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On Wednesday I boarded a flight to Berlin from Edinburgh for a serious trip down memory strasse. I was bound for a film shoot with a production company creating a feature length movie documentary on the history of Hansa studios where we had recorded the ‘Misplaced Childhood’ album back in 1985. Obviously our history is gloriously intertwined with the city and the studio which was why I’d been asked to participate with my dear friends and fellow collaborators Steve Rothery and Chris Kimsey. All three of us had jumped at the chance at a fond reminiscence, a free bar tab and a fine hotel dictated, in the nicest possible way by Herr Kimsey, to the production company. He was very specific and the promise of lubricated memory jangling and exclusive verbosity by the invited participants appealing to those on the other side of the camera. They wouldn’t be disappointed.
Edinburgh airport, smoked salmon and scrambled eggs, Americano coffee with Jimi Hendrix on the restaurant PA with the “Wind cries Mary” was totally apt for the occasion. I hadn’t been in Hansa studios since the day we finished recording.
I drove in the taxi past the redundant Tempelhof airport chasing other memories as heavy flakes of snow fell and immediately melted in the struggling sunshine. At first I thought it was the proverbial cherry blossom and then, as Chris Kimsey likewise mentioned in the Italian restaurant soon after, it came into my mind that it looked like ash and created a far more sinister scene which I readily dismissed and cut from my own movie.
The street names were familiar, the surroundings not. The taxi came to a halt and the driver announced my arrival. I didn’t recognise the area. The wasteland where we had shot band photos outside the studio had been replaced by modern buildings and the sweep of gray Berlin Wall I walked past every day to the studio now swallowed in a modern city. The studio building from the outside was exactly the same apart from “Siegmar’s Mampe Bar” now transformed into an Italian restaurant and the aforementioned neighbourhood encroachment of the 21st Century.
It was fantastic to see Steve and Chris again and the hour of jollity we had before filming began warm and unique. We wallowed in our own private memories and caught up on all things family and beyond before heading into the studio where our lives had been dramatically entertained and changed by a 2 month encampment where we produced a piece of work we never thought would have the impact it had.
Entering the main recording floor for the first time in 30 plus years could have had the soundtrack of “Also Sprach Zarathustra” as it was such an incredible moment and I immediately voiced the “wasted ” line from ‘Perimeter Walk’. The 3 of us were like kids visiting their old school and we exchanged various thoughts and memories even before we sat down on our allotted seats in front of camera to be cajoled into our respective and collective associations with the space. We were relaxed and evocative revisiting this famous dimension from our new perspectives.The years were peeled back and we fondly remembered magical times like old soldiers on a park bench, the darker elements unspoken as unnecessary intrusions and embarrassing to the company.
The control room we had spent so many hours, days and nights in was now a bar that served the main recording floor which although still used for recording also served as a function room. The irony was not lost as once it had been a ballroom for German military officers and it was now utilised for corporate use. The new world order. The old control room that we had used was where Bowie had, as legend goes, seen the protagonists that he had written ‘Heroes’ about as once it had a clear view of the Wall. I had so many memories from that room and now found it difficult to replace the working set up as I knew it back then with the sumptuous surroundings in it’s place.The rest of the studios are impressive and we were invited up to the mixing room where the final touches were added to ‘Misplaced’ and where quite a few both hair raising and extremely funny memories had been had. I have to admit after years of working from here in Haddington at my own humble studio I longed for an opportunity to work in a mainstream establishment like Hansa again.
Funnily enough one question during the interviews was why we never came back. None of us had an answer.
It’s still an amazing recording space and defined by it’s history and temporary occupants who created so many magical recordings many of which most people have no idea of their point of creation.
To give you an idea have a flick through the artists and albums on this website and it will take your breath away https://www.discogs.com/label/274153-Hansa-Tonstudios?sort=artist&sort_order=
We retired to a small bar near the studio for some more “off the cuff” filming after the Hansa shoot to fill in the more “Berlin” moments of our time there. All I will say was it was fun! Maybe I said too much but I think my “filters” were working.There’s always the edit 🙂
We were met there by Thomas Stiehler, our engineer back in 85 who had arrived in Harris tweed plus 4’s and with his wonderful eccentricity that I fondly remembered from the ‘Internal Exile’ recording sessions here in 91.
He would join us for dinner in our hotel at ‘The Savoy’ (Thanks Chris) where a marvelous meal and accompanying beverages would deliver me early to bed after more reams of story telling and a reminder that my partying stamina wasn’t as it was back in 85.
As I left for my last shoot at the remaining section of the Berlin wall that morning I saw the guys in the breakfast room and bid fond farewells to slightly bleary eyed individuals.Yes we were older, more dignified and fragile in the grand scheme of things but there were still beautiful sparks in us all. Warm smiles and hugs it had been a great reunion of kindred souls. We have all moved on along different paths that can never be rejoined as they once were but to share a moment and a memory and celebrate a defining period in our lives was a wonderful opportunity we will cherish.
I’m looking forward to seeing the finished film and have to thank Martin, James, Rachel and all the team for providing this occasion – it was really special.
To Steve and Chris – Let’s not leave it too long till next time x