The Berlin Wall

Heroes by David Bowie

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I can remember
Standing by the wall
And the guns shot above our heads
And we kissed as though nothing could fall Read full Lyrics
Producer Tony Visconti's autobiographyProducer Tony Visconti's autobiography
Cinderella was abused her whole life by sinister step-monsters. Snow White was poisoned into a coma and oogled over for years by a gang of perverted cave dwellers. Rapunzel was imprisoned in a tower where her only means of rescue was some 180 pound armor-clad Sherpa-type scaling the length of her hair hand-over-hand. Ouch!

That's it, then, isn't it? There are no happy fairy tales. Someone is bound to suffer, horribly, before the end. And so it is with "Heroes."

The real-life inspiration for "Heroes" begins with lust in the hearts of two individuals who engaged in romantic liaisons in the shadow of the Berlin Wall. All well and good. But wait; our real-life hero was already in a committed relationship. One might go so far as to say he was married. And one might go that far and say it because it was true.

The Berlin Wall, erected in secret during the nights of August 12 and 13, 1961, by the sneaky East Berlin government, was how East Germany manifested a monolithic snit for losing too many smart, educated citizens to the comparative luxuries of posh West Germany. The Wall spanned the border between East and West Berlin and stood 15 feet high in some areas. With over 30 guard towers and soldiers armed to the roots of their hair perpetually patrolling its expanse, it was an obvious choice as a romantic destination for a daily tryst. Who wouldn't want that?
Construction of Berlin Wall c 1961Construction of Berlin Wall c 1961
So we'll begin this tale thus: Once upon a time, music producer Tony Visconti looked at a backup singer and thought to himself, 'What big… lips she has.' She looked back and thought, 'What a big… wedding ring he has.' Then the two, happily ignoring his till-death-do-us-part commitment to someone else, embarked on a daily snog-fest, using the formidable Wall's concrete barrier - and the excitement of being plugged in the head at any given moment by armor-piercing ammo - as a romantic backdrop.

It would take a gifted songwriter to turn something this tawdry and psychologically harrowing into a virtuous tale of legendary proportions.

Enter David Bowie, who himself tells of these rendezvous - which he witnessed every day from his studio window - being the inspiration for his tale of undercover lovers. With talk of queens and kings and forever, Bowie succeeded. The song would have made a battle-rugged knight in full dress metal weep real tears.
Graffitti on Berlin WallGraffitti on Berlin Wall
Bowie's performance of the resulting song at the Wall two years before it fell had an impact on him so strong that he later said it felt "anthemic, almost like a prayer," and every time he performed it hence, it was "almost like walking through it, compared to that night."

Bowie recalled in Performing Songwriter magazine, "They'd backed up the stage to the wall itself so that the wall was acting as our backdrop. We kind of heard that a few of the East Berliners might actually get the chance to hear the thing, but we didn't realize in what numbers they would. And there were thousands on the other side that had come close to the wall. So it was like a double concert where the wall was the division. And we would hear them cheering and singing along from the other side."

So whatever the inception of this erstwhile hook-up, the aura separated from it turned into an ethereal and everlasting portrait of something beautiful. And that, kids, is this song's true fairytale romance.
~ Shawna Hansen Ortega Heroes Songfacts
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