Los Angeles, 1976. David Bowie has a cocaine addiction, an occult obsession, and his diet consists solely of milk. Having conquered the US, he’s a superstar, his latest album Station To Station is another classic, but his mind’s a mess (watch Cracked Actor for the full story). Recruiting his friend Iggy Pop, who is nursing his own drug problems in an LA mental hospital, they head to Berlin by boat, train and Hitler’s old limousine.
In autumn ’76, the Wall is still standing, Cabaret has just been released, and the two men set about carving out their own mark on the city. Essentially it’s an attempt by two of the world’s biggest lunatics to live a normal life. They move in together, buy bikes, shop, visit museums… and replace drugs with monumental drinking. Plus a few drugs (Bowie: “It turned out to be the heroin capital of Europe”). They also made the most groundbreaking music of their careers.
A New Career In A New Town was how Bowie put it on his first Berlin trilogy album Low. So, to put it in cheesier terms, here’s how to be a hero, just for one day… (It’s all your liver will be able to take.)
1pm - Paris Bar
Mornings don’t exist in Berlin. Skip straight to lunch at this cheap, cool hangout for intellectuals and artists. Your companions include skulls and naked women, thanks to the art on the walls. A missile hangs over the coffee machine. The choice on the menu is very French: steak or minute steak. A famous interview has Bowie ordering steak in bad German and Iggy hammering the wine until he falls out of the place. And that’s the Paris Bar experience: the only way you’ll leave is if you take the wrong door.
2pm - Hansa Studios
Thilo Schmied runs the Bowie tour, which is a must. Not least because he takes you inside Hansa Studios, where Bowie and Iggy recorded. If your luck’s in, as ours was, you might gain access to the legendary Meistersaal, the room where Bowie belted out Heroes. I proposed to my girlfriend on the spot. It’s impossible to say no in that room.
3pm - Neues Ufer
Bowie lived with Iggy in the Schoenberg district, in a small flat at Hauptstrasse 157, and Thilo’s tour takes you there. In scenes worthy of the best sitcom never aired, their domestic bliss ended when Bowie kicked Iggy out for eating all his shopping. Iggy simply moved to the flat opposite. Upon waking every day, about 3pm, Bowie would pop to the gay bar next door, Neues Ufer, for a coffee and to read the paper. Starbucks it ain’t.
6pm - Ellington Hotel
The Studio 54 of Berlin was Dschungel (‘Jungle’). An elegant ballroom in the posh part of the city, the club attracted every pervert in town. Sadly, it’s now a flower shop. However the art deco building it was situated in has been renovated to become the Ellington Hotel, which is populated by girl porters with nose piercings, and has a jazz radio station in the bar. Prepare for the night’s drinking, with some drinks.
7pm - Horvath
In ’76, this Bowie spot was called Café Exil. Now, it’s an outrageously good Michelin-starred restaurant. Expensive, but it’s better than spending your money on drugs.
10pm - SO36
A tiny club in Kreuzberg where the boys went to see the burgeoning punk scene dressed in suits. It’s still a tiny, grimy club where you’ll be sniffed at if you don’t live in a squat.
12AM - bar crawl
After midnight, you should be taking a “ride through the city’s backsides”, as Iggy sang on The Passenger. Berlin is the home of secret drinking dens, so seek and you shall find. The pair would hit bars in Schoneberg – try Solar Bar, Green Door or Das Hotel – but essentially you should embark on an unplanned bar crawl. Corporate money is squeezing Berlin’s soul, but Iggy and Bowie’s town is still here if you drink hard enough.
(Images: Getty/Corbis/PA/Ariane Bille)