On January 10th, we will once again mourn one of the greatest artists ever. We are confident that no other multi-faced artist left a more significant mark in the city of Berlin as Bowie did. And to celebrate his life, here are a few unknown things you need to know about David Bowie’s Berlin.
David Bowie arrived at a divided city back in the 70s looking for peace of mind. Nowadays, we have the government of Germany congratulating him for his crucial role in uniting Berlin back in the 80s. The Berlin from David Bowie had almost no glamour. The art scene and subcultures were still making in the East and the West, there was a constant unique vibe of vigilance, and the tension was part of the air Berliners breathed.
Berlin’s uncommon ways, the opposite from the excited Los Angeles or New York, was essential for Bowie’s work and life.
Berlin as a refuge for Bowie’s mind
In several interviews, David Bowie stated he was debilitated and burned-out artistically from the excesses he lived through in LA. Today we are very much aware of the symptoms of burn-out. Still, back in 76, the best he could do was to move away from the photo flashes, exuberant parties that meant an endless supply of drugs and, of course, the frantic lifestyle. David Bowie was a known workaholic, so toning down everything and finding a balance between work and life was much needed for him.
It was all too much, and David Bowie wanted to be anonymous for a while. And his search for tranquillity brought him to Berlin. After all, he was a fan of Bertolt Brecht, Weimar era’s arists, expressionism. It made sense in his mind, and we can’t thank him enough for this choice. There are other reasons, and we will reveal them later in this text, so make sure to read the whole thing.
Berlin had Bowie until 1978. It was only two years but a whole trilogy of this Author’s favourite albums. David Bowie did Low, Lodger and the well famous Heroes albums here. And this last one is one of the responsible for the fall of the Berlin Wall, did you know that? After his decision, Bowie found himself a flat in Schöneberg with his friend Iggy Pop, and the rest is history.
Things you need to know about David Bowie and his flat with Iggy Pop
We showed you the address in the blog and on our social media channels countless times. We even have a post showing that you can book a tattoo on Bowie’s former address!
The address is Hauptstraße 155, and the neighbourhood is Schöneberg. It is a discreet yellow building that now is easier to spot due to the constant candles in his memories and the plaque Berlin’s Government added to the front of the building to celebrate his legacy.
Bowie shared a flat with no one other than Iggy Pop for a big chunk of his Berlin time. And this isn’t news to anyone, but did you know that Bowie allegedly kicked Iggy Pop out for stealing food from the fridge? At least is what we’re heard on several occasions. The only concrete info is that, after some time, the frontman of the Stooges moved to another smaller flat alone. The flat was in the same building but the “hinterhaus”, or the back building.
Berlin’s building structures are almost always the same for you who have no idea what we are talking about. The front building, the back building and occasionally, right and left wings.
Read More: Where did Bowie live in Berlin?
Forgotten things you need to know about David Bowie’s reasons to move to Berlin and Romy Haag
Even though Berlin was a place for peace and inspiration for Bowie’s mind, he didn’t isolate himself. He lived with Iggy Pop and had an ever-growing network of friends and collaborators worldwide. Those people were a mix of international people who came to the city for a few days or months and people already living in Berlin.
Romy Haag, a diva from the Netherlands, was one of the reasons why moving to Berlin was so interesting. They had a romance back in 1976, and subsequently, Bowie moved here.
Who was Romy?
Romy Haag is a Dutch Dancer and Actress and overall icon and source of inspiration until today to Berlin’s art scene and much more. She was born Edouard Frans Verba, and when she was only 13, Romy Haag and her family joined the circus. Romy started her career at the renowned Circus Strassburger as a children’s clown. At age 16, she moved to Paris with the trapeze artists from the circus and debuted at the Parisian nightclub Alcazar as a cabaret dancer. Here in Berlin, she opened the famous Chez Romy Haag, her cabaret. Chez Romy was one of Bowie’s spots used to hang out a lot. This place was also located in Schöneberg.
Since she didn’t like the cabarets of old West Berlin, she opened “Chez Romy Haag” at the age of 26. It was the place for the LGBTQ+ scene in Berlin back in the 70s and 80s. Unlike other nightclubs, this one was not elitist and completely overpriced. With an entrance fee of 5 Marks, you could spend the whole night there and see a constantly changing show.
The place was magically filled with all colours, gender and more. The audience consisted mainly of gays, lesbians, queers, prostitutes, and all people responsible for the magic that was Chez Romy Haag attracted the rich and famous, who were responsible for keeping the club afloat financially. Bowie was one of those we can call a regular, together with Udo Lindenberg, Tina Turner, Grace Jones, Freddie Mercury, Mick Jagger, Lou Reed and many others.
The romance between Bowie and Romy was key for his choice of finding his place in Berlin, and it fit like a glove due to all the other aspects of Berlin and what it could mean for him personally and artistically.
The discos, the bars, cabarets and cafes of West Berlin
As expected from a divided city under peak stress between USA and USSR, the nightlife and bars options weren’t as they are today. West Berlin was very limited in the 70s.
It is pretty known that one of Bowie’s favourite spots was a queer cafe just a few doors down from his building in Schöneberg. The name was “Anderes Ufer”, but now it is called “Neues Ufer”. The place is filled with Bowie’s photos all over and still has a kitsch vibe. And yes, you can go inside, sit at the table and order something.
For dancing, his choice was a disco called Dschungel, which we tell you more about it in this post. The place doesn’t exist anymore, but we shared where it was on the post.
Bowie was often spotted in places in Kreuzberg, such as Exil, a restaurant owned by Oswald Wiener and probably around SO36 and the bar in front, which is now Franken Bar. And we say “probably” because SO36 was often the choice of Iggy Pop, and they were friends and roommates, right? And we know for sure that the address that now we have Franken Bar was always some bar. Different names, different owners, but always a kneipe or a bar.
As already mentioned, he was often at Chez Romy Haag (of course!) and the famous Paris Bar. Paris Bar is still open, and you can stop by for a coffee or a bite when you’re around Kantstrasse. But if you want to know Bowie’s favourite spot ever, rumour has it that it was the ‘Brücke-Museum’.
At the beginning of this post, when we were enumerating why David Bowie chose Berlin as his home away from home, we mentioned his love for the art movement called Expressionism. Bowie had considerable interest and stupendous admiration for the expressionist paintings of Erich Heckel and Ernst Ludwig Kirchner. And both artists were on display in this museum.
The Berlin Trilogy, Hansa Studios and how Berlin influenced David Bowie
The place we know today was Hansa Studios used to have a different name: The Meistersaal in Kreuzberg. And it is a place used for music and arts since way before Bowie did his Berlin Trilogy there.
This gorgeous venue, which stands a few meters from Potsdamer Platz at Köthener Straße 38, served the creative community of Berlin since around the 20s. Back in the days, it was more than just a place for music; readings of poems and satires were held on the site, there was a gallery for art and much more. There are recordings of Karl Kraus, an Austrian satirist, giving lectures within Hansa’s walls.
Even during Berlin’s darkest period, WWII, the Nazi Party held balls, cabarets, parties and concerts and more in this address that now is used only for fantastic music.
Only around the beginning of the 60s that this space was used for recording music. It started back in 61 with Ariola and from 1976 onwards, to what we know today: Hansa Tonstudios.
Artists and bands that also shared Bowie’s love for the city like Nick Cave, Depeche Mode, Nina Hagen and others are on the list of famous people that recorded memorable albums at Hansa Studios.
The Berlin Trilogy is called that not only for being recorded inside Hansa Studios but also because of how the city inspired David Bowie artistically. The location of the studios plays a role in the lyrics from Heroes; the gloomy mood of a divided city made its way to those three albums. Songs like Neukoln captures a lot of how it was to live in a walled city back in the 70s.
Read More: In Neukölln, Bowie Explores West Berlin
Berlin had all that David Bowie longed for: the city was away from the over-consuming and non-stop drug abuse he wanted to escape. And that helped him forge new musical paths and gave him the much-needed incentive to pursue new forms of art.
All that plus the avant-garde pioneers of electronic music like Brian Eno, Neu!, Kraftwerk and Can. Bowie even made some music with Brian Eno as his collaborator.
David Bowie’s last show in Berlin
Back in 2003, the city of Berlin had the pleasure of seeing Bowie perform. His last concert in the city happened at Max-Schmeling-Halle, near Mauerpark. Coincidence since he helped the fall of the wall? I’ll leave this question open for you to answer.
The show was part of the Reality Tour and happened in November. Bowie was just 56 years old, and since his career was going great, almost nobody thought that 2003 would be the last year for having an opportunity to see David Bowie in Berlin. After a few health issues in 2004/2005, he basically left the stages. Bowie didn’t do shows, albums, or anything significant for his last 10ish years with us. In 2013 we had the album Where Are We Now? and its video clip filmed in Berlin.
And in 2016, we had his last album and last breath, with only two days between one and the other. Black Star was released on January 8th, his birthday, and on January 10th, he went back to Mars to live with the spiders from there as Ziggy.
The vast David Bowie exhibition in Berlin
I still remember that cold morning when Felipe and I decided that we needed to check out David Bowie’s expo happening at Martin-Gropius-Bau. The expo was travelling around the world, but once it reached Berlin, thanks to the mark Berlin left on him, they added a new section containing several items about his life here.
Besides the costumes, photos and much more things about Bowie’s life and career, the Berlin exhibition had notes, photos, objects related to the recording of the Berlin Trilogy. And also, you could see his apartment’s keys on display there. It was truly unique!
Victoria Broackes, the woman responsible for curating this exhibition, confirmed that Bowie had the happiest time of his life in Berlin. According to Victoria in a 2014 interview, Bowie overcame his drug addiction and found himself artistically again. “Here he succeeded in banishing his demons“, were her words.
The Vigil on January 10th of 2016 at David Bowie’s apartment in Berlin
On January 10th of 2016, David Bowie left us. For huge fans like me, it still hurts. I lost count of how many times alcohol got the best of me, and I cried over his death and how I never had a chance to see him live. It is crazy to me because I never understood how the death of a famous person could affect the daily lives of ordinary folks until David Bowie’s passing. The world felt emptier. And I still feel this emptiness. Do you?
And like me, a lot of people felt his death straight in the heart. Hundreds of fans rushed to Haupstrasse 155, his home in Schöneberg, to leave flowers, candles, photos, notes, poems. We went there, of course. And I still remember hearing Bowie’s music playing on the streets as soon as you left the U-Bahn station. It was all coming from his former building. People were singing; people were crying; we were all very sad. Berlin has lost one of its Heroes.
Nowadays, you can see the memory plaque on the building’s walls. And until today, years later, I never passed in front without spotting at least one flower or candle in Bowie’s memory.
Above you can see a short video we did on January 10th of 2016.
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