Bowie’s dead. Lou Reed’s dead. Iggy Pop’s the eternal survivor.
For three years in the 70s David Bowie lived at Hauptstrasse 155 in West Berlin’s Schöneberg district — joined at times for creative sessions and heroin excess by Lou Reed and Iggy. He produced three solo albums here which transformed the musical landscape. Bowie said of Berlin: “It’s a city that’s so easy to ‘get lost’ in – and to ‘find’ oneself, too.”
My evening doesn’t begin there but at another landmark with a Bowie connection: Zoo Station. The station’s place in pop-culture prominence began with the book, and film “Kinder vom Bahnhof Zoo”, based on the true story of a 14-year-old drug addict and prostitute who spent time there. David Bowie starred and provided the film soundtrack.
Zoo station (the idea of people living in a zoo) also become a metaphor for West Berlin — enclosed by the wall, just like a zoo.
I explain this to N. when I meet her off her train. German, but some years younger; her grasp of her own country’s history is sparse. Luckily I don’t have to quite explain who David Bowie is, but I do need to provide a brief bio of Lou Reed and Iggy.
“I don’t approve of people who cut themselves with glass,” she tells me. “Okay I cut myself once.” She points to a tiny scar on her arm.
“Maybe you and Iggy would connect?” I suggest.
She shrugs, “Probably not.”
We wait around a while. I’m trying to soak in the atmosphere, wondering how it was for the 70s drug addicts who spent time in Zoo Station. Today it’s packed with busy commuters who rush by blindly, free from work, heading to who knows where. I get bumped, almost knocked down standing on the concourse and N. suggest it’s not the best time for soaking atmosphere. We make our way to the Europa Center where in the film Christine and Detlef run through like crazy people and vandalize a ticket booth. Right now it seems like any other modern mall, sauntering tourists dragging bored kids. The most rebellious thing that occurs is when a child screams: “Zoo!” and throws her ice-cream on the floor. Maybe Bowie would approve?
It’s beginning to get dark by the time we reach Bowie’s old apartment in Schöneberg. There’s still a wisp of bohemian air to the area, although the building itself is non-descript. Bowie has style (understatement or over?). Though his fashion missteps were the exception, there’s a great photo of him circa Hunky Dory era wearing trousers that would double easily as sleeping bags. N. always dresses well. Tonight she has on a long faux-fur rimmed coat and slim fit jeans. It’s winter. I believe men look better in winter clothes. I have a black Burberry trench coat which doesn’t quite keep out the wind’s chill, but seems to fits my Bowie pilgrimage, jeans and a white oxford shirt. Leather sneakers finish it off. For some reason they’re my favourite new clothing item at the moment and I vaguely wonder if Bowie would approve of leather sneakers?
We visit S036, the legendary venue in Kreuzberg Bowie and Iggy often frequented. It’s a little early for the place to be really busy, but there’s a German guitar band playing who are actually quite good. I wonder what Bowie did here? Besides snorting coke in the bathroom perhaps? Did he play here? Ever? Or just hang out? I’d like to ask someone but my German’s not good enough, and N.’s too afraid of the too-cool looking barman. I am still no closer to finding Bowie or getting a sense of how he might have lived in Berlin. What he might have done, where he might have gone?
N. and I make our way to a small vegetarian café a few streets away. “I don’t approve of drugs,” she explains. “Or art that’s been created by people using drugs. That’s just me.”
I’m about to launch into a defense of artists using all at their disposal to create something of significance, when I notice there’s a song playing on the tinny radio in the café.
“We can beat them, just for one day
We can be heroes, just for one day
And you, you can be mean
And I, I’ll drink all the time
‘Cause we’re lovers, and that is a fact.”
Maybe I found Bowie in Berlin after all. In truth he’s everywhere. Here on lo-fi as the waiter comes near and asks us: “Can I take your order?”
Shane Filer, Berlin, Germany | July 20, 2016