It’s a scorching summer day in Berlin with 30 degrees. Coincidentally, it’s been 40 years since the release of Summer in Berlin, the well-known song by German band Alphaville. This was a song that I listened to a lot at the time it was released way back in 1984.

On another summer in Berlin several decades ago, I was casually walking around while Germans were shouting at me, “Acht-null! Acht-null!”. They were celebrating the overwhelming score by German soccer team in the FIFA World Cup.

So I already knew that the Germans were crazy for soccer (a trait they share with most European countries it would seem), as I arrived in the capital of Germany at the same time that the country was hosting European Championship.

Today several large spaces have been shutoff by large barriers, dedicated as “fan zones”. I couldn’t care less about all this, but there is a benefit to be found, since all the people in the city have voluntarily enclosed themselves into small confined areas. That means that I have rest of the city to explore on my own. Excellent.

Neukölln, Berlin All is not lost who wander in Neukölln.

Yesterday I visited a music festival in Kreuzberg, but today my musical odyssey takes me elsewhere.

I walk along the deserted streets in Neukölln. These days the neighborhood is very trendy and gentrified, but during the 1970s the area was in a derelict state. David Bowie lived in Berlin at the time, often being seen walking alone in Neukölln.

Edgar Froese, co-founder of Tangerine Dream, was from Neukölln. Froese’s album “Epsilon in Malaysian Pale” from 1975 was a big influence on Bowie, who said that it was the soundtrack of his life in Berlin.

I don’t know what other songs the 30-year-old Bowie was listening to in his head, as he roamed the streets in solitude. But I sure know what song I am thinking of. Bowie captured the post-apocalyptic mood in the song “Neuköln” (sic) from the album “Heroes”, included in his so called Berlin Trilogy, where a lonely saxophone cuts through the bleak instrumental soundscape.

Hauptstraße, Berlin Bowie immortalized at Hauptstraße 55.

Bowie first stayed at the home of Edgar Froese, but he soon moved to Hauptstraße 155 in Schöneberg, sharing a seven-room apartment with fellow addict Iggy Pop. Even Brian Eno used to live there for a time. Blixa Bargeld from bands Einstürzende Neubauten and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds lived around the corner at Langenscheidtstraße, and met them on occasion.

Today the entrance at number 155 has become a shrine, featuring a bust of Bowie. Strangely, the bust depicts his Ziggy Stardust persona, instead of the Thin White Duke that he used during the Berlin years. At the same street is the Neues Ufer café, an old favorite of Bowie and Iggy. Today the place is packed with Bowie posters and memorabilia.

Half a lifetime later, Bowie nostalgically looked back in the 2011 song “Where Are We Now?“. Unexpectedly released on his 66th birthday, he reflected on his Berlin years, singing about several places in the city. Even the cover design of the album is a pun on his most famous Berlin record “Heroes”.

Had to get the train
From Potsdamer platz
You never knew that
That I could do that
Just walking the dead
— David Bowie, Where Are We Now? (2011)

I continue walking, silently thinking about the new sounds that will come from Berlin in the future.


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