WHEN a rock music fan of a certain vintage thinks of Berlin, they probably think of David Bowie and Iggy Pop. Bowie, who was later even credited with helping to bring the Berlin Wall down, essentially launched the American singer's post-Stooges solo career here and this month a seven-CD box set will explore Iggy Pop’s Berlin-era albums.

The world changes and, on a trip to Berlin 15 years ago, a tour of the city’s rich musical heritage was something of a DIY experience. Now there is a professional tour that explores the city’s impact on the output of David Bowie and Iggy Pop.

I arrive at Potsdamer Platz, mentioned in Bowie’s reflective 2013 single Where Are We Now? It’s a short walk to Hansa Studio but before that I make a stop at the Salvador Dalí museum to view the film that was essentially David Bowie’s support act on his Isolar 1976 tour, Un Chien Andalou, directed by Luis Buñuel and Dalí. The 16-minute short-film with its famous slicing eye-ball scene remains a surreal cornerstone. As unsettling and strange as it was in 1929, this was a fitting introduction to an evening with Bowie’s Thin White Duke.

Bowie’s flirtation with fascism is well documented, among other things he walked around East Berlin in a black leather trench-coat while visiting Hitler’s bunker. A penchant for Nazi chic soon disappeared as he got that – and a cocaine addiction – out his system.

I meet Thilo Schmied, of Berlin Music Tours, outside Hansa Studios. Behind him is a large portrait of Bowie with his finger to his mouth in a “shhh”. Snapped by Gavin Evans in 1995 it has gradually become an iconic post-1970s image of the singer. Through the main door and passing the impressive black marble entrance hall you are made aware of the creative impulses that assembled the soundtracks of our lives here, from U2’s One to Bowie’s Heroes, to Nick Cave and Depeche Mode.

The lyrics to Heroes in Bowie’s handwriting are framed with a sign informing us. “It is considered to be one of the few internationally known pop songs about the Berlin Wall and became the hymn of the then-divided Berlin and the yearning for freedom.” After his death in January 2016 the German foreign office sent out a message on social media thanking Bowie for “helping to bring down the wall.”

Momentum had gathered when he played West Berlin in 1987 as part of the Glass Spider tour. Addressing the crowd in German, he said: “We send our best wishes to all our friends on the other side of the wall.” Reflecting in 2003 on the cheering from behind the Iron Curtain in East Germany that day, he said: “God, even now I get choked up. It was breaking my heart. I’d never done anything like that in my life, and I guess I never will again. When we did Heroes it felt really anthemic, almost like a prayer.”

Originally built between 1910-1913 by the Berlin constructors' guild as a venue for that organisation, it would later be used as a dance hall by the SS during the Third Reich. It’s the sound and energy of this room with its decorative high wooden ceiling, period chandeliers and heavy burgundy curtains that accompanies guitarist Robert Fripp’s delicate notes and feedback alongside Bowie’s vocal in Heroes.

It's a song that runs through the culture. The anti-heroes of Danny Boyle’s 1996 film Trainspotting were introduced to us running along Edinburgh’s Princes Street after shoplifting during Mark Renton’s "choose life" speech backed by Iggy Pop’s Lust For Life. When Tommy takes heroin for the first time it’s to the soundtrack of Pop's Nightclubbing. Set in the city when housing schemes were awash with heroin, the link to Iggy Pop and the music he and Bowie produced in Berlin gave a vital cultural shade to the characters.

Thilo opens a door to the room where Lust for Life was recorded. “To make everything sound bigger they put the kit in the middle of the room, on the record you hear the sound of this room, you get a short reflection," he says, snapping his fingers. "It’s a dry, quiet room. When they were preparing the guitar mikes Iggy stood and watched, he then picked one up and said, ‘I want to do that my vocal on this’. The Hansa engineer Eduard Meyer would have preferred to use a nice mic with good German workmanship…but you can hear it on The Passenger, it has more power, distortion and echo.”

Iggy had entered the studio on the back of The Idiot tour in 1977 with Bowie on keyboards. Despite moving to the heroin capital of Europe and spending time in a mental hospital due to addiction to the drug, Pop suggests he refrained from his former addiction when making what would become the most successful album of his career. It was also aided by the rhythm section of rock-lifers Hunt and Tony Sales who added to the urgency of the sessions.

“There was a lot of eye-contact in the room with the Sales brothers on drums and bass, Ricky Gardiner from Scotland on guitar and David writing music, producing, playing and singing background,” says Schmied.

Later, down the line from Italy, London guitarist Phil Palmer recounted working with the pair on Iggy’s previous album The Idiot. “The exchanges between them were electric, they would both be sparking and bouncing ideas around in a way that was almost aggressive. I was quite a young lad and quite intimidated. Working with Bowie was like being in the presence of a superhero. It was quite astounding the way he filled a room, his presence was powerful.

"He would give you pointers; on Nightclubbing he asked me to make a noisy ruckus. When I asked him for a key, he said: ‘The key is irrelevant; I want you to imagine you are walking down Wardour Street at 3am. With each club you pass you are getting a different racket coming out of every door; that’s what I want you to do.’ He was more like a film director than a producer.”

After leaving Hansa we drive to the Schöneberg district, in what was once West Berlin, to Bowie’s former abode, Hauptstrasse 155. This was the flat he shared for a spell with Iggy when the pair moved to Berlin in August 1976. Bowie would later admit: “I didn't have the material at the time, and I didn't feel like writing at all. I felt much more like laying back and getting behind someone else's work.”

While Bowie’s Berlin Trilogy consisting of Low, Heroes and Lodger were recorded, mixed and written in a variety of locations it was Germany’s capital, when he was living in this Art Nouveau apartment for the best part of three years, that shaped his creative output. While much of Low and The Idiot were cut in Paris at Château d’Hérouville, where Bowie had recorded 1973’s Pin-Ups, the albums were finished at Hansa. Bowie’s exploration into ambient and electronic music was a challenging listen for many fans when the record was released in January 1977. Sound & Vision articulated Bowie’s sense of disconnection in Berlin: “Pale blinds drawn all day, nothing to do, nothing to say”. The wistful instrumental b-side of the album summoned some of the bleakness of Cold War Berlin.

Engineer and classically trained musician Edu Meyer played cello on Bowie's Art Decade. He reflects on working with Bowie and Iggy at Hansa. “During David's Low session Iggy Pop would sit in the side room most of the time writing lyrics on the window ledge.” He adds of Bowie: "He would smoke these very heavy French cigarettes and maybe have a beer but there were no drugs in the studio.”

Perhaps Low with its stirring moods summoning Cold War division and isolation is the perfect soundtrack for a society in lockdown. Producer Tony Visconti casts his mind back to the album’s closing track and suggests there is another “surprise” from Bowie. “Subterraneans was originally recorded by David whilst making The Man Who Fell To Earth film. It was five semitones higher and quite a bit faster. I can’t remember whose idea it was but I dropped the tape pitch and speed until it felt right. Then we proceeded to overdub the vocals and other parts at that slower speed. It was never archived at the slower speed, so if someone remixes Low in the future, if I’m not around, then they’re in for a surprise. I know that b-side of Low is not a big favourite with some fans, but we had the most fun creating them.”

A 7 CD box set, The Bowie Years, exploring Iggy Pop’s Berlin-era albums is out now. For more information on Berlin Music Tours please visit https://musictours-berlin.com. Hansa Studios Online Shop https://hansastudios.de/shop. For more information on Berlin please visit www.visitBerlin.com Special thanks to Thilo Schmied