Berlin, Living Behind A Wall

Berlin, Living Behind A Wall

Have Bag, Will Travel

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“Nobody has the intention of building a wall.” GDR head of state Walter Ulbricht, East Berlin, June 15th 1961

For me, for everyone I suppose, some places can have a real impact when we visit them. The Berlin Wall was one such place. History hangs in the air, so thick you can almost touch it, almost feel it, almost smell it. Other places that I have visited that have had similar impact for me are Auschwitz Concentration Camp in Poland and Clairière de l’Armistice at Compiegne in Northern France.

Today I walked along a section of the wall, I ran my fingers across its harsh, hostile, concrete surface, I read the conflicting messages of anger and hope that it been scrawled across it, I was stunned by just how grotesquely ugly it was, I remembered all of the things that frightened me about the wall when I was a…

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Even Before the Wall, Berlin’s Zoos Were Already Cold War Rivals

This guest post looks at the Berlin Wall and how it affected another key place of interest that is still a magnet today for tourists world wide: the zoo. Before the Wall we had one of the largest zoos in the world in the Tiergarten, located in the area of Bellevue Palace, Brandenburg Gate and today’s railway station, Zoologische Garten. It was far different with the wall in the way. More here.

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Genre 1989: Heroes by David Bowie

Another song that is worth noting because of its association with the Berlin Wall is one that was produced by a late legendary singer.  David Bowie (1947-2016) was well-known for his various music styles, especially in the areas of rock and pop. His sometimes unusual mixture was as noticeable as his addiction to alcohol and drugs during his early days as a professional singer.  Yet as an old friend and teaching colleague of mine once mentioned, the German version of Ponce de Leon’s fountain of youth can be found in Berlin.  In 1976, Bowie moved to West Berlin, where he reinvented himself and tried new experiments both as a musician as well as outside his field.  While he excelled as an artist, he even became famous for his simplicity as a person. While he escaped the drug culture and the controverses that had haunted him in Los Angeles, Bowie found refuge in Berlin where he could be creative and not stand out. As he later stated in an interview:

For many years Berlin had appealed to me as a sort of sanctuary-like situation. It was one of the few cities where I could move around in virtual anonymity. I was going broke; it was cheap to live. For some reason, Berliners just didn’t care. Well, not about an English rock singer, anyway.

Beginning in 1976, Bowie started producing his first album from the Hansa Studio in West Berlin, in the suburb of Kreuzberg at Köthener Strasse 38. Hansa was known during his time as “Hansa by the Wall,” because of its proximity to the Berlin Wall.  The Wall, combined with his familiarity with arts thanks to visits to the Brücke Museum in Berlin, plus  museums in Geneva (Switzerland), were the main sources of inspiration for producing a form of minimalism in music. The first album entitled “Low” was completed and released in 1977. Later that year, the second album “Heroes” was released, and the third and final installment “Lodger” was completed in 1979. The Berlin Trilogy is known to many in the music world as one of the most well-known of Bowie’s work. A lot of the pieces focused on his life to date and during his time in West Berlin. Yet some like this one were devoted to the people living on the opposite side of the Berlin Wall in East Berlin.

“Heroes” was produced in September 1977 and is part of the second album bearing the same name that was released a month later. The album focused on the division between East and West using Berlin and its infamous wall as its platform focusing on conflict, separation and heartbreak. The song itself talked about two lovers, each living one side of the Wall that had separated them physically but spiritually, they were in love.  The melody and lyrics can be found in this Tribute to the Berlin Wall:

The song became an instant success and even years later the song is regarded as one of the best songs of all time, not only devoted to the division of Germany, but also for David Bowie’s career. Time Magazine considered “Heroes” as one of the top 50 best songs of all time. New Music Express ranked his song as number 5 of all time and the best of all the songs by Bowie.  When Bowie died in 2016, the German government thanked him for helping bring down the Wall, considering him one of their heroes.

A remake of Bowie’s piece was released by the Wallflowers in 1998, commemorating 20 years of its original release. Yet the song was part of the soundtrack Godzilla, still the melody and the lyrics follow the line of Bowie’s. Their version can be seen here: