Just for one day…

Friday 23 June 2017

Quick breakfast in our apartment… going back to an old theme – breakfast tacos with scrambled eggs and avocado.

After breakfast, we headed for one of the things I’m looking forward to most in Berlin, a tour of the Hansa recording studios where David Bowie recorded Heroes.

We took a train to Potsdamer Platz metro station, with just enough time for a very nice flat white from ‘The Coffee Shop’. I managed to order in German, at least until she asked whether we wanted it to go.

The building housing the studio used to be a tradesman guild hall and dance hall. It somehow survived the wartime bombardment that flattened almost everything in the surrounding area. When David Bowie was there in 1977, the Wall was visible at the end of the street from the studio control room, inspiring the lyrics about producer Tony Visconti’s affair with a backing singer.

And the guns shot above our heads,
And we kissed, as though nothing could fall

The tour started outside with the history of the building. We then went inside to the large room on the first floor where among others, Bowie, U2, Talking Heads, Iggy Pop, R.E.M. and Depeche Mode have recorded. The tour was biased towards Depeche Mode because of the concert the previous night but we still got to hear a bit of Heroes in the room where it was created which was an emotional moment for me.

After the main room, we visited the more modern control room on the top floor which was added after Bowie was here but was used a number of times by Depeche Mode. Hearing some of the music through the studio desk at high volume was quite an experience. We also got to play a few notes on a piano used by Bowie and DM.

Our guide, Thilo, from Berlin Music Tours was very knowledgable about the studios, their history and all the bands that played there. He grew up in East Berlin and saw Depeche Mode when he was 14 when they were one of the rare western bands allowed to play in the East of the city.

After the studios we walked to the WestBerlin Cafe for lunch. Very tasty sandwiches and salads, coffee and juices and lots of books and magazines to read.

Berlin is obviously full of recent history and our next few hours were devoted to two of the major aspects of it.

Checkpoint Charlie was one of the main crossing points between East and West Berlin. On the American side, there’s a small wooden sentry hut and some sandbags – you can have your photo taken with a fake GI. On the Eastern side, there were observation towers, two sections of wall and a 50m strip – snipers alley – between them. A small exhibition explains the significance of the checkpoint and tells the story of attempted crossings, successful and otherwise. Here in October 1961, the East and West came about as close to war as ever happened, both sides had tanks pointing at each other down Friedrichstrasse, fortunately neither side really wanted it and found a way to back down.

A few hundred yards down the street, a long section of the wall remains in place but here an earlier episode of the city’s history is documented. The area housed the majority of the Third Reich government ministries, The ‘Topography of Terror’ exhibition explains the Nazis rise to power, their ways of controlling and suppressing the population and their ultimate defeat. The enormity of what happened is too large to convey in one exhibition but it does a good job of giving an overview of major events. One image of particular interest showed how the Nazis had used the 1936 Olympics for propaganda purposes; it was taken in the stadium we had been in the previous evening, apart from a new roof it remains almost as it was then.

We walked along the side of Hermann Göring’s Air Ministry building (a minimal 1940s construction) and up towards Unter Den Linden and the Brandenburg Gate. The city is very good at explaining the history everywhere and doesn’t shy away from the worst of it. We passed the location of the Nazi Reichstag opposite which was Hitler’s bunker where he shot himself in 1945. Traces of the bunker remained for a long time after the war but it has now been completely obliterated. Unter den Linden is one of the main arteries of the city, a broad multi-lane street with large grand building along its length. At the western end is the Brandenberg gate completed in 1791. The gate was just inside the Russian sector, the wall passed right behind it.

Paris Platz, immediately to the east of the gate was largely destroyed by allied bombing during World War Two. It has recently been rebuilt and is home to the French and US Embassies, a luxury hotel and a Starbucks.

We took a bus and metro back to our apartment for a quick shower before dinner. It seems that everywhere we want go in Berlin – in any direction – is about 30 minutes away.

We took a metro back to the Kreuzberg area and walked through Checkpoint Charlie again to our restaurant. Tim Raue trained at Noma which is a good enough recommendation for us. His restaurant is one of the best in the city. We chose the 6 course vegetarian tasting menu with a few German wines to help us along the way. The food was very very good – lots of interesting colours, flavours and textures, all beautifully cooked. My highlight was a desert of smoked banana, one of the best things I’ve ever eaten.

After an enjoyable three hours we walked back into the former Soviet sector and took a thirty minute metro ride home.