But Bowie hasn't emigrated just in order to revolutionise pop music - even though he regards German bands such as Kraftwerk or Neu! as the most innovative in the entire world during the mid-1970s. What tempts him there is the Expressionist Berlin of his childhood dreams. Bowie grew up with silent movies such as The Cabinet of Dr Caligari. He was deeply influenced by the aesthetics of Brechtian theatre. In Schöneberg the pop star grows an artist's beard; he goes to the Brücke Museum in Grunewald to study the pictures of his idols Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Erich Heckel and Otto Mueller. It is on their Expressionist motifs that Bowie models the record cover of Heroes and the scenery for his eponymous world tour.
Above all, though, in Berlin Bowie makes himself at home among the stage props of past epochs. For in his new home the post-war era is still a reality. Less than 500 metres from Bowie's flat in Schöneberg is the courthouse where the men who plotted to kill Hitler on 20 July, 1944, were tried. After the war, the same building housed the Allied control council and later the headquarters of Allied air security. Every day, Bowie bicycles past it on his way to the Hansa Studio. The latter is right next to the Wall, by the flattened site of Potsdamer Platz, the pre-war hub of Berlin. His son Zowie attends the British Forces' school. Bowie himself often crosses the Wall at Checkpoint Charlie to visit East Berlin, where he eats at the Ganymede Restaurant next to Brecht's Berliner Ensemble. After the artificial worlds of Hollywood, where Bowie had lived since 1975, Berlin must have been a kind of historical shock therapy. The historian Timothy Garton Ash, who studied in West Berlin at about the same time, once came up with this formula to describe his journeys from England to the Eastern bloc: "I flew British Airways. Departure: 1983. Arrival: 1945." David Bowie must have felt rather like this, too.
"Berlin had to live up to its Isherwood myth," writes Garton Ash about the 1970s in his memoir The File, which documents many of the romantic illusions that surround Bowie in Berlin from the point of view of a sceptical scholar. The parallels are curious: Garton Ash comes to the city in 1978 to write a doctoral dissertation about "Berlin under Hitler"; he lives in a similar art nouveau building and even frequents the same fashionable dives: Exil, a restaurant in the bohemian area of Kreuzberg, the Paris Bar near the Zoo Station, and the drag club Chez Romy Haag. Garton Ash's memoir is haunted by the same types as Bowie's songs: elderly aristocratic Prussian ladies, pale correspondents from Oxford in run-down bedsits - a world straight out of Christopher Isherwood. Before his move to Berlin, Bowie had encountered the author of Goodbye to Berlin in February 1976 in Los Angeles and grilled him about what it had been like at the end of the Weimar Republic with the Nazis on the march. Isherwood's boarding house from Goodbye to Berlin had been in the Nollendorfstrasse, a 10-minute bicycle ride for Bowie. He even finds his Sally Bowles in the transsexual Romy Haag.
- The Plot to Islamise Birmingham’s Schools
- Nigeria, Iraq, Gaza—The Threat is the Same
- Radical Islam and its Invisible Victims
- The Man Who Tried to Teach us all a Lesson
- Globalisation and The Crisis of the Nation State
- The Medium Isn’t Always the Message
- What sort of Europe does Cameron Want?
- Is China outstripping the West at innovation?
- Piketty’s panacea will make inequality worse
- The Moral Strength of Leonard Cohen
- Designer who taught us to keep it simple
- The US Can Still Help Save Syria — and Iraq
- Russian Resurgence has Blindsided Nato
- On Europe, Nothing Less than Treaty Change will do
- Putin has his Useful Idiots on the Left and the Right
- Sarajevo: Where the Century of Terror Began
- Allen Lane’s Pelicans Take Wing Once More
- How Not to Remember the First World War
- Opera is Not Just Our Most Expensive Noise
- Jonathan Miller: One Man, Two Cultures