If I had thought upon conceiving making a film David Bowie Is Around The World, that the Bowie exhibit which was a hit in London would next travel to my home city the first location of my film, it would have been a dream, but this dream came true. Berlin was also set as a location, as it was a city loved by Bowie, and upon release of his first album in a decade he mentions my favorite spot in Berlin, Potsdamer Platz.
I stood among the people of Berlin watching the team of Germany destroy and humiliate Brazil, and thought it would have been better for them to have existed out of the tournament such as Italy and Spain rather than go down in history as a team that got raped by Germany. In Berlin they ran out of fireworks as they went off each time Germany scored but not even those in Berlin could grasp the seven goals.
So here I am in Berlin with David Bowie exhibit open till August, the World Cup 2014 final Germany with Argentina, and Berlin Fashion Week. No one could have planned this, no one did, it all just came together.
What exactly persuaded Bowie to decamp to the city in 1976? Christopher Isherwood’s “Goodbye to Berlin”? Romy Haag, the glamorous transsexual owner of a legendary night club, and Bowie’s muse and reputedly lover? Or the divided post-war city itself, a refuge for drop-outs, artists, mavericks and draft-dodgers?
As the Bowie exhibit discloses, it was a bit of everything. Most of all, perhaps, the move stemmed from Bowie’s longing for a break, his desire to be somewhere else and do something different after drug addiction, depression and burn-out in Los Angeles (he once told me those years were a blur, and I can relate as I too ended up in Berlin after few years of being constantly stoned out of my mind), it was Berlin that revitalized me. According to Eduard Meyer, the sound engineer at the renowned Hansa Studios near Potsdamer Platz, where Bowie recorded “Heroes”, the second album in his “Berlin Trilogy”, the singer came to Berlin to find peace and get his life in order. In an interview in 1978, Bowie said: “I got into a lot of emotional and spiritual trouble and needed a split.”
As I sit writing this at the cafe of Hyatt Hotel on Marlene Dietrich Platz, I still get a chill up my spine about the Bowie connection with Marlene Dietrich one of the many highlights of the Bowie exhibit is from 1978 revealing a short correspondence between Bowie and Marlene Dietrich about “Just a Gigolo”, an unsuccessful film in which Bowie played a gigolo who works in a brothel run by Dietrich’s Baroness (her final appearance on-screen). According to Heidemann, Bowie and Dietrich never actually met in person, since his scenes were shot in Berlin and hers in Paris.
There is a certain magic in Berlin, and for me to walk along those taking a walking tour in the steps of Bowie while filming them (with Samsung S5 and iPhone) as they tours around Hauptstrasse and Potsdamer Platz, including Hansa Studio and the Bowie/Pop pad, all part of the exhibition’s side programme and should not be missed. The tour highlights the changes made to Berlin since Bowie walked its streets almost 40 years ago and, like the exhibition itself, helps elucidate the city’s effect on Bowie’s life and music. As the V&A’s Mr Roth put it, “Bowie without Berlin doesn’t work.”
Here is Melinda Michael’s view on the exhibit she is in the Bowie film.