Entertainment behind the scenes
Did Springsteen help bring down Berlin Wall?
John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan made powerful speeches directed against the Berlin Wall from inside the capitalist enclave of West Berlin during the Cold War and the two American presidents have been given their due credit by historians for the roles the two famous speeches in 1963 and 1987 might have played in the events leading up to the collapse of the Cold War barrier on Nov. 9, 1989.
But it’s quite possible that another American may have actually had a more direct influence on the Berlin Wall’s demise — Bruce Springsteen . He may well have played a more important role in galvanising a generation of East Germans fed up with living behind a Wall, a contribution that I would argue has been largely overlooked by historians.
The American rock icon put on a stirring concert in front of a record-breaking crowd of 160,000 in East Berlin 20 years ago — on July 19, 1988. That was 16 months before the Wall collapsed and at a moment when Communist East Germany was in the throes of change — Mikhail Gorbachev’s “perestroika” reforms had been let out of the bottle in the Soviet Union but hardline East German Communist leaders wanted little to do with those reforms.
The East German Communists had nevertheless let Springsteen in for his concert in 1988 after his earlier attempts to perform had been thwarted. But they angered the American by putting the label “concert for Nicaragua” on tickets and posters. So half-way through his three-hour concert, which was broadcast on tape delay by East German TV, Springsteen stopped for a short speech:
“It’s great to be in East Berlin,” Springsteen said in German as he introduced “Chimes of Freedom”. “I want to tell you, I’m not here for or against any government. I came here to play rock ‘n’ roll for you East Berliners in the hope that one day all the barriers will be torn down.”
And the crowd went wild after he made his bold appeal, according to newspaper reports at the time.
His speech fits into the tradition started with Kennedy’s “”Ich bin ein Berliner” www.youtube.com/watch?v=hH6nQhss4Yc that carried on with Reagan’s “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall” www.youtube.com/watch?v=WjWDrTXMgF8 And Springsteen even spoke his words inside East Berlin. When you see the East German TV broadcast of the concert, you see a myriad of young East German faces full of emotions — they look to the same faces that the world saw 16 months later dancing on and around the Berlin Wall after it was finally breached.
Unfortunately I wasn’t at that Springsteen concert (though I’ve been to many before and after) but I’ve been hearing people in east Berlin talk about it for many years. It marked a turning point in East German history even if the revolution might not have started on that warm summer evening. I think the Springsteen concert marked the beginning of the end for East Berlin and East Germany. With the 20th anniversary of that concert looming this week, I think it’s time Springsteen got some credit for helping bring down the Berlin Wall.