Berlin Wall

The Berlin Wall at Köthen­er Straße in 1976, just a few steps away from Hansa Stu­dios.
© Rolf Diet­rich Brech­er via Wiki­me­dia Com­mons, CC BY-SA 2.0

The Berlin Wall was a guard­ed con­crete bar­ri­er that encir­cled West Berlin of the Fed­er­al Repub­lic of Ger­many (FRG) from 1961 to 1989, sep­a­rat­ing it from East Berlin and the Ger­man Demo­c­ra­t­ic Repub­lic (GDR). The Berlin Wall was torn down in the years that fol­lowed, but rem­nants of it con­tin­ue to exist to this day. Three loca­tions to observe the Berlin Wall today include the East Side Gallery, the Topog­ra­phy of Ter­ror, and the Berlin Wall Memo­r­i­al.

When I set­tled there I found the claus­tro­pho­bia of the Wall almost com­fort­ing. I agree that at times it was like liv­ing in a time­less zone. No Eng­lish TV to speak of, except AFN, the Amer­i­can Forces Net­work.

– David Bowie, Vogue, May 2003

The instru­men­tal tracks on “Low” took direct inspi­ra­tion from the divid­ed cities and the Wall that sep­a­rat­ed them.

‘Art Decade’ is West Berlin – a city cut off from its world, art and cul­ture, dying with no hope of ret­ri­bu­tion. ‘Weep­ing Wall’ is about the Berlin Wall – the mis­ery of it. And ‘Sub­ter­raneans’ is about the peo­ple that got caught in East Berlin after the sep­a­ra­tion – hence the faint jazz sax­o­phones rep­re­sent­ing the mem­o­ry of what it was.

– David Bowie, Record Mir­ror, 24 Sep­tem­ber 1977

The song “Heroes” was inspired by the Berlin Wall as well.

I always said it was a cou­ple of lovers by the Wall that prompt­ed the idea for “Heroes”. Actu­al­ly, it was [Bowie pro­duc­er] Tony Vis­con­ti and his girl­friend. Tony was mar­ried at the time, so I couldn’t talk about it. But I can now say that the lovers were Tony and a Ger­man girl [Anto­nia Maass] that he’d met while we were in Berlin. I think pos­si­bly his mar­riage was in the last few months. And it was very touch­ing because I could see that Tony was very much in love with this girl, and it was that rela­tion­ship which sort of moti­vat­ed the song.

David Bowie, 2003

As Vis­con­ti adjust­ed the lev­els, Bowie con­tin­ued to write the lyrics [for “Heroes”], then asked to be left alone with his thoughts and the piano. Vis­con­ti slipped out and walked along Köthen­er­straße to meet his lover. From the Hansa Sound Stu­dio con­trol room, Bowie saw them kiss, by the Wall. Two hours lat­er, the final lyric was record­ed. “Heroes” became Berlin’s rock anthem, a dron­ing, coura­geous wall of sound, fired with deep emo­tion, ham­mered by a clang­ing, metal­lic rhythm – pro­duced in part by Vis­con­ti hit­ting a stu­dio ash­tray. Bowie called “Heroes”, and his three Berlin albums, his DNA. Time and again, it would be named one of pop’s great­est and most orig­i­nal sin­gles.

Rory McLean, 2016

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