Uberlin, R.E.M. and Us

by James Glazebrook

Oh hai, R.E.M. fan. You’ve just Googled “Uberlin” in the hopes of finding out what the alt. rock superstars’ new song is all about. Well sorry, but you’ve happened upon a blog about a couple of English ex-pats trying to make a life for themselves in Berlin. But — before you bounce back to the search results — we might be able to shed some light on the city that Michael Stipe is so enamoured with.

As both R.E.M. and ourselves have learned, Berlin is an easy city to fall in love with. When the band announced that they would record their 15th album in the legendary Hansa Studios (the birthplace of David Bowie’s Berlin Trilogy), they explained that

Berlin is a pulsing, exciting city with so many varied and distinctive neighborhoods, iconic history all around, great food at all levels and from every corner of the world… an excellent place to set up camp and make a great record.

Swap out “record” for “life”, and this echoes our feelings exactly. On one level, the name Überlin simply means “about Berlin” (über + Berlin). But, as “über” can also stand for “over”, “above” and “beyond”, this blog is about more than Berlin – and Berlin is more than just a city to us.

The song “Uberlin” capture the potential beauty of everyday life in a way that few lyricists other than Stipe can. He begins with the routine preparations for an ordinary day (“Hey now, take your pills… make your breakfast… comb your hair and off to work”) and ends up somewhere literally out of this world: “I am flying on a star into a meteor tonight.”

For us, the turning point comes in the second verse: “take the U-Bahn [underground/subway train] / Five stops, change the station… don’t forget, the change will save you.” Looking back, our move out here four months ago – which seemed so overwhelming at the time – was as simple as changing tracks, switching direction. But it may have saved us.

The original official video for the song told this wondrous, enigmatic tale by tracking something as mundane as the U-Bahn map itself, or at least a pretty close approximation of it:

The new (also official) video, directed by English artist Sam Taylor-Wood doesn’t move us quite so much – not least because it was filmed in the part of East London we just moved away from!

Either Wood didn’t fancy the flight out here, or she’s making a point – transcendent moments like the ones the song describes can take place anywhere, to anyone. While we’d have to agree, it’s here that we have finally found a rewarding life, one full of potential. It’s here that we “walk the streets to feel the ground”. If you want to know what’s so amazing about Berlin, feel free to explore our blog – it’s all we ever talk about! And this might be a good place to start…

PS – Thanks to Good Hard Working People for bringing the new video to our attention and making us realise that we had to blog about it!

Edit: the geniuses behind Normal in Shoreditch have uploaded a spoof version of the Taylor-Wood video that’s even more gloriously everyday. Now this makes us homesick:

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