BERLIN (Reuters) - Almost 25 years ago, Bruce Springsteen gave communist East Germany its biggest ever rock concert in a performance that fuelled a spirit of rebellion and may have contributed to events that brought down the Berlin Wall, a new book says.
In “Rocking the Wall”, U.S. journalist Erik Kirschbaum says the rock star’s music and his anti-Berlin Wall speech helped to inspire more than 300,000 fans at the concert in East Berlin, and millions more watching on television, to strive for freedom.
Germany was divided into East and West in the wake of World War Two and by the time of the Springsteen concert in July 1988, the Berlin Wall had been up for almost 27 years, separating 17 million East Germans from their West German counterparts.
They were growing restless and impatient for reforms.
The author uses eyewitness accounts, interviews with Springsteen’s manager and translators, documents from concert organizers and files from the Stasi secret police to tell the story of how “The Boss” ventured behind the Iron Curtain and, perhaps unwittingly, mobilized his fans.
“It’s great to be in East Berlin. I‘m not for or against any government. I came here to play rock ‘n’ roll for you, in the hope that one day all barriers will be torn down,” Springsteen said at the concert 16 months before East Berliners tore down the wall.
Kirschbaum, a Reuters correspondent in Berlin, argues that this short speech, delivered in German, touched a nerve in a country without freedom of speech, where the media was censored, political opposition was all but non-existent and those trying to escape the Wall risked being shot by border guards.
“It was a nail in the coffin for East Germany,” Joerg Beneke, a Springsteen fan who was at the 1988 concert, told Kirschbaum. “We had never heard anything like that from anyone inside East Germany. That was the moment some of us had been waiting a lifetime to hear.”
The crowd went delirious and grew even wilder when Springsteen labored the point by launching into the next song, Bob Dylan’s “Chimes of Freedom”. Leaving the stage, Springsteen and his manager told each other they felt East Germany was about to change dramatically.
“Whether Springsteen deserves belated credit for helping end the Cold War depends to a certain extent on whether you believe in the power of rock ‘n’ roll,” Kirschbaum said.
“But what is beyond doubt is that Springsteen’s 1988 concert is a glorious example of the influence that rock ‘n’ roll can have on people who are hungry and ready for change.”
The author was not able to interview Springsteen for the book but the 63-year-old star’s manager, Jon Landau, did cooperate and is quoted extensively with backstage anecdotes.
The book jumps back and forth in time, from early Cold War history from 1981 to the concert in 1988.
It is probably impossible to give a definitive answer to the question raised by the book of whether Springsteen played a role in the fall of the Berlin Wall.
In September 1989, a little more than a year after the Springsteen concert, East Germans took to the streets chanting “Wir sind das Volk” (we are the people), expressing discontent with the government and demanding basic civil rights.
Two months later, on November 9, 1989, East Berliners surged through checkpoints along the wall and breached the hated Cold War symbol, hacking bits out of it and ecstatically dancing on top of it as East German border guards looked on.
Reporting by Michelle Martin; Editing by Stephen Brown and Paul Casciato