For the past few days the world has been in mourning. David Bowie has died. And like the rest of the world, Berlin is laying claim to its adopted son.
Bowie lived in Berlin in the 1970s, departing LA and Switzerland for something altogether more hedonistic. He was flatmates with Iggy Pop (oh, to be a fly on that WG wall) in swinging Schöneberg at Hauptstraße 155. There are stories of the two of them shutting down this club, throwing down beers at that Kneipe (bar) and recording at a legendary studio. But in ever-changing Berlin most of these locations have been transformed into hotels, sex clubs and – perhaps most bizarrely – a dentist office.
Bowie is not the first eccentric rock star to feel a sense a heimat with Berlin. The city has long emitted a pull for creative types, both home-grown and foreign. Here is a non-exhaustive list of foreign celebrities who’ve called Berlin home.
U2 – Another international rock group to record a seminal album in Berlin, U2 created Achtung Baby at Hansa Studios in October 1990. The nebulous origin story of their name has been linked to this period and the U2 UBahn line, although other stories claim it is due to the U2 spy plane, immigration forms or just a play on words. Interestingly, while the city was busy re-connecting, the band found its time in the city filled with discord. They eventually finished the album – one of their most successful – in Dublin.
Peaches – I remember the first time I heard the “Teaches of Peaches”. Wildly provocative, no limit pop ignited my mind and had me listening under the covers so my college roommate didn’t hear. Since then she has only become more fascinating with her gender-bending politics and shocking live shows. People who say “Berlin is over” have obviously not met Peaches as she continues to push boundaries in the city where anything goes.
Christopher Isherwood – The road to risque had been paved before performers like Peaches arrived. English writer Christopher Isherwood moved to Berlin in the 1920s where he was able to experiment with taboo subjects like homosexuality and communism. While here, he wrote The Berlin Stories which inspired the musical Cabaret.
Rufus Wainright – Another personal favorite, I’ve always loved Wainwright’s dreamy, story-telling lyrics and was intrigued by insider song titles like “Tiergarten” and “San Soussi”. He had also found a home for a time in Berlin. He credited the city with influencing his album Release the Stars. Wainwright declared, “Basically, a huge wave of German Romanticism descended on the recording process, and almost drowned me.”
David Chipperfield – This British architect has been honored with every award imaginable and chooses to call Berlin home – Museuminsel to be exact. He was responsible for the reconstruction of the Neues Museum and Neue Nationalgalerie. One of his latest project, the James Simon Gallery, will serve as the entrance for Museum Island. His headquarters in Berlin has a staff of ninety and a personal residence.
Dan Savage – Though this sex advice columnist originally hails from Chicago, he has shared my hometown of Seattle since before I knew about the birds and the bees. He also spent a formative year in West Berlin in the turbulent time of 1988 to 1990. Clearly, he got to know the German people quite well. From an interview with the Exberliner,
I love German men. I like cold people – I know that sounds horrible – but I like a little more distance. The instant intimacy of Americans – the ability to bump into someone at an airport and two hours later at the airport bar before your flight being best of friends, exchanging phone numbers and making plans to see each other again – is something I’ve never been able to do.
This is an uneven who’s who of celebrities that have lived in Berlin, but a partial answer to “Why do people move to Berlin?”. The city holds something special, almost intangible, that works as a conductor for creativity. We are not the first, or the last, to feel its pull.
Do you have someone to add? Leave a comment below.