“Just go up to the entrance, ring the doorbell, and tell them you’re here to buy merch.”
It sounded like a simple enough plan to get into Berlin’s legendary Hansa Studios without paying for a scheduled tour, especially given that the advice came from the leader of the Bowie Berlin Walk, another tour I never exactly went on. He explained that as long as there wasn’t a recording session happening, they’d let me in no problem.
At that, the guide sauntered across the street and left me to my own adventure. I went up to the buzzer and, living on a prayer, did exactly as he said.
The buzzer bzzzz’d and through the door I went.
Constructed by the Berlin Building Society between 1910 and 1913, the Hansa Studios building, known as The Meistersaal, was a concert hall in the 1920’s and after WWII, a cabaret venue and cinema. However, when the Berlin Wall was built in 1961 just a stone’s throw away, the building was suddenly stripped of its patronage and, due to its now quiet location, became an ideal place for recording music.
While the building was initially used for recording purposes by the Ariola record label, it was purchased in 1976 by Meisel, a music publishing and production company. It was during Meisel’s reign that the building garnered its legendary status for recording rock and pop music.
The Hansa Tonstudio is where David Bowie recorded Low, Heroes, and Baal, where Iggy Pop recorded The Idiot and Lust For Life, where Depeche Mode recorded Construction Time Again, where Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds recorded The Firstborn Is Dead and Your Funeral…My Trial, where Siouxsie and the Banshees recorded Tinderbox, and…. you see where this is going.
Be still my music-loving heart.
Once I was through the door, I came up to a large wall full of plaques that would help guide me up the stairs and to the studios. As I did this, I dreamily imagined all the times Bowie and Iggy walked these exact same stairs, stoned out of their minds.
After taking my time climbing to the studios, I came upon the door and was greeted by an unsmiling short-haired man with glasses who ushered me past the threshold. He led me to a white lobby area that featured a large desk by the door, a seating area just off to the right, some way-too-green-for-indoor-Germany plants scattered throughout, and multiple doors with studio plaques detailing their purposes.
Without speaking, the man led me to the corner of the room where the merchandise was before another man walked in and said something in German that, to my ears, sounded short and demanding.
At that, both men left the room.
I was alone. No doubt on camera, but alone nevertheless.
So what does any music freak do when visiting a place of musical significance unsupervised? She swoons and snoops, that’s what.
Feeling too conspicuous with a DSLR hanging around my neck, I dug out my cell phone and began taking photos. I peeked inside a deserted studio room, thinking of all the incredible music that was brought to life right here in these walls. I gazed at the gold plaques hanging from the aging walls, recounting in my mind the stories I know about the music and the makers.
Basically, I wandered around the studio and let my inner fan-girl shine.
Off the record, the Berlin Music Tour website explicitly states that there is no other way to get in to the studios except by taking a tour. So like, do your research beforehand, follow my lead, and hope that the receptionist gets called away. You’re welcome.
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