Today, 9th November, marks 30 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall, a physical and ideological barrier that had divided communities and families for 28 years. I adore Berlin and have visited many times. My first trip was with my then boyfriend (now husband) and on our first day I dragged him for miles, walking in circles trying to find the site of the famous Hansa Studios. For those who don’t know, Hansa was where in 1977, in the shadow of the Wall and its patrolling soldiers, David Bowie recorded his “Heroes” album.
Bowie had moved to Berlin in 1976 to escape from his fame and the drug addiction that had caused him to have no memory of recording his 1975 album Station to Station. In this pre-internet and social media era, Bowie was able to enjoy relative anonymity in Berlin and in his own words, “was going broke; it was cheap to live. For some reason, Berliners just didn’t care. Well, not about an English rock singer, anyway.” He lived with Iggy Pop and they both became fans of the German Krautrock music scene and would be influenced by Kraftwerk, Tangerine Dream and Neu! amongst others. Bowie then paid tribute to them on “Heroes” most famously naming his track V-2 Schneider after Kraftwerk’s Florian Schneider.
[Recording “Heroes” was] one of my last great adventures in making albums. The studio was about 500 yards from the Berlin Wall. Red Guards would look into our control-room window with powerful binoculars – Tony Visconti, “Heroes” Co-Producer.
The song that best describes being in Berlin, directly beside the Wall in view of soldiers is the title track and universally judged to be one of the best songs ever written – “Heroes” Go listen to it now. Seriously, go! Immerse yourself.
“Heroes” was co-written by Bowie and Brian Eno with Eno later commenting how it had always “sounded grand and heroic” and he had had “that very word – heroes – in my mind” even before the lyrics had been written. The most poignant verse contains the most beautiful description of a young couple kissing in front of the Wall which evokes a feeling of hope juxtaposed with the despair of a divided city.
I, I can remember
Standing by the Wall
And the guns shot above our heads
And we kissed, as though nothing could fall
It took another 13 years for the Wall to finally fall. Bowie had performed a gig in June 1987 at the Reichstag in the then West Berlin and many consider his performance of “Heroes” at this gig as a catalyst for the falling of the Wall. He had recorded and released the song in other languages, including the German “Helden” which further endeared him to his German fans. No more so evident than when he died in January 2016 and the German government publically thanked Bowie for “helping bring down the Wall” and added “you are now among Heroes.”
Listen to “Heroes.” Go visit Berlin.
Quotes taken from Wikipedia as the 10,000 word university dissertation I had researched and written on this very subject is currently too safely stored for me to be able to find it… All pictures my own, taken on my first trip to this fabulous city.