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Rhythm of Berlin

May 27, 2011

Had Frank Sinatra lived in the German capital, we would probably be singing "Berlin, Berlin" at karaoke nights. Nothing against wonderful New York, but my city doesn't sleep either - for musicians of all genres.

Illustration showing the Brandenburg Gate with the words Scene in Berlin
Berlin delivers when musicians go looking for a museImage: DW

Depeche Mode guitarist and songwriter Martin Gore ironically answered he couldn't really remember the 80s, when asked about his presumable crazy escapades on Ku'damm Boulevard. It was during the press conference in October 2008, when - out of all the places in the world - the band chose Berlin to announce the following "Tour of the Universe."

It must have been fun for Gore to live in the western Charlottenburg district, as the guys keep coming back. And Berlin didn't do so bad at inspiring Gore write a few of the band's monumental songs, recorded on the album "Some Great Reward," at the city's Hansa Tonstudio.

Depeche Mode members are by far not the only musicians to call this city their home and muse. Berlin has inspired music and lyrics and even full soundtracks over the years, and it definitely made a turning point in a few notable punk and rock careers.

Heroes, not only 'for one day'

Depeche Mode at the October 2008 press conference
Gore has a hazy memory of the Berlin yearsImage: Lavinia Pitu

Berlin serving as an urban magnet for artists is not at all a new phenomenon. Twenty years ago, the whole world was watching the crowds at the Brandenburg Gate, the fall of the Wall and the German reunification. So did the Irishmen of U2, who arrived in the city right on the 3rd of October, in search of inspiration. "Achtung Baby," one of the greatest U2 albums was partly produced here.

Just the other day, two decades later, fans could hear the chorus of "One" out of the same Hansa Tonstudio. The guys returned to Berlin, to shoot a new video and re-edit the legendary hit for the 20-year anniversary and a re-release of "Achtung Baby."

When asked how it feels being back again, Bono told a fan in Kreuzberg district," Berlin? I love it. Forever."

A lot of love lyrics have been put on paper in Berlin's cafes and bars. One of David Bowie's best songs, "Heroes," is about two lovers who meet at the Berlin Wall. The whole record "Heroes," which was released in 1977, was produced during Bowie's stay in West Berlin, together with Iggy Pop.

"I can't express the feeling of freedom I had there," Bowie said in an interview on the Berlin years, talking about afternoons at Wannsee and car rides through Eastern Germany. Iggy Pop's debut album "The Idiot" was also recorded at Hansa, in collaboration with Bowie.

It's in the air

The Brandenburg Gate lit up for the 2009 MTV European Music Awards
Many musicians bear a special fondness for BerlinImage: DPA

Ampelmann, a souvenir store in the German capital, sells a marketing CD, titled "Berlin- Soundtrack of the City." But as far as I know, no one has ever thought of putting together songs inspired by Berlin itself - by this crazy concoction, this mixture of past and future, this decadent romanticism.

I can think of Mick Jagger's "Streets of Berlin," Cohen's "First We Take Manhattan" (Then We Take Berlin)," I can also think of Robbie Williams' "Berliner Star" and the Ramones' "Born to Die in Berlin." Even the air of Berlin has been made famous by composer Paul Linke, with his "Berliner Luft" piece, written way back in 1899.

Whether in the air, on the streets, or in the symbol of an old Trabant car, it's magic. They have been dragged into it. It's Berlin, it's one and still never the same.

Author: Lavinia Pitu

Editor: Sean Sinico