West Berliners, Ruther says, “were particularly flattered that he chose to live among them at such a difficult time during the cold war.”
Berlin at the time was being kept alive by the state subsidies pumped into it and by measures such as allowing residents to forgo military service — a move that made the city a magnet for young bohemians who were looking for an alternative to both the communist east and the capitalist west. Perfect for Bowie.
“Everyone in west Berlin thought they had seen Bowie,” says Rakete. “Either cycling past or eating a hamburger. That’s partly how he became an accepted part of the city’s fabric.”
Rakete remains fascinated by the extent to which Bowie was nourished by the strange nature of the city and appears to have been genuinely able to be himself.
“He was surprised at the sense of freedom, he hadn’t expected it,” he says. “He thought the Berlin Wall would be wrapped around the autobahn, suffocating the city and was amazed that here were two million people living in a couple of square miles surrounded by barbed wire and everyone believing that it would somehow stay like this for ever.”
Bowie lived on the rather anonymous, unfashionable Hauptstrasse, in a seven-room apartment he initially shared with Iggy Pop, stocking the fridge with delicacies bought from the posh fine food department at the nearby KaDeWe department store.
While others chose the rather more funky hotspot Kreuzberg, “Bowie was more at home” there, says Claudia Skoda, a fashion designer friend.
Asked in an interview with Der Tagesspiegel a decade ago if he remembered his address, Bowie shot back: “Hauptstrasse 155 in Schoneberg.”
“You still remember it after 25 years?” the interviewer asked. “I will never forget it,” Bowie replied. “They were very important years.”
Today Bowie’s old flat is sandwiched between a physiotherapists and Fabio Denluca’s Lotus tattoo parlor. The most memorable of the fans who have dropped in, says the 44-year-old Italian, “was a British girl who wanted a profile of Bowie from China Girl tattooed just below her shoulder blade.” Denluca is genuinely surprised to be told that his parlor features in Bowie’s new music video in the shots of Hauptstrasse.
Skoda, who used to make clothes for him, recalls in an interview the time they first met. “He came knocking on my door looking for Klaus Kruger, the drummer with Tangerine Dream, an electronic band Bowie was very interested in. That was the start of us working together.”
“He threw himself into Berlin life, loving the quirkiness of it. There was a workwear shop on Mehringdamm where he’d buy himself workmen’s overalls.” Sometimes she’d cook for him “but he wasn’t keen on German food.”
They spent most of their evenings in the Dschungel cocktail bar on Nurnberger Strasse (where an expensive hotel now stands). “He was always on the search for one-night stands.”
The “weird people” he frequently met in Dschungel probably summed up the strangeness of the city better than anything else. He described: “A girl ... who had a rat on her shoulder attached by a chain that ran over her dress ...” and “two blokes [with] bald heads ... dressed up as surgeons.”
Another favorite Bowie haunt was the nightclub run by Romy Haag, a beautiful transvestite with whom he was supposed to have been romantically linked. “Berlin was always a creative source for him,” says the entertainer known for her sell-out drag shows.