeles of Michelangelo Antonioni's movie “The Passenger” (with Jack Nicholson and Maria Schneider) as well as from a poem by The Doors lead singer Jim Morrison. The poem, as all poems in this collection called “The Lords/Notes on Visions” which Morrison self-published in 1969, are nameless. But I found it in the internet and here it is:


A room moves over a landscape, uprooting the mind,

astonishing vision. A gray film melts off the

eyes, and runs down the cheeks. Farewell.


Modern life is a journey by car. The Passengers

change terribly in their reeking seats, or roam

from car to car, subject to unceasing transformation.

Inevitable progress is made toward the beginning

(there is no difference in terminals), as we

slice through cities, whose ripped backsides present

a moving picture of windows, signs, streets,

buildings. Sometimes other vessels, closed

worlds, vacuums, travel along beside to move

ahead or fall utterly behind.


And while we are at it. Here are the lyrics to “The Passenger” and here is the song itself. [reference to the date of an Iggy Pop-concert in 2013 deleted]