One can only speculate about how intensively David Bowie was concerned about the condition of England in the mid-'70s. He had spent most of the two years before his move to Berlin not at home, but in the United States. But he definitely enjoys the double-edged atmosphere that surrounds him, because it kindles his imagination. In Hollywood he is supposed to have lived on milk, four packets of Gitanes a day and quantities of drugs. Now, after the party, he has found himself the perfect precipice.
The party on the precipice - that's Berlin, even in the mid-'70s. But it is no longer a matter of nightclub brawls, strikes and Nazi rallies, but survival in a fortified city in the middle of the Cold War. When Bowie arrives, the tensions have relaxed, thanks to Willy Brandt's treaties with the Eastern bloc, and conditions have improved. West Berliners' freedom to travel has improved, thanks to the Four Power agreement of 1971. For the first time for almost 20 years, Berliners on either side of the Wall can phone one another. The days of blocked transit routes, ultimatums, chicanery and blockades seem to be over. Yet the status of the city is still problematic, and that will not change until reunification in 1990. Do the Western sectors belong to the Federal Republic? Or is Berlin as a whole a self-contained political entity, as the Kremlin has always demanded? In the Cold War these are vital questions, because East and West confront one another at the Wall as nowhere else. And as long as those who try to escape from East Berlin are still shot at, as long as searches of vehicles on the transit routes by the East German police continue to increase, Berlin will never be able to relax.
Bowie may have sensed this and succeeded in transforming the uncertainty of the situation into artistic energy. It is brinkmanship, a familiar Cold War tactic. Whether Bowie craved the feeling of living on the edge is a question that the New Musical Express puts to him in October 1977, just as his album Heroes appears. Baader-Meinhof terrorism was then reaching a climax in that "German autumn". "That's exactly right," Bowie replies. "I find that I have to put myself in those situations to produce any reasonable good writing. I've still got that same thing about when I get to a country or a situation and I have to put myself on a dangerous level, whether emotionally or mentally or physically, and it resolves in things like that: living in Berlin leading what is quite a Spartan life for a person of my means, and in forcing myself to live according to the restrictions of that city."
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