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Ghosts and heroes of Hansa

We know Hansa Studios as the birthplace of David Bowie’s “Heroes” and U2’s "Achtung Baby". But what’s it like to record there today? German musician Andrea Schroeder and her band had the chance to find out.

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Photo by Dixie Schmiedle

We know Hansa Studios, in far-west Kreuzberg just off Potsdamer Platz, as the birthplace of David Bowie’s “Heroes” and U2’s Achtung Baby. But what’s it like to record there today? German musician Andrea Schroeder and her band had the chance to find out while laying down a pair of tracks for their sophomore album, Where The Wild Oceans End.

“I believe the studio is very important for the mood in the song. Houses have their memories; mixing desks do too. And while recording in such a place you are able to record things besides what’s obviously heard. You catch spirits.” Appropriate, then, that one of the tracks her band recorded in Hansa is titled “Ghosts of Berlin”.

“‘Ghosts of Berlin’ got born as one for all the forgotten people, for the hidden in the dark, and also for remembering the ghosts of the past,” says Schroeder. The first time the band played the song live at the release concert for debut album Blackbird, Lutz Mastmeyer from Glitterhouse Records imagined Andrea singing the German version of “Heroes” but with original lyrics. “My first thought was that it would be a kind of suicide, but I started to discover the German ‘Helden’ (‘heroes’) lyrics for myself and found a very personal meaning. The first times we played it, I always heard David Bowie’s voice in my head. But he slowly disappeared and left space for my own interpretation.”

While the majority of the album was recorded at Ocean Sound Recording Studios in Giske, Norway, it made sense for them to record these two songs in Hansa Studios. “I could even feel the Wall while singing the lyrics,” says Schroeder. “It was the only possible place to record these very Berlin connected songs.” They also recorded a third track, “Kisses For My President”, for the upcoming Jeffrey Lee Pierce Session Project, out in May.

The only German in the band, Schroeder is accompanied by Jesper Lehmkuhl (guitar) from Copenhagen and Dave Allen (bass) and Chris Hughes (drums) from Australia. Most of the songs are created by Schroeder in close collaboration with Lehmkuhl, and once the song starts, everyone else adds their personal interpretation and creativity. “Sometimes we play a song 20 times just to get the feel of it. We have a shared vision and because we come from a similar musical background, things fall easily into place,” says Hughes.

He, too, was excited to record in the same house as the band’s musical heroes. “It had the atmosphere of the old divided city and is very much in the zeitgeist from Berlin, and if you looked out of the window 25 years ago, you would have seen the Wall.”

There were drawbacks to recording there. “The air conditioning in the studio was so cold that for the vocal recordings we had to put up a boiling-water-filled bucket to moisten the air,” says Schroeder. And, says Lehmkuhl, “I missed a smokers’ lounge. Smoking was possible out of the kitchen window only.”

Despite that, says Schroeder, “It is an excellently equipped studio in the centre of Berlin, and the songs on their new album are very inspired by the town itself. I’m sure our fans appreciate our music being recorded there. The only appropriate place to record a cover of ‘Heroes’ is the place where the song was born. So it was amazing that we could go there to make it happen.”