Berlin exhibition tells story of Bowie's 'Heroes' years

Thu May 15, 2014 7:55am EDT
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By Stephen Brown

BERLIN (Reuters) - David Bowie's intensely productive Berlin period - when he made the iconic albums "Heroes" and "Low", launched Iggy Pop's solo career and kicked a drug habit - is the theme of a new show adapted from last year's sold-out exhibition in London.

Arriving in 1976 from Los Angeles, exhausted from his antics as "Ziggy Stardust" and other stage personae, he shed the glam-rock outfits and big hair for a more anonymous life documented at Berlin's Martin Gropius Bau, an extended version of the show that broke box-office records at the Victoria & Albert Museum.

"If people saw him in a bar in Berlin they would just say: 'So what? I play in a band too'. Bowie liked that, there were no screaming fans and he wasn't treated like a superstar," recalls Peter Radszuhn, who worked at Berlin's Hansa Studios where Bowie recorded and is now director of music at Berlin's Radio Eins.

But in the company of the irrepressible Iggy and surrounded by the louche attractions of West Berlin, it was never going to be a monastic existence.

As photos on display show, Bowie was re-living the bohemian pre-war Berlin described by his friend Christopher Isherwood in books that would inspire the musical "Cabaret".

Fascinated by the intense paintings and cinema of German Expressionism, Bertolt Brecht's theater and the city's Cold War landscape, he and his collaborator Brian Eno blended the sounds of Krautrock, electronic and punk for some of Bowie's most-covered tracks, as well as some brooding and obscure ones.

The Berlin era was so influential that Bowie has described the records he made here as "my DNA". By the end of his stay, the chameleon-like artist was moving in a different direction with the pop sounds of the 1979 album "Lodger".

But he again paid homage to the city in his acclaimed 2013 comeback album "The Next Day", produced like the Berlin trilogy by Toni Visconti.   Continued...

A variety of stage costumes worn by musician David Bowie are seen at the "David Bowie is" Exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London March 20, 2013. REUTERS/Neil Hall