In order to give Berliners a place to come together and mourn Bowie’s death, Hansa Studios opened their doors to the public. The recording studio, where Bowie recorded most of his Berlin Trilogy albums (Low, Lodgers, and Heroes), sits on a quiet side street near Potsdamer Platz. And it was in the beautifully ornate, grand hall Meistersaal, where Bowie preferred to work alongside his producer, Tony Visconti.
It’s in this same hall that fans of all ages filed inside and looked on as a slideshow featuring photos of Bowie flashed on a big screen above the stage, as tracks from his latest album Blackstar played in a loop. Some fans smiled at the throwback pictures of Bowie, and loud cheers went up for a photo of David Bowie and Freddie Mercury together.
With faces frozen in grief, other fans brought flowers and pushed to the front of the hall to lay bouquets on the stage, where a single photo of a smiling Bowie and a black ribbon stood. One man sat meditating on the slideshow photos, chin in his hand, visibly fighting back tears.
“In relation to the wall here, [Bowie] wrote a song called 'Weeping Wall,' and today we have a weeping hall because everybody’s crying. Me too,” said Eduard Meyer, Bowie’s sound engineer at Hansa, who worked with him on Low and the other Trilogy albums. “If you cannot cry, it’s bad. We are human beings.”
Bruce Springsteen Pays Tribute to David Bowie With 'Rebel Rebel' Cover at Tour Opener
Fans came with guitars strapped to their backs and treble clefs tattooed on their hands. Men showed up in skintight leather pants, eye makeup, and colored hair. A German fan, who recounted his memories of seeing The Labyrinth the first time, limped up to the microphone with a painted black star covering most of his face.
The organizers had an open mic on stage for anyone who wanted pay tribute. Though the murmurs in the crowd were mostly in Brit-accented English and German, one woman came all the way from Portugal to sing an a cappella version of “Space Oddity” accompanied by a few members of the crowd and her kazoo. She repeated before and after her solo how much she appreciated Bowie’s sense of humor.
Meyer agrees. “[After he died] I re-read my emails and I’d wrote him that I was invited to the David Bowie Retrospective exhibition when it was here in Berlin [in 2014]. They were featuring five pictures of my collection as part of the exhibition. He wrote to me: ‘You can go if you think it’s worth it (LOL).’ He was laughing at himself, you see.”
Though Bowie called other cities home, he had a special fondness for Berlin, where he lived from 1976 to 1978 during what would be some of his most productive years. So in honor of one of the city’s most famous former expats, Berliners rebelliously defaced a street sign to say David-Bowie-Str.
What's Your Favorite Classic David Bowie Album?
Bowie seemed to embody the spirit of Berliners both now and then. It’s a city of bold and colorful creatives, artists and misfits.
“He was a milestone for the city, which in those days was split in two characters: East and West,” said Meyer. “I think the situation he had here in Berlin, he had never seen something like this before. He was very much frustrated because he could never go everywhere he wanted because there was a wall, but he [got a visa to make] trips to East Berlin with Iggy Pop.”
Though the Berlin Bowie lived in was a divided one in the 1970s, it’s still a city where no one will blink at how you’ve decided to present yourself. It’s a city that will accept almost anyone, especially artists, and hungrily consume the art that its inhabitants put out.
“With his concert in front of the Reichstag, there was something happening that touched him very much in his deepest feelings,” said Meyer. “There were people on the other side of the wall wanting to listen to his music and wanting to sing along with his songs. They knew the songs because they had gotten them somewhere, and soldiers and policemen [came] and were driving them away.”
When walking the streets of Berlin, especially on an early weekend morning, it’s hard to miss the fact that one-third of the people walking home on the streets look as if they’re channeling David Bowie -- imbued with hints of androgyny, unbound creative energy and a love of music, and dancing the night away to it.
“I think the people here in Berlin, they feel the same as me -- that he prepared [us for] the united Germany,” said Meyer. “I think that’s the main point, aside from the music of course. [His music is] why they adore him, but his humanity is the most important thing with this man.”