Interpretations:Road Movie To Berlin
- The St. Peter/medals line seems very tongue in cheek, and I believe it refers to German soldiers who felt justified by their faith during the war but now understand that they lost and have come to terms with reality. Their faith has been shattered and all they have left is war-torn East Berlin, which they returned home to after the war and are now trapped in. All they can do is dream of escape, but they're certain that they'll die in the city. The song is possibly set during the journey home from the front. —Preceding unsigned comment added by 126.96.36.199 (talk) 16:14, April 12, 2020
Kings of the Road
- Hey i have an interpretation sort of in line with theory about the song being related to the movie "King of the road." this movie is the last (if i remember correctly it might be the 2nd) in a trilogy of movies by Wim Wenders (all German films) that are considered part of his "road movie" trilogy, (referring to the genre not a self made denomination). The movie i feel like has the closest connection to the song is one called "Alice in the Cities" which is about a young German reporter who is convinced by a strange american girl he meets on one of his stops who convinces him to take a young girl with him, the rest of the movie is spent between the reporter and the girl building a strange friendship as they travel from city to city looking for the girl's grandmother. I don't remember exactly, but I believe there is a scene in this movie where he allows her to sit in his lap and drive while he operates the pedals, though i may be thinking of a different movie. So anyways that's just my bit though I'm sure there's probably way more too it than that --Jon K, non-user 14:19, February 12, 2007
It's about nuclear holocaust/the cold war. Being the last song on "Flood", it was written before 1990, so the cold war was still around, although the Berlin Wall had fallen (I think, I'm a little foggy about the history of the world when i was 3). Berlin is the primary icon of the cold war: Communist and Capitalist sharing of the German capital after WWII caused a lot of bad feelings. The line "Time won't find (possibly bind, I'm doing this from memory) the loss, it'll sweep up our skeleton bones" means 'Nobody will mourn for us, we'll just be bleached skeletons with the flesh stripped off by nuclear fire'. The movie aspect is the feeling of helplessness for people: They can't affect the world, and they can only wait and see if they make it through. Both of the Johns must have been born around the 50s, so they grew up in the era of 'Oh my god, we're all going to be nuked, duck and cover, et. al.' environment.
This is currently my favorite Leonard Cohen tune.--M. Fudd 18:50, 10 Dec 2005 (EST)
"We were once so close to Heaven, [St.] Peter came out and gave us medals declaring us the nicest of the damned." What that tells me is that They are trying to tell us something religious. They want us to know that being nice can't/won't get you into Heaven. It's faith in God that will. Nice guys that don't have religion still go to Hell. DISCLAIMER: This is just an interpretation; I'm not preaching. — User:ACupOfCoffee@ 18:53, 9 Jan 2006 (EST)
- True, but they're also saying that they themselves don't have religion —Preceding unsigned comment added by 188.8.131.52 (talk) 13:41, April 29, 2006
- I take that line to be more of a comment on communism. I don't think the use of St. Peter should be taken literally. I always thought they were saying that they (communists) came really close to achieving their goal, but their system was doomed (damned) to fail from the very start. It's like strapping one end of a bungee chord to a rock in hell and the other end around someone's waist. The person can try to walk to heaven if he wants, but as he gets closer to his goal, the chord gets more and more taught, making his goal harder and harder to achieve, until he goes so far that the chord yanks him back to where he started. -Cronny 19:18, January 11, 2009
My two cents: the key word is "Berlin", which was one of the focal points of the Cold War. The song, to me, speaks of the people, in uniform and/or playing the "Great Game", on either side of that conflict, and how being in that most conflicted of cities has jaded them. "We're in a road movie to Berlin" evokes the "Road to...." movies of Bob Hope and friends, and wryly reduces the cold war around them to little more than a movie plot. The lyric "you can't drive out the way you drove in" refers to the way that being in Berlin during the Cold War, and all the factors inherent, affected everyone present - sometimes you can't go home again, because although the place may not have changed, you have, and you don't fit it anymore.
"We were once so close to heaven/Peter came out and gave us medals/Declaring us the nicest of the damned" may refer to the blurring of loyalties and ethics. "Peter" could represent either Uncle Sam and/or the Communist party, doling out pats on the head to those loyal servants who served them well, or to the confused or ambitious on either side who, by accident or design, were untrue to their homeland.
"Time won't find the lost/It'll sweep up our skeleton bones" would, in this interpretation, refer to the ultimate futility of their actions, that whatever the grunt-workers may do or say, governments will do as they please, and are just as likely to hang its most loyal servants out to dry. Finally, "So take the wheel and I will take the pedal" and "So sneak out this glass of bourbon and we'll go" refer to that most human of necessities, whatever the circumstances: to do what's necessary to get yourself (and, if possible, your buddies) through another day more-or-less intact.
- It can also refer to St. Peter who is said to be guarding the gates of heaven, meaning that they were the nicest people who were sent to hell and not let into heaven. —Preceding unsigned comment added by 184.108.40.206 (talk) 00:01, December 19, 2014
I have always thought the phrase "Road Movie to Berlin" was a reference to the old Bob Hope silly comedy "Road Movie" series of films ("The Road to Bali", "The Road to Hong Kong", etc.). I figured it was an ironic reference of some sort - i.e. being in a road movie to somewhere would be comparing life to one of those madcap comedies. Berlin, in the era of the song, would have had some pretty serious connotations, what with the Cold War and the Berlin Wall and all, so a "Road Movie to Berlin" makes an interesting juxtaposition of a nutty comedy with a serious destination. —Preceding unsigned comment added by 220.127.116.11 (talk) 12:41, February 20, 2007
All Quiet on the Western Front
I dimly remember from the film All Quiet on the Western Front (but not the book, for some reason) a scene in which the German soldiers get a break from fighting to go to Berlin (or maybe somewhere else) so that the Kaiser (or maybe someone else) can present them with medals—after which point the boys go back to the war so they can get killed. --Afterward 01:03, 30 March 2008 (UTC)
I think the song starts like a road trip song but you slowly realize the narrator has died (possibly on a Road to Berlin) and been damned to Hell. The 'St. Peter' character is the focus of the later line "You said you were the King of Liars." This 'King' is none other than The Devil. He specializes in deceit as told by many a bible and impersonates deities on multiple occasions. The line "But I realize now, that I had been deceived" is the realization that the narrator is not in Heaven. But maybe it's just me. —Preceding unsigned comment added by 18.104.22.168 (talk) 23:27, October 7, 2008
Wings of Desire
What I particularly love about TMBG songs is how they often support more than one interpretation.
I love the World War II and Cold War interpretations for this song, but would like to add the following especially as it references my all time favourite movie: Wings of Desire (1987).
This German movie is set in Berlin (it's original title is "Der Himmel uber Berlin"). It's produced by Wenders' own film company Road Movies.
The plot precis is on Wikipedia but concerns angels, one of whom (Damiel) renounces his immortality and divinity, choosing to live as a human, to experience life rather than simply observe and record it.
Damiel later discovers that he is not the first angel to have made this choice and another of these fallen angels helps him both before and after he chooses to fall to earth.
This choice is final for the angels. They definitely cannot leave Berlin the way they came in, they must die as humans die and be forgotten as humans will be forgotten.
One of the main characters is Peter Falk who plays Peter Falk and is a good bet for the 'Peter' in the lyrics.
A major 'character' in the movie is Berlin itself. Or more specifically the Berlin Wall which still stood at the time of filming, as it did at the time this song was written.
The Wall comes to symbolise the division of sacred from profane, East from West, Man from Woman, Past from Present.
Love is the only way these divisions are ever transcended. You take the wheel and I will take the pedals.
The bourbon references are not that obvious, but several key scenes in the movie took place in a bar, so perhaps that's enough of a link.
The film ends -I believe- with the characters including the ex-angel packing up and leaving Berlin in cars and caravans.
PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT: Avoid at all costs the shitty U.S. remake of Wings of Desire.
Starring Nic Cage as the Angel and Meg Ryan as (I'm not making this up) a brain surgeon.
May I just say that the phrase "So take the wheel and I will take the pedals" also can lead to the inference that the narrator is saying that they will be the power (or firepower, falling in line with other interps) and in exchange are giving up control --non-user 23:30, December 11, 2013
The Death of a Romantic Ideal
Flans of 1988 seems to be of the opinion that a "road movie to Berlin" (presumably East Berlin) would be absolutely miserable—no climax, no happy conclusion, not even the dignity of a tragic ending, just an abrupt *stop* amidst the apparently dull, brutalist architecture of the eastern capital. The romance you'd otherwise expect from a road trip movie is gone, and it's well and truly dead as the Berlin Wall is standing in the way of your hope of driving out "the way you came in". You'll have to unceremoniously sneak out.
This, of course, implies that it's easier to get into East Berlin than it is to get out—something that was generally not true of tourists when the Wall was standing, but Flans seems to be exploiting the fact that it the border was, for the most part, only open one way (excepting West Berliners, West Germans and others could cross, but East Germans couldn't) for the purposes of metaphor. Once the dream's dead, you can't resurrect it.
So he's using the stereotype of Eastern Bloc mundanity to represent the death of a romantic ideal. It's a shame, seeing as they almost made it ("we were once so close to heaven..."), but even that is no comfort. Nobody will remember their story ("time won't find the lost...").
This could be accused of being one of the more reactionary TMBG songs. It might seem out of character for Flans, with his explicitly left-wing politics, to counterpose even the worst big-C Communist (as in Stalinist or post-Stalinist) regimes, with their lofty utopian ideals and cultural egalitarianism, with the romanticism of exceptional individuals, even moreso to side with the latter over the former. However, there's at least a clear-eyed recognition the narrator's idealisation of the life they missed out on living isn't tenable. - Stareadactyl (talk) 20:09, 29 January 2023 (EST)