East Berlin, the capital of East Germany, was separated from West Berlin during the Cold War (1949–1989) by the Berlin Wall. It was ideologically aligned with the Soviet Union, whereas West Berlin was a Western enclave within East Germany. Visiting East Berlin as a West Berliner required permits and crossing through strict border controls.
Bowie’s close proximity to East Berlin played a pivotal role in shaping his artistic vision during this era.
There were many enjoyable things to do in West Berlin, pretty much the same as it is now only the East and West Berlins have once again merged. David, Iggy and Coco made lots of good friends. There were art galleries, great restaurants, great atmospheric bars and coffee houses and incredible themed night clubs you’d never see in any other city. One day we even drove through Checkpoint Charlie to have lunch in East Berlin. We had a great time there. all that great stuff got into the music and lyrics somehow and those experiences changed our lives. It was more than an album. It was an adventure.– Tony Visconti, A New Career In A New Town (1977–1982), April 2017
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