During part of the three years I lived in Berlin, I worked for a travel magazine, which gave me good reason to write about all my favorite aspects of the city, particularly those related to music. When I took over the reins of the magazine while the managing editor was on maternity leave, I even made an entire issue devoted to music.
Before Bowie even passed, I had spent much of my time exploring places related to him. I spent a rainy afternoon reading and drinking red wine at Neues Üfer, the bar down the block from his and Iggy Pop’s former apartment. On another soggy day, I dragged a very patient friend across town through muddy parks to visit the Brücke Museum, only to discover that its regular collection (the one that had inspired the “Heroes” album cover) was off exhibit. And I took the Hansa Studios tour so many times that they eventually told me I didn’t have to pay anymore. The tour guide would sometimes turn to me and ask, “Did I miss anything?”
Bowie plays a bit of a role in the book (and movie) Zoo Station: The Story of Christiane F. (Wir Kinder vom Bahnhof Zoo), and it’s quite likely he and the author often crossed paths as he walked to Hansa Studios to record his Berlin trilogy of albums and she worked on Kurfürstenstraße.
If you happen to find yourself in Berlin (and I sincerely hope you do one day), you can walk in Bowie’s footsteps and visit these locations that still remain from his time in the City Different. (That’s the nickname I gave it. I’m trying to make it stick. Help me out.)
Note that links within the article below point offsite to WhereTraveler.com’s venue listings, while links in the map (see bottom of post; you can also suggest other Bowie-centric Berlin venues below the map) point to official venue websites; the map includes locations I’ve discovered since writing the original article. For more about Bowie and Berlin, visit the Journey Reads Germany Books page. More info about Bowie’s Berlin years can be found on Exberliner.
(The article below originally appeared in a 2017 issue of Where Traveler.)
Good-bye, David Bowie. You are now among #Heroes. Thank you for helping to bring down the #wall. https://t.co/soaOUWiyVl #RIPDavidBowie
— GermanForeignOffice (@GermanyDiplo) January 11, 2016
Even though he spent less than three years in Berlin, David Bowie is so intrinsically tied to the city that, on the day of his death, he was thanked via Twitter by Germany for “helping to bring down the #wall.” And when David Bowie Is…, the exhibition of more than 300 Bowie artifacts, toured the world, Berlin was — naturally — one of the few stops. The music giant’s legacy lives on from Charlottenburg to Schöneberg, and several bergs in between.
Diehard fans looking to pay homage should start the tribute tour at Hauptstr. 155, the nondescript building where Bowie and friend/artistic collaborator Iggy Pop lived during their Berlin residency, from 1976-1978. Although you can’t go inside, you can peek in the foyer, which also has a cameo in the 2013 video for “Where Are We Now?” (see below), itself an homage to Bowie’s adopted hometown. Days after his his death, thousands of Berliners signed a petition to change the name of the street to David-Bowie-Straße, putting up a provisional sign right next to the singer’s former building.
Next door to Bowie’s former abode lies Neues Üfer, where the roommates would habitually breakfast in the morning and tipple in the evening, and where you can still stop by to tip your hat to the image of Bowie’s alter ego, the Thin White Duke. Other favorite haunts of the duo are, alas, no longer, such as the bohemian Café Exil, which Bowie and Pop treated much like their second living room and which has been reincarnated into upscale eatery Horvath. And although Café Wien, which played the role of the Eden Bar in the Bowie film Just a Gigolo, has also vanished, you can still visit the space, which has transformed into Apple’s flagship store on the Ku’damm.
Bowie once described Berlin as “the greatest cultural extravaganza that one could imagine,” and he took great pleasure in the city’s wealth of arts and history, most notably in his admiration for the artists of the Brücke Museum. There, he drew inspiration for the album cover to the made-in-Berlin “Heroes”, although opinions vary as to which of the artworks — including Erich Heckel’s Roquairol and Walter Gramatté’s self-portrait — was the greatest inspiration. Because the musical collaboration between the two friends was so intertwined, the works of die Brücke movement similarly influenced the cover of Pop’s debut solo album, The Idiot, also released in 1977. Although the museum, located outside the city center in the leafy enclave of Zehlendorf, still stands, the works rotate frequently, so only serendipity can assure that you catch one of Bowie’s favorites.
To Bowie — and, by extension, Pop — Berlin was as much an alcohol-drenched playground as it was cultural idyll, and he seemed to have a favorite watering hole in nearly every Kiez (neighborhood). While Schöneberg and Kreuzberg were home to the majority of his haunts, when he and Pop wanted to revel in style, they often headed west to Charlottenburg’s Paris Bar, the site of Pop’s infamous Rolling Stone interview that ended with his rolling about in the snow. When they wanted to catch up on the latest Krautrock and new-wave acts, their venue of choice was SO36, often cited as a rival of the now-defunct CBGB and to this day an influential institution for breaking new bands.
When not creating art or finding inspiration in the city’s many dens of iniquity, Bowie could most likely be found at Hansa, the recording studio where the three albums of his unofficial “Berlin trilogy” were produced. Visitors can tour the facility and even peer out the same window that Bowie sat as he penned “Heroes.” (Book through Berlin Music Tours, which also offers a citywide Bowie-themed tour.)
Even well after moving away from the German capital, Bowie continued to pay homage to the city. The 2013 release “Where Are We Now?” name-checks Berlin landmarks past and present, from KaDeWe to the long-defunct Dschungel nightclub, while the song’s video showcases further renowned sites. Memories of the late legend echo in most every corner of the city, which, as long as it stands, will continue to pay tribute to one of its most beloved adopted sons.