Espiner's Berlin : David Bowie: Where are you now?

As David Bowie releases his first record in a decade, all eyes seem to be on his time spent in this city. Mark Espiner tries to separate fact from fiction in the Bowie Berlin myth.

Um die Zeit von Bowie in Berlin ranken sich viele Mythen.
Um die Zeit von Bowie in Berlin ranken sich viele Mythen.Foto: dpa

Bowiemania has well and truly gripped the rockstar’s three big cities. In NYC the subway is awash with a publicity campaign for his new album, The Next Day. In London, where David Jones was born in Brixton and Ziggy Stardust on Heddon Street, tickets for an exhibtion about him and his style at the V and A are selling at a record breaking rate - 26,000 advance sales in a recent count. Meanwhile, global media has been focusing on Berlin, his sometime safe European home, and the myth of Bowie’s Berlin days has been gaining momentum with everyone from Mitte designer Claudia Skoda to the daughters of his old landlady being asked for an opinion.

When Berlin was calling me, the Bowie myth was, of course, along with currywurst, part of the Hauptstadt’s allure. Ziggy finding his way back to earth through Iggy. Heroes and the wall. The lodger in Schöneberg. Kraftwerk, Krautrock. Highs and lows with Eno in the Hansa studios, and a lust for life with Jimmy Osterberg. I didn’t come to live in Berlin to immitate Bowie. I wasn’t, as he was, looking for the “most arduous city”. The wall wasn’t there like a womb for me, as he described it, but I did relate to his expression that there was a tension and reality to Berlin that made it an exciting place to explore. 

And Bowie was definitely part of the shadows that make up the city for me, along with Brecht and Dietrich, Lottie Lenya and Fritz Lang, Murnau and Marx, Max Rheinhardt and the Third Reich. The extraordinary and the evil; the decadent and the damned. Sometimes you do feel like you’re walking the dead here.

Thin White Duke: David Bowie
David Bowie 1976. Der britische Sänger lebte von 1976 bis 1978 in einer großen Altbauwohnung in Schöneberg.Alle Bilder anzeigen
1 von 8Foto: AFP
19.05.2014 12:08David Bowie 1976. Der britische Sänger lebte von 1976 bis 1978 in einer großen Altbauwohnung in Schöneberg.

Since I’ve been in Berlin I haven’t ever consciously paid homage to Bowie, like I have in London with pilgrimage to the Ziggy Stardust phone box. Actually, that’s not true. I have stopped outside Hauptstraße 155 and toyed with the idea of knocking on the now owner’s door to poke inside. I’ve peered through the windows of the Ganymed restaurant and imagined Iggy and Bowie there smoking. And when I cycle past the library on Potsdamer Straße and imagine Wim Wenders’ angels, I think of David Bowie too on his bike on the way to Hansa Studios before Staatsbibliothek had even opened. On Bernauer Straße or Garten Straße, and while its still there on Mühlenstraße, I can’t stop the words “I remember standing by the wall... and we kissed as though nothing could fall” popping into my head.

But while the Bowie myth has him entrenched in the city between 1976-1979, living a life of anonymity with the Turkish community in West Berlin, he was really only here for a few months. In between frantic touring and promoting his albums, he dashed between Switzerland, Paris and New York, with scattered fragments in Berlin finding time to take his young son to the zoo in Charlottenburg.

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