the fun, freedom and fluidity of bowie's berlin
Matt Lambert introduces three generations of Berliner’s, both native and adopted, who encapsulate David Bowie’s legacy in the city. The Wall may have long tumbled down but here we uncover how it remains a city of great escape and opportunity.
When The Thin White Duke made Berlin his home, the Wall was up and the Cold War raged on. Despite tension at every turn, this walled-in world was Bowie's sanctuary. An escape from the drugs and distractions of celebrity. He found himself or rather, he metamorphosed. Shaking off the glam of Ziggy, he delighted in the dirt and depression of Schoneberg with one his most productive periods. After he fell for the city's charms, the city declared him an adopted son. "He's one of us," said Berlin Mayor Michael Mueller on hearing the news of the singer's death whilst the German Foreign Office tweeted, "Goodbye, David Bowie. You are now among #Heroes. Thank you for helping to bring down the #wall." As the shockwaves of his death still shake the city, Matt Lambert's film helps us see the artist's legacy through the eyes of Berliners.
"I've lived in Berlin for five years years. It's home. I grew up in LA and my journey took in New York and London, all three places that are commercially driven and as I started my career, I began to fall into a space that was very stifling, there wasn't enough room to be make the work I wanted to make. Part of this was a lack of space of self-discovery. For me, the selfish, indulgent exploration of your own identity is kind of necessary in order to find your authentic artistic voice. Many people come here for that, some get even more lost. Berlin is what you make of it, it's a blank canvas, a clean slate.
"When I heard the news about David Bowie's death, I had just woken up, checked my phone and saw a picture of Bowie on Instagram. Then more and more appeared across my feed. It became the most overwhelming flow of social media that I've ever experienced. It was so unifying. That night, my husband and I met a few friends and we had a beer in front of his old house. It was a quiet, mellow, sombre scene of less than a hundred people putting candles down and there's a bar a few doors down called Anderes Ufer which he used to go to so we had a few more drinks there. Alongside the kids who had recently moved here and locals, you could see people who were in their early 60s that you just knew had contact with him. They weren't just fans, they had a personal connection, he had been touched by them firsthand. Ordinarily, I'm not the type of person who would ever pay homage in this way, but in this instance, it was an automatic response, something I had to do, it was important to be be able to share that moment with people. It was a moving experience and something I wished to explore further.
"The cast here are friends, or friends of friends. Mac is someone who I met through the DJ and legend Honey Dijon and we just connected. I met Michael through Eric Underwood at my book launch in London, just as he was moving to Berlin. I've known Alexander around for the past few years. Julie and Jane did the music for the film and they're in the band EVVOL. I know them through a dear friend, I met Polly through one of her friends that I had shot earlier and Max applied through a Facebook post but we have a lot of friends in common. There were so many wonderful people willing to share, it was difficult to decide just who to shoot, especially aged 26 and above. It was a bit of a challenge to find people of the next generation, so Polly and Max stood out, they're post-everything, it was so exciting to find them. Those kids' parents were a part of that moment in which the wall came down, they're progressive kids.
"Ultimately, this film is little more than an impression, a day spent with what I think is a nice representation of people here. It's one more piece to lay on top of the hundreds of tributes out there. You can't say it all in three minutes. However it was important to show that spectrum. Three generations of Berliners who had different experiences with Bowie and the city itself, but who could all connect viscerally."
"I was born in West Berlin but raised in East Berlin, in Köpenick. For me, it's unique, not like other big cities around the world. The lifestyle it affords is different and the community it nurtures is different."
"I actually discovered Bowie through an iPod commercial, ha. I instantly drawn to him, asked my mum who he was and began researching him. Then, there was a Bowie exhibition in Berlin and I immersed myself in his work. He made me see the world differently."
On Bowie's legacy...
"I feel intense emotions when I watch his videos or listen to his work, maybe because his influence transcends so many things we experience today, not just in music and culture but fashion too, I see Bowie in Saint Laurent. Like so many, I learned about his death on Instagram early in the morning. I spent the whole day at the lake near my home, listening to his music and it felt like he was there. It gave me a creative push. For me, Bowie inspires the use of different characters, both on a personal and career level."
"I wouldn't say I came to Berlin because of Bowie but I was most definitely aware of this lineage of Brits going to Berlin to find themselves. I was drawn to Berlin because it was so affordable. The rents meant I could spend more time in the studio, I could experiment, collaborate and experience things that I simply couldn't in London, not when the boot is in your face. I've been in Berlin for almost four years now and of course it's changing since it became the cool place to go but there's still a creative spirit to explore."
"We moved house many times when I was a child but our vinyl collection always came with us. It wasn't the densest of collections and I can remember Diamond Dogs and Scary Monsters in there. The Diamond Dogs image, a naked Bowie as half-man, half-canine, was something I kept returning to. I was fascinated by it, even before I knew what it was. It's such a striking image, an erotic and unusual charge. When I actually started listening to it, the love grew deeper. It feels as though you're in a performance piece as the record goes round. It's a little surreal to think that boy who listened to him as a child grew up to open the David Bowie Is… exhibition at Martin-Gropius-Ba. Truly bizarre. We were never in the same place at the same time. I know many people who knew Bowie, danced with him at the Blitz club, partied with him at house parties and not a single one has anything bad to say about him, he was universally loved. I feel fortunate to have shared a lifetime with him."
On Bowie's legacy
"He feels like an old friend in many ways, someone who taught me so much, beyond music he encouraged an insatiable desire for knowledge, new ways of thinking and being, an insatiable curiosity. What Bowie offered was the image of a queer individual as highly creative, highly erotic and highly irreverent. He offered a whole other way to be and to be thrilled by your own existence. Simply put, Bowie made being queer look not like something one must suffer but something one could revel in; not only bearable, but desirable. Queer sexuality is always at the vanguard of liberation - our experiments and experiences spill out into wider society."
"I was born in Berlin and I've lived nowhere else. There has always been this enormous tension in the city, the wall embodied this but it's still there, you can still feel it. It's not just East versus West, it's everything about the city. From the 20s, 70s and even now, it's always been a melting pot for people to take this tension and grow ideas on it."
"There wasn't one moment in which I discovered Bowie but rather, it was a subconscious process. That said, I met some people who would become close friends and the first thing they said to me was how much I reminded them of a young David Bowie. I hadn't noticed the similarities but then I began to investigate his characters and to think about his art in general. There were times that I doubted it was natural to feel like you don't have a fixed self, so I continued living out the adjectives that people projected on me... but then I came to know Bowie's music and I realised there was potential in my inconsistent self. I could be free. Change is the only consistent thing in life so having the capacity to change is so important in self expression, observing and reacting to what interests you. It's an enlightenment that came from him. I don't define who I am, that's it because I haven't decided who I'm going to be."
On Bowie's legacy
"Many, many people my age might not have the same connection to Bowie but we were still affected by him. The morning the news spread, my mum called out, 'Pauline, your idol has died!' I spent my day crying, I was a release, a sensual celebration. It's difficult to describe. I didn't know the person, I only knew the artist's work but it still made me incredibly sad but what's wonderful now is that people are really thinking about his art."
"I moved to Berlin last summer. I had been living in London for just under five years, working with a dance company but I suffered a bad injury. One of my best friend's and his boyfriend convinced me to visit them in Berlin to see what I thought about the city. I had an amazing time but it wasn't until I went back to London and struggled that I started to take it seriously as an option. I trusted my friends and it felt like an instinct that I needed to listen to. I moved to Berlin on June 29th, I remember the day clearly because it was scary, I was going into the unknown, I was running away from dance in a way. Slowly but surely, I met the most amazing people and I started to think about who I am, where I am in my life and I began to wake up in a different way. I'm coming back to my essence. There's time and space here.
"Bowie as an artist was so fluid. He went through his phases and didn't make any apologies. As a dancer, fluidity of movement is so important to me. Ultimately, I just try and live my life as authentically as possible and I guess there are parallels with Bowie.
On Bowie's legacy...
"Days before, I had been listening to so much of his back catalogue. I don't own every Bowie record and I don't posts photos of him but in that moment as the news sunk in, I felt this hole. I had never personally experienced this sense of mourning before, I didn't leave the house. It reminded me of how my mum reacted to Princess Diana's death. At the time, I had no idea why she was upset but now I understand. You might not have met them but they've touched you, they've inspired you, a friend who sits on your shoulder who doesn't judge, only encourages. It shows you how important art can be and reminds us that creativity shouldn't be stifled, we should nurture it."