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DEATH OF DAVID BOWIE

MUSIC

Berlin pays tribute to dearly departed Bowie

As news of David Bowie's passing reached the German capital on Monday morning, Berliners were quick to pay tribute to one of the city's most famous and universally loved adopted children.

Berlin pays tribute to dearly departed Bowie
David Bowie on stage outside the Reichstag in 1987. Photo: DPA

“Berliners are mourning a musical genius and one of their most famous fellow citizens,” Berlin mayor Michael Müller wrote, adding that the city's connection with Bowie had not just been musical.

“He as an artist belonged to us,” Müller added. “We are proud of that.”

By 9:26am, people had already begun leaving candles and floral tributes outside the Hauptstrasse 155 block of flats in the Schöneberg district, where Bowie lived with Iggy Pop in the late 1970s while recording his “Berlin Trilogy” of albums.

By 3:25pm, the building was besieged with flowers – with one of the bouquets even playing Bowie's music to passers-by.

And the star's passing was front-page news on the online editions of all the capital's newspapers.

“David was the rare artist that truly searched for that 'whatever it is' until the end of his life – he held a torch high so others might see the paths and possibilities in the dark ahead,” Anton Newcombe, lead singer of The Brian Jonestown Massacre and Berlin resident, told The Local.

“He brought great things out in others,” Newcombe added, name checking Iggy Pop and Tony Visconti.

DON'T MISS: David Bowie's Berlin in pictures 

“David provided a foundation to bring some of the most important music of our time – my time – into being.”

Newcombe also pointed to “Heroes”, Bowie's blockbuster collaboration with Brian Eno – which Bowie also sung in German as “Helden” – as his “finest hour”.

Bowie sung it at a legendary concert in front of the Reichstag (parliament building) – then a deserted hulk abandoned for decades because of its proximity to the Berlin Wall – in 1987.

The song, released on the album of the same name in 1977, had become an instant hit with its lyrics referencing the Wall – and the hope that the people might one day overthrow it.

I, I can remember (I remember)
Standing, by the wall (by the wall)
And the guns shot above our heads
(over our heads)
And we kissed, 
as though nothing could fall
(nothing could fall)
And the shame was on the other side
Oh we can beat them, for ever and ever
Then we could be Heroes, 
just for one day

“'Heroes' is one of Bowie's best-known works and became an anthem for our still-divided city and its longing for freedom,” Berlin mayor Müller said of the song.

“With this song, Bowie didn't just set an enduring bar for music, but also expressed irreversibly his connection to our city.”

The German Foreign Ministry went so far as to say that Bowie's song “helped to bring down the Wall”.

The Wall would be a theme Bowie returned to decades later with the release of “Where are we now” in 2013 – in which he sings of the Bösebrücke in northern Berlin, where the first checkpoint was opened in 1989.

The Local will be following the tributes to Bowie from Berlin throughout the day and updating this article – please check back.

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BERLIN WALL

‘Wall of Shame’: How the Berlin Wall went up 60 years ago

In the early hours of Sunday, August 13th, 1961, communist East Germany's authorities began building the Berlin Wall, cutting the city in two and plugging the last remaining gap in the Iron Curtain.

'Wall of Shame': How the Berlin Wall went up 60 years ago
A cyclist passes the Berlin Wall memorial on Bernauer Straße in Berlin. The wall was erected 60 years ago on August 13th, 1961. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Jörg Carstensen

Rumours that the border between East and West Berlin was about to be closed had been swirling for 48 hours.

On Friday, the parliament or People’s Chamber of communist German Democratic Republic (GDR) had given the green light to take any measures necessary to halt the exodus of its population westwards.

READ ALSO: What it was like voting as an American in Germany right before the Berlin Wall fell

Over the preceding 12 years, more than three million citizens had fled the strict regime, opting for the freedom and prosperity offered by West Germany.

News flashes

At 4:01 am on that Sunday, a top-priority AFP flash dated Berlin hit the wire: “The army and Volkspolizei are massing at the edge of the Eastern and Western sectors of Berlin to block passage.”

In a second flash, the story was firmed up. “Berlin’s metropolitan trains have for the past two hours not been going from one sector to the other.”

Then one flash after another fell:
   
– 4:28 am:  “The GDR’s Council of Ministers has decided to put in place at its borders, even at those with the western sector of Berlin, the checks usual at borders of a sovereign state.”

– 4:36 am: “An order from the East German interior ministry forbids the country’s inhabitants to go to East Berlin if they do not work there.”

– 4:50 am: “Inhabitants of East Berlin are forbidden to work in West Berlin, according to a decision by the East Berlin city authorities.”

Barbed wire and guns

In the very early morning, AFP’s correspondent at the scene described the situation on the ground.

“Barbed wire fences and defensive spikes have been put in place overnight to hermetically seal the border between East Berlin and West Berlin.

READ ALSO: What happened during Germany’s ‘catastrophic winter’ of 78/79?

“The road is practically cut off for refugees.

“Most of the crossing points between the two sides of the city have been cut off since sunrise and are heavily guarded by the police patrolling with machine guns on their shoulders.

“Only 13 border crossings remain open between the two Berlins, controlled by numerous reinforced units of armed police.


A sign on the wall next to Brandenburg Gate reads: “The wall is coming down – not in 30, 50 or 100 years.” This photo was taken a year before the wall fell. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Wolfgang Kumm

Dramatic escape

“Germans from East Berlin can no longer go to the West without a special pass, the controls are excessively strict.

“As the net falls over the communist part of the city, a young Berliner from the East manages against all odds to ram with his car the barbed wire separating the two sectors of the city.

“Seeing the young man arriving at high speed in a Volkswagen, the police were too taken off guard to be able to stop the car, which carried the barbed wire placed across the street right to the French sector,” AFP wrote.

‘Death strip”

Little by little, the kilometres of barbed wire will give way to a 43-kilometre-long (27-mile-long) concrete wall cutting the city in two from north to south.

Another outer wall, 112 kilometres (70 miles) long, cuts off the enclave of West Berlin and its two million inhabitants from the GDR.

Constantly upgraded over its 28 years of existence, more than 100 kilometres (60 miles) of the wall is made up of slabs of reinforced concrete, 3.60 metres (12 feet) high, crowned with a cylinder without a grip making it almost impossible to climb.

The remainder is made of metal wire.

Along the eastern side of what is widely called the “wall of shame” stands a “no man’s land”, 300 metres (990 feet) deep in places.


Border soldiers from the DDR look over the wall in May 28th, 1988. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Wolfgang Kumm

At the foot of the wall a “death strip” made up of carefully raked ground to make it possible to spot footprints, is equipped with installations that set off automatic gunfire and mines.

However hermetic this formidable “anti-fascist protection rampart”, as it was officially known, would be, it would not prevent the escape of nearly 5,000 people until it fell on November 9th, 1989. Around 100 fugitives lost their lives trying to cross over.

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