Almost 25 years ago, Bruce Springsteen gave communist East Germany its biggest-ever rock concert, in a performance that fueled 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, and millions more watching on television, to strive for freedom.
Germany was divided in the wake of World War II, 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-and-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 were censored, political opposition was all but nonexistent 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 that they thought 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.