Neukölln is a borough of Berlin, known for its diverse culture and vibrant atmosphere. It had a gritty reputation in the 1970s, marked by social challenges and urban decay.
The locale served as inspiration for Bowie’s instrumental composition “Neuköln” (misspelled with just one ‘L’), a collaborative effort with Brian Eno featured on the album “Heroes”. Some have interpreted the music as capturing the sense of displacement experienced by the Turkish immigrant community in the area.
Berlin is a city made up of bars for sad disillusioned people to get drunk in. One never knows how long it is going to remain there. One fancies that it is going very fast. That’s one of the reasons, sure, why I was attracted to the city. It’s a feeling that I really tried to capture in the paintings, while I was there, of the Turks that live in the city. There’s a track on the album called ‘Neuköln’, and that’s the area of Berlin where the Turks are shackled in bad conditions.
They’re very much an isolated community. It’s very sad. Very very sad. And that kind of reality obviously contributed to the mood on both Low and “Heroes”.
I mean, having encountered an experience like that it’s hard to sing ‘Let’s all think of peace and love…’ Because that’s exactly where you should arrive after seeing something like that. You arrive at a sense of compassion.– David Bowie, Melody Maker, 29 October 1977
The song “Yassassin”, which appeared on the 1979 album “Lodger,” drew inspiration from the Turkish workers Bowie had encountered in Neukölln. He adopted the title “yassassin”, a phrase signifying “long life”, after stumbling upon it scribbled on a neighborhood wall.