As a city divided between occupying armies, Berlin took on two different identities. One side absorbed into a new bloc of Soviet states, the other became a besieged sanctuary to misfits, freethinkers and the wonderful. “In the 80s, things were not so clear cut,” musician and record producer Mark Reeder tells me. “We were surrounded by the Berlin Wall and the Soviet Union forces. Everyone that came fled here. It was full of weird and interesting people. We just did what we wanted… because we knew tomorrow it could just end.”
Leaving Manchester as a teenager in 1978, Reeder found himself representing Factory Records in West Berlin. His job was to get the label’s artists played on local radio and encourage live bookings. “Not that many bands did actually come over. In those days, it was a big deal to go to Berlin.” Whilst one half of the city endured an economic stupor, the other was swept up in riots and artistic innovation. This soon offered influence to stars like David Bowie, Lou Reed and Nick Cave. The environment was edgy and untraditional; as were the artists it spawned. “West Germany was very clean cut. If you’ve got someone who doesn’t fit in, where do they go?”
Now Reeder is at the centre of a new film examining the cultural significance of the city. Produced by Jörg A Hoppe, Klaus Maeck & Heiko Lange, ‘B-Movie: Lust & Sound In West Berlin (1979 – 1989)’ takes an adoring look at the Avant-Garde music scene emanating from this Cold War oddity. Evolution, death, rebirth and David Hasselhoff all combine in a sensitive homage to this oasis of expressive freedom and cheap living deep within communist territory. It’s a fascinating tale of how this walled-in city became a creative melting pot, with music by Westbam, Einstürzende Neubauten, Joy Division, Die Toten Hosen, Nena, Sex Pistols, and Die Tödliche Doris. Not yet receiving a proper UK theatrical release, now Kisskisskino, in partnership with multimedia festival Sensoria, present the film at Duke of York’s Picturehouse Cinema on Sun 27 Sept, as part of Brighton Digital Festival. Reeder himself will introduce the film, and conduct a Q&A afterwards.
He was initially approached by producer Hoppe with the task of restoring music for the film. Eager to help, Reeder offered a large amount of footage he’d shot for British TV. “He came back two days later saying: ‘what the hell have you given me?!’” From here, the film began to take shape around his experiences in the city. With local knowledge, yet still a refugee, he was perfectly positioned to provide a subjective look at what West Berlin became.
Backed by avant-garde, dance and post-punk music, the film balances bleak Cold War vistas and nightlife scenes. “It was like unravelling my life. There were a lot of things we had to leave out, because there wasn’t footage for them, like the Metropole’s Hi-NRG days. Nobody went with a camera to a club like that!” There’s also footage from anarchic rock show, ‘The Tube’, where Reeder introduces a bemused Muriel Grey (pictured above with Reeder) to his community’s sights and delights. It’s an honest and striking moment. Like a massive jigsaw puzzle, it pieces together archive footage, unseen clips and just a few star interviews. Keith Haring, Tilda Swinton, New Order and Nick Cave all offer recollections of the scene, but the real stars are the locals themselves.
Even when the Wall came down in 1989, Berlin’s influence would endure the end of its isolation. Incredible cinema, art and something called techno were fast approaching, but its intense, too-brief golden period had drawn to a close. Reeder still lives in the reunified Berlin, the city retaining much of its romance and character. “It’s changed a lot, but not at all in some respects. There’s new buildings going up, as are rents, but it it’s still very culturally active.” There’s another story to be told about his adventures beyond the Iron Curtain. Here he organised concerts, recorded albums and introduced John Peel to East Berlin, taking him across the border to meet same of his more inaccessible fans. He also undertook some smuggling and was involved with Czech dissident movement – Charta 77. “If my mother had known what I did I think she’s had got grey hair a lot earlier on. She had no idea. I was very reckless.”
B-Movie: Lust & Sound In West Berlin (1979 – 1989) comes to Duke of York’s Picturehouse Cinema in Brighton, on Sun 27 Sept, as part of Brighton Digital Festival.