Arriving in 1976 from Los Angeles, exhausted from his antics
as "Ziggy Stardust" and other stage personae, he shed the
glam-rock outfits and big hair for a more anonymous life
documented at Berlin's Martin Gropius Bau, an extended version
of the show that broke box-office records at the Victoria &
"If people saw him in a bar in Berlin they would just say: 'So
what? I play in a band too'. Bowie liked that, there were no
screaming fans and he wasn't treated like a superstar," recalls
Peter Radszuhn, who worked at Berlin's Hansa Studios where Bowie
recorded and is now director of music at Berlin's Radio Eins.
But in the company of the irrepressible Iggy and surrounded by
the louche attractions of West Berlin, it was never going to be
a monastic existence.
As photos on display show, Bowie was re-living the bohemian
pre-war Berlin described by his friend Christopher Isherwood in
books that would inspire the musical "Cabaret".
Fascinated by the intense paintings and cinema of German
Expressionism, Bertolt Brecht's theater and the city's Cold War
landscape, he and his collaborator Brian Eno blended the sounds
of Krautrock, electronic and punk for some of Bowie's
most-covered tracks, as well as some brooding and obscure ones.
The Berlin era was so influential that Bowie has described the
records he made here as "my DNA". By the end of his stay, the
chameleon-like artist was moving in a different direction with
the pop sounds of the 1979 album "Lodger".
But he again paid homage to the city in his acclaimed 2013
comeback album "The Next Day", produced like the Berlin trilogy
by Toni Visconti.
Recycling artwork from the cover of "Heroes" and listing his old
haunts, like the nightclub Dschungel, it provides a soundtrack
for fans who are expected to flock to the city for the new show.
NOTHING COULD FALL
Christine Heidemann, who curated the Berlin extension to the V&A
exhibition - which puts the fashion iconoclast's outrageous
costumes in the context of his musical output and inspirations -
searched the archives of the rock star, his friends, museums and
public records to present new material about his time here.
Alongside photos, sketches and scribbled lyrics to his hits, she
hangs portraits painted by Bowie of Iggy alongside a woodcut and
oil by Expressionist master Erich Heckel. They inspired the odd
angular poses on the cover of "Heroes" and Iggy's "The Idiot",
one of his two raw 1977 hit albums produced by Bowie.
[to top of second column]
Heidemann also discovered correspondence between Bowie and the
ageing German screen idol Marlene Dietrich. They co-starred in the
1978 film "Just a Gigolo", her last film appearance which was panned
by the critics.
She also sifted through archives of the former East German secret
police, the Stasi, for reports related to his 1987 return to Berlin,
when he sang "Heroes" by the Wall - provoking a riot by thousands of
fans on the other side risking arrest to listen.
The Berlin Wall appears in the lyrics of the single "Heroes" which
was recorded near the Gropius Bau at the studio known then as "Hansa
Studio by the Wall" - it was so close that East German sentries
could see right into the windows from their watchtower.
Guiding visitors through recording studios used by a chart-list of
legends - U2, Nina Hagen, Nick Cave and Depeche Mode - Thielo
Schmied of Fritz MusicTours tells the story of how Bowie spotted his
producer Visconti kissing one of the backing singers in the scruffy
backyard beneath the Wall.
In the song, about two lovers, Bowie sings: "I can
remember/Standing, by the wall/And the guns shot above our heads/And
we kissed, as though nothing could fall".
Heidemann, who had Bowie's melancholic Berlin-themed 2013 single
"Where Are We Now?" echoing in her head as she researched the show,
said Berlin has changed a lot since Bowie's stay, and not only
because the Wall came down.
"But people come here with similar expectations - that Berlin is a
place where you can somehow relax or retreat, which is what Bowie
expected when he came here after a turbulent time in Los Angeles,"
she said amid frantic work before the opening on May 20. "It's a
place where you can be very creative."
(Reporting by Stephen Brown; Editing by John Stonestreet)
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