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Tour Takes Visitors Through Berlin's Rock History

DW staff (jp)
March 23, 2006

Berlin's special atmosphere has inspired scores of tortured rock legends from David Bowie to Nick Cave. Now, anyone wanting to follow in their iconic footsteps can take a tour through three decades of rock history.

Lou Reed's album "Berlin" captured the city's angst-ridden ambience

With its aura of Cold War angst and unique status as a divided city, Berlin in the 1980s was an obvious hang-out for many a wild child of rock. Temporarily home to a host of musicians including the Ramones, Depeche Mode and U2, the city also inspired Lou Reed's classic album "Berlin," which has been described as "one of the darkest albums ever made."

Steeped in shabby glamour, Berlin has played an influential role in rock mythology, spawning some of the greatest pop music of the 20th century. Thilo Schmied decided to pay tribute by offering tours through three decades of Berlin pop history for visitors who want to see the places where the bands lived, played and recorded.

The baby blunder

The first stop is the luxury Hotel Adlon on the landmark Unter den Linden avenue.

Michael Jackson und Sohn Prince Michael in Berlin
Jackson's notorious baby-dangling incidentImage: dpa - Bildfunk

"The hotel is part of music history," Schmied said. "It's where Michael Jackson dangled his baby from the balcony and almost dropped it."

Berlin's association with Michael Jackson started out on a far more auspicious note. Originally from the former East Berlin, Schmied heard Jackson play live in 1988 -- albeit from the other side of the Berlin Wall.

"There were 500 or 600 of us," he said. "I was 14. At first you couldn't hear anything. Then at the end they turned the loudspeakers around. 'Man in the Mirror' piped over, and people got restless. They wanted to cross over and started chanting 'The Wall must go.' The border guards and the secret police who'd showed up weren't happy about that at all. Then the situation exploded, there was fighting, and my buddy and I took off."

The punk presence

The next port of call is an unassuming apartment block in the former West Berlin.

"In the late 70s, David Bowie lived there on the second floor, which is now a dentist's office," Schmied said.

David Bowie
David Bowie led a reclusive life in BerlinImage: AP

The Schöneberg apartment was where Bowie composed one of his best-known songs "Heroes," which featured on the album that formed the centerpiece of a Berlin trilogy and became something of an anthem once the Wall fell.

"I think what was so enjoyable when I was living in Berlin in the 1970s was the anonymity I was able to have," Bowie has said. "People didn't bother me at all. It was so easy to be a regular guy and move around the streets."

The Hansa studios

Grammys für U2
U2 also recorded at the Hansa StudiosImage: AP

The tour continues to the legendary Hansa studios on Potsdamer Platz, where "Heroes" was recorded. Other bands who've worked here include Iggy Pop, Depeche Mode and U2, whose 1990 album "Achtung Baby" was produced here by Brian Eno. The studios are arguably Germany's version of Abbey Road.

"Depeche Mode like to use field recording from Berlin -- the sounds in the subway, anything they could find," Schmied said. "Then they worked the sounds into the songs they recorded at Hansa."

Latter-day legends

The tour also takes in some institutions of Berlin club culture, such as the long-standing punk hangout "SO 36" in the western Berlin district of Kreuzberg, and the former site of "Tresor," the fabled techno temple that headed the explosion of electronic dance music in the 1990s.

Local heroes Seeed

Techno is still around, but today's young people favor the reggae-style hip-hop of local heroes such as Seeed, who tend to feature Berlin heavily in their videos.

"I've been in the city for two months and knew most of the spots but this opened up a fully new perspective," said one participant on Schmied's tour.

He constantly revises the itinerary, and is currently developing special tours for specific genres. In a city where the music scene changes so quickly, a tour guide can't afford to miss the bus.

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