Wednesday, 12 August 2009

City-Lit: Tobias Rüther, Helden

As I’ve mentioned before, I nobly sacrificed my time earlier this summer to read through piles and piles of books about Berlin for the forthcoming City-Lit Berlin anthology, from the lovely people at Oxygen Books. And what a joy that was! Now that the dust has settled and the presses are whirring I thought I’d share some of the titles that made it in – and perhaps a few that got away.

These will only be brief pieces, as it’s been a while since I read the books in question, and some of them I only skimmed for juicy snippets. I’ll start off with what I found the most remarkable book in our collection: Tobias Rüther’s Helden. David Bowie und Berlin.

We’d been looking for pieces on famous Berliners and David Bowie just had to be in there, being very much part of the West Berlin legend. But pop biographies can be rather, well, specialised, which can be a tad, well, dull. So I was delighted to discover Tobias Rüther’s book on Bowie’s Berlin years.

The author is a journalist for the heavyweight Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, so it need come as no surprise that Helden is marvellously intellectual. Rüther treats us to discourses on Berlin’s architecture, contemplations on the nature of Bowie’s fleeting fixation on Nazism, comparisons to the Brücke art movement, and much more. The book investigates how the man himself imagined Berlin would be before he arrived, based on his fascination with Isherwood and all things thirties. And it looks at his life once he was here – two very different kettles of fish, no matter how hard Bowie tried.

Of course Rüther has done his research. There’s a four-page bibliography, he’s interviewed people who worked with Bowie in Berlin, visited his old flat and his old studios, and so on. But he puts it all together to conjure up a truly tangible West Berlin in the late seventies – although he’s only as old as I am so he can’t have experienced it first-hand. And above all, the man knows his music but never drifts into NME-style pop nerdism.

Most important from the practical point of view was that Tobias Rüther is the translator’s dream of a writer. A quick email enquiring about the sources of some of the text’s many quotes was answered in split seconds. Rüther went above and beyond the call of authorly duty to dig out all his sources for my translation, even faxing me a copy of a CD booklet. Twice.

Publishers: Work with this man. Buy the translation rights to this book. Satisfy the hungry minds of Britain’s and America’s intellectual music fans. You can be Heroes.


Laura said...

Please could you contact me about Tobias Ruther, I would like to ask for your help. My name is Laura Kaye and I work for the BBC my email is
thanks very much, Laura

Anonymous said...


I'm Vittoria Mainoldi an I run ONO arte contemporanea, an Italian contemporary art gallery.
We're working on our forthcoming show on David Bowie in Berlin and we were wondering if you can put us through Tobias Rüther.
My e-mail is

Thank you for your help!