This week I spent a couple of days in Berlin, partly there to kick off a year long training programme with a hand picked group of rising PR rock stars from across our EMEA network, our Future Leaders Academy.
I made the point that starting this year-long journey through creative and digital leadership, innovation etc in Berlin was not an accident of logistics. Here we were at a crucial point of positive change in their careers, our firm, and the PR and wider media and marketing industries. So the backdrop of Europe’s most culturally and creatively relevant city was apt.
I love Berlin. If I could live anywhere outside the UK, and certainly if I was younger and freer of responsibility, it would be Berlin.
I guess I fell in love with it from afar in the 1970s when Bowie moved there and Lou Reed recorded an album dedicated to the city. Bowie’s “Heroes”was the soundtrack to that unrequited love affair of my mid teens.
Even further back, with Cold War spy thrillers like Michael Caine’s ” Funeral in Berlin”, and the nuclear paranoias of the blockade, the city held a twin fascination for me. Dark romance and annihilation dread.
Then there was “Cabaret”, my first X rated movie and still my favourite piece of musical theatre. Whatever your sexual orientation in the 1970s, Lisa Minnelli in heavy mascara, bowler hat, stockings and suspenders, and a jump suited David Bowie with his arm draped round Mick Ronson’s shoulders on TOTP, were the twin images burned into your over stimulated brain.
My first visit was a couple of years after the Wall came down. Actually a lot of it still remained and the deep tissue scars of its partial removal were plainly evident in their pain and ugliness. I bought a rabbit fur hat of an East German soldier selling off his kit at the Brandenburg Gate. He offered me his Kalashnikov. I passed.
During a break in my day yesterday I walked for an hour and a half across the city, from east to west in the warm spring sunshine, on a pilgrimage to find the house Bowie shared with Iggy Pop in during his Berlin exile. The stay that produced the trio of creative projects “Low”, “Heroes” and (less significant in my view) “The Lodger”.
I crossed Potsdamer Platz, referred to in the opening lines of “Where are we now”, the haunting and nostalgic highlight of Bowie’s latest album, now a rather bog standard modern European glass and steel urban development. Down into the Turkish quarter whose citizens Bowie empathised with on several songs. There, amongst the Turkish cafes and next to a tattoo parlour, was 155 Haupstrasse. Not much to see but I photographed it anyway. Evidence.
Why was this important to me?
Why at Christmas was it important to me to drag my thirteen year old son around streets and graveyards in Drogheda, Ireland, where my family hailed from and which I hadn’t visited for decades. Photographing doorways, streets, gravestones.
Evidence. Artefacts. History.
In another life, assuming I was reincarnated with the patience I lack in this one, I would want to be an archeologist/historian.
From my fascination with Bowie’s brief time here (itself a reflection of the post sixties musical world of creative, cultural and sexual experimentation), the significance- laden names (Zoo, Neukolln, Potsdamer Platz, etc), the pre-war artistic and sexual “Cabaret” culture, the wartime and post war fate of the city, the terrible nerve centre of Naziism, the anti-freedom symbolism of the Wall, liberation, reunification, healing, to the current raging creativity and artistic expression. The city is a multi-layered cultural and historical swirl, all that is great and awful about Europe’s contemporary artistic and political history. The essential backdrop for this boy growing up in the Brave New World.
Berlin. Europe’s dark heart and brightest light rolled into one. A rare city whose future is as big as its past.