Music Fangirl Confession #2: When searching for Rock Gods, one may find themselves also searching for geographical locations significant to said Rock Gods… Said Rock Gods are usually no longer at said locations (because, again, stalking is bad… this blog does not condone stalking your Gods), but their imprint is left behind, a connection to the RG that fans flock to, to walk in the footsteps of Greatness, soak in the musical vibes, or just to say: “hmm so this is where the RG did X, cool.”
For U2 fans, there are two particular cities plum full of RG locations of significance: Dublin, U2’s hometown – the mecca for U2 fans (especially to see them in concert); and Berlin, where they recorded the album Achtung Baby.
This post is all about Berlin and its U2 must see sites. (I’ll tackle Dublin next time.)
The story goes something like this: U2, straight off the mad success of The Joshua Tree and the somewhat mixed response to Rattle and Hum the movie, famously said that they needed to “go away and dream it all up again.” They were looking for inspiration and decided to go to Berlin to Hansa Tonstudios, where David Bowie recorded Low and Heroes.
Berlin and Hansa Tonstudios did indeed inspire the band, resulting in the massive, superb, shockingly different sound for the band and a town that has become almost as synonymous with the band as Dublin.
I’ve been lucky enough to go to Berlin a few times in my life and, of course, sought out the key locations connected to U2 and Achtung Baby. It just must be done!
I have a feeling there are few of you out there that might want to visit these places as well, especially with a U2 tour date in Berlin coming up, so I thought I would share a list of the U2 sites I’ve seen (and some I’ve only become aware of while writing this list – I need a another trip to Berlin now!).
I tend to mark my maps with the places I visit, especially those I want to find again – so I dragged out my trusty Berlin travel guide and map (Frommer’s Berlin Day by Day book from 2008!) – and plotted the course I would take if I were to see the key U2 sites in less than a day (in case you need to, I don’t know, run to the GA line or something!!) (zoom in on the map below and follow the purple highlighting).
I also marked some additional U2 sites (in orange) and several key non-U2 sites (in green) for those who have more time to wander.
I used google maps while writing this post to double-check my memory and my map, but I recommend you also double-check your routes and timing…
The Must-Must Sees:
If you have limited time in Berlin, here are my recommended absolute must-see U2 sites. The route should be walkable in one day, depending on personal abilities and preferences, of course. For example, the walk from Siegessäule (the Victory Column) to Brandenburg Gate is about 30 minutes according to Google.
1. U2 U-Bahn: Berlin is full of U2 signs.
They are everywhere. You can literally follow ‘U2’ in this city… and I have 🙂
Ok, so it’s an underground/subway line called U2… still, makes me smile every time I’m in town – ‘U2 – that way!’ Yes, I am that geek…
Hop on any U-bahn line and make your way to the U2 line, which then takes you to our next stop:
2. U2 – Zoologischer Garten Station (Hardenbergplatz 11):
Yes, there is an actual Zoo Station! I actually had no idea this was so when I was planning my first visit to Berlin – imagine my surprise and utter joy upon finding it! I may have purposefully chosen my hostel because of its Zoo Station location…
Exit the U2 line here (or U9, but what fun is that!!??) to take a picture of the Zoo Station sign. If you have time, wander the Zoo or make your way to Kurfurstendamm (nicknamed Ku’damm) for another U2-related location and several awesome non-U2 sites (see the Extra Time section below for details).
Otherwise, turn left on Hardenbergstrasse (strasse = street), carry on as it becomes Budapesterstrasse and later Stulerstrasse. Turn left from Stulerstrasse onto Hofjageralle and make your way to the next stop:
3. Tiergarten and the Siegessäule (Victory Column) (Grosser Stern 1): The Siegessäule is the Goddess of Victory column that Bono drapes himself around in the Stay, Far Away So Close video.
From the Siegessäule, walk along Strasse Des 17 Juni (Bundesstrasse 2) to reach the next stop:
4. Brandenburg Tor (Gates): You don’t want to miss this historical landmark anyways, but this is where U2 gave their live performance for the MTV EMA show in 2009. (See the Extra Time section below for further U2 and non-U2 sites in the area.)
From Strasse Des 17 Juni, turn right onto Ebertstrasse, which passes Potsdamer Platz and turns into Stresemannstrasse. Turn right onto Köthenerstrasse, and on your left side of the street, is the magical, super important, historical, awe-inspiring:
5. Hansa Tonstudios (Köthenerstrasse 38/D) (also accessible via the U2 U-bahn, and the S bahn): Look up, up to the tall glass windows and peer through the velvety curtains (metaphorically if they are no longer there ;)). This is the ballroom, here. Right here.
Here is where the magic took place, my friends. Here is where the band apparently almost split up, where they struggled to find a sound, where they pondered how to cut down that Joshua Tree and where the Edge started playing a couple of chords and One fell from the Sky…
Then Achtung, baby! Watch out! This band is back and better than ever!
(Just so you know, there is a company that offers a tour inside Hansa Studios! They also have a U2 tour of Berlin. I sadly did not know about them the last times I was there so I don’t know how good they are. If you have taken the tour please let me know how it was, I at least need to do the studio tour next time I’m in town.)
Jump on the U2 (seriously, does this not bring a certain smile to your face!?), switch to the U5 at Alexanderplatz, and get out at:
6. Frankfurter Tor (Karl-Marx-Allee): Turn around until you see it… the building with the columns underneath it… This is where the Trabants meet up in the One video. Wasn’t there a photo shoot here as well? with the boys next to the columns?
From here, turn on to Warschauerstrasse (Bundesstrasse 96a) and then turn right onto Mühlenstrasse to find yourself at my last must-see stop:
7. East Side Gallery (Mühlenstrasse):
A portion of the Wall has been left here and has been turned into an art gallery of murals on the Wall.
When I was there last (2010), a couple of the murals were painted by Thierry Noir, the artist that painted U2’s Trabant cars featured in Anton Corbjin’s video for One and the cover art for a couple of the singles.
If you have extra time, here are some additional U2-related sites and non-U2 sites that are worth checking out. I’ve sorted them by area as best as possible so you can loop them in with the above sites.
Zoo Station Area:
Ku’Damm / Hard Rock Café Berlin (Kurfürstendamm 224): The HRC on Ku’Damm has several U2-related memorabilia here, including a painted Trabant.
Non-U2: While on Ku’Damm, don’t miss the non-U2 places of interest like the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, Reinhard’s Cafe and several marvelous shopping places like the Europa Centre and KaDeWe. The Church, bombed during WW2, was purposefully left damaged as an absolutely stunning reminder of the devastation of war, while the restored Gedenkhalle next to it was restored, I’m guessing as a symbol of hope, the phoenix rising from the ashes.
Brandenberg Gate Area:
Die Möwe (Luisenstraße 18): This was a club/lounge (at the time) where Anton Corbjin filmed the parts for his video for One where U2 are dressed up as women.
- The Reichstag – The German Parliament building – phenomenal exterior and interior architecture/design
- Potsdamer Platz – more sections of the Wall and skyscrapers
- Checkpoint Charlie – historical border crossing checkpoint between East and West Berlin. (I’ve seen 2 addresses online for this site – both on Friedrichstrasse – but one at Leipziger Strasse (as marked on my map above) and one at Zimmerstrasse (if you go, can you let me know which is correct, thanks!). The Mauermuseum (Wall Museum) is located close by as well.
- Jüdisches Museum (Jewish Museum) (Lindenstraße 9-14). I highly recommend this museum. The history is well curated and I have to say that one of the art installments here had such a striking impact on me that I still feel the emotions when I think about it twelve or so years later! If you go, it is the one with countless numbers of bronze (or some type of metal) faces spread across the path. It is interactive and that is all I will say.
- Unter Den Linden – the boulevard from Brandenberg Gates to Humbolt University.
Museum Island Area
Alte Nationalgalerie / Friedrichsbrücke (Bodestraße 1-3): These are two of the locations where Anton Corbijn photographed the boys for the album liner notes and other photo and video sessions.
- Berliner Dom – Cathedral and park area – great for hanging out and people watching.
- So many museums, choose your interest and go!
Areas off My Map:
Max-Schmelig-Arena (Am Falkplatz 1): Scene for the football game version of Stuck in a Moment were filmed here.
Outside of Berlin: Breschnew-Villa (Am neuen Garten 25, 14469 Potsdam): This is the villa where Bono was staying during the Achtung Baby sessions, and on a late night/early morning trip to the bathroom or kitchen, stark naked, he runs into some people who were claiming they owned the place, not whoever Bono was renting from. Apparently their family had been kicked out of the house by the Nazis and now that the German re-unification was under way, they returned to reclaim their property. (According to u2tour.de, the property was eventually returned to the family after a lengthy legal process.
Non-U2: Sachsenhausen (Oranienburg): It is hard not to feel the ghosts and the horrors that took place at this former concentration camp, but it is so important to remember our history and learn from it, lest we become doomed to repeat it…
And there you have it. For more information on U2 sites in Berlin, u2 tour.de has a list that includes all of the U2 sites I’ve listed, plus the stadiums and arenas where the band have played in Berlin over the years.
As always, please comment below with your stories and feedback – Have you been to any of these places? What did you think? Have I missed your favorite U2 spots in Berlin? Any thing on the list that no longer exists, or new addresses, better instructions on how to get there?
Are there any other U2 cities out there besides Berlin and Dublin – where there are places of significance to the band beyond the arenas and stadiums? Hmm, possibly Vancouver?
And feel free to share this list with others. Sharing is caring!