BERLIN -- Two thousand five hundred white plastic foam bricks came tumbling down while fog machines shifted into overdrive, drums bumped up the pace and 200,000 people surged forward in the dirt and dust of the Death Strip.
"Tear down the Wall," they chanted Saturday night. "Tear down the Wall!"
Bruce Jackson's eyes turned red and then the tears came and he couldn't stop them. He is a 40-year-old lawyer and he was crying at a rock concert. He laughed. He and his wife, Ruth, had spent four days solid listening to an Atlanta radio station so he could know how many Pink Floyd songs it had played, so he could call the station, so he could win the tickets and the trip to Berlin, which he did, which he considers fate. But don't think he wouldn't have come all the way to hear "The Wall" anyway, because he had already bought tickets before he won them.
"This is what Richard Wagner would have done if he had electricity and lightweight materials," Jackson said as shafts of white light cut the sky into diamonds and a dazzling burst of fireworks -- all white and gold -- filled the night over the Brandenburg Gate.
For one night only, "The Wall," the set of the rock opera of the same name, stood perpendicular to what was left of the real thing in the No Man's Land that separated the two Berlins until last Nov. 9.
This flat swath of dirt -- patrolled for 28 years by East German border guards with orders to fire at anything bigger than the omnipresent rabbits -- was once the heart of Berlin, Potsdamer Platz, the commercial center of a European city that did everything in a grand way, whether it was decadence, science or fascism.
This night, it was host to a rock tribute to a historical watershed. Art, overtaken by reality, came back to try again, the 1979 extravaganza restaged for a disaster relief charity by former Pink Floyd leader Roger Waters.
There were people jammed in as far as you could see. Nearby rooftops were clots of humanity. For the first time since the real wall opened last fall, traffic between East and West Berlin was cut off. The organizers had sold 160,000 tickets, but then the crowds outside got too big, frightening the producers, who ordered the gates opened and everyone let in.
It was a semiotician's bonanza. Pink, a tormented, lonely rock star, breaks down the wall he has built between himself and his audience. A people break down the wall their oppressors erected to keep them prisoner. Finally, the rocker returns to the scene of history, charging $25 a head so the people can watch the bricks tumble once more.
They wanted so much to believe. From the opening moments, when hundreds of toy soldiers hanging from mini-parachutes floated to the ground from cranes high above the stage, the crowd was mesmerized. They were rowdy as Cyndi Lauper, in garters and glitz, spat out the Waters anthem, "We don't need no education, we don't need no thought control."
The turnstile of stars spun quickly: Sinead O'Connor, somber and sullen; Joni Mitchell, alternately plaintive and strong; Waters, dry and detached in his black suit, shades and high-tech headset.
The crowd wanted to be swept up and it was. When the script called for the audience to confront Pink as a sea of clones, everyone flicked pink paper masks forward and back in unison.
During halftime, no, the interval, they watched silently as a video showed aerial footage of masses of people forming parts of a face -- an eye, an ear, the mouth -- and coming together as a single face. They loved it and roared.
Then, on the massive video screens, the words "British Airways" appeared and the announcer said something about the airline that brings people together. There were several seconds of silence and then the crowd realized. They'd been had. It was an ad.
A loud, embarrassed boo swept across the No Man's Land.
Later, in a nightmare sequence in which the rock star imagines himself as a fascist general leading a rally, black-uniformed soldiers filled the stage, carrying banners with a black and red crossed-hammer insignia. They goose-stepped across the stage. They raised their arms in salute to their leader, who -- as if there were a shred of subtlety to the moment -- addressed them in German.
Waters intended a scene of horror, designed to show "how we all run the risk of turning into extremist despots of one kind or another if we wall ourselves off from other human beings."
But now, in the face of a grotesque reenactment of a Nazi rally, the crowd actually seemed thrilled, pushing forward, pumping their fists into the air over and over and over again.
Leonard Cheshire, too, wanted so much to believe in the message. Cheshire, the highly decorated British combat pilot whose charity Waters chose as beneficiary of "The Wall," declared after the show that "this audience had a sense of history."
"They know you can't be focused on the past," said Cheshire, 72. "You can't lock yourself up in a wall. What a marvelous evening. First rock concert I've seen. I was completely carried away."
Waters called the restaged story of Pink "an act of celebration for that symbolic freeing of the human spirit," the opening of the Berlin Wall.
Ute Lemper, the West German interpreter of Kurt Weill, was so excited about appearing that she had announced in the Berlin papers that she wanted the entire city to join in a common orgasm at midnight Saturday.
For Lemper, though, it was musicalus interruptus. Her number, the show's second, was scrapped when "The Wall" lost power only four minutes into the production.
"Damn," said one of the set designers. "I knew we shouldn't have used East German power." The outage lasted only a few minutes, but there was no going back. The lights and computers were pre-programmed and the concert had to press on. Lemper was out.
Backstage after the show, the players stood in chilly bewilderment as publicity people shuttled them from one cluster of reporters to another.
"Are you doing, like, the meaning or, you know, the color?" one of the show officials asked a reporter.
"Okay, here's Cyndi," said press agent Jody Miller. "Make it quick, she's tired."
Lauper sat down. Five minutes. Which would it be, like, the meaning or, you know, the color? It would be both.
Meaning: "I came to Berlin in '80 and I saw a woman crying at the Wall. It was especially important to me 'cause I'm a quarter German -- also a quarter Swiss and half Italian, like a cold cut. This woman was driven mad with grief. I thought, 'She's yelling at the Wall.' I never forgot this.
Color: "It went amazing. I've never seen anything so big in my life. I was crying before I went out there. The bigness of it scared the hell out of me."
Last fall, Waters, 47, went to see Cheshire, who flew 100 missions in World War II, destroying large chunks of the German military-industrial heartland. Cheshire was starting the Memorial Fund for Disaster Relief, which aimed to raise $10 for each of the 100 million lives lost in war this century.
Waters, whose father was killed in the war, had said in 1988 that the only way "The Wall," his rock opera of alienation, would ever be produced again would be if the Berlin Wall fell.
Now it had. Waters offered to bring the Wall -- a plastic foam wall 600 feet wide and four times the height of the real thing -- to the Wall, creating the biggest rock concert ever and giving the proceeds to Cheshire.
It wasn't that simple. East Germany was still a Communist state that was suddenly not very proud of the Death Strip it had created by erecting a virtually impenetrable wall through the center of its capital city.
Waters and his production company spent months seeking permits, meeting with politicians and, finally, preparing the site for a concert that would be broadcast live to 35 countries and seen by a purported audience of 1 billion. (No American network signed up for the live show; producers hope to find a U.S. television outlet for "The Wall" by this fall. The concert aired live on 175 U.S. radio stations.)
In the most strictly controlled city in the world, where the British, French, American and Soviet militaries join East and West German police in patrols by air, land and water, a bunch of rock stars asked for the impossible.
They wanted to hoist a 130-foot-high inflated pig on top of their foam wall, which would already be one of Berlin's tallest structures. Permission granted. They wanted the Marching Band of the Combined Soviet Forces in Germany to appear onstage in front of projections of horrifying war scenes. Granted.
They wanted metal from melted-down nuclear weapons to make into souvenir pens. The Soviets delivered chunks of old SS-20s; the Americans -- after the secretary of defense broke through the red tape -- handed over pieces from melted missiles.
They wanted to hire soon-to-be-unemployed East German border guards as stagehands. Got them. They wanted a military helicopter to fly over the site at the start of the show. Got it. They wanted B-17 bombers to buzz the Wall. Now, wait a minute, the Allies said. Peace may be breaking out all over, but U.S. bombers crossing over into the Soviet sector? No way.
It took more than a month to build the set and clear the No Man's Land. Every inch had to be inspected, with good reason. Workers discovered a 300-pound Soviet bomb from World War II, a rocket launcher, live mines, grenades, about 100,000 rounds of ammunition and a former Nazi SS bunker, complete with murals of idealized scenes of life under the Third Reich.
It was 1:30 a.m. The six-story-high wall of loudspeakers had gone silent. Waters's massive cast -- including the Band, James Galway, the East Berlin Rundfunk Symphony Orchestra, Marianne Faithfull, Van Morrison and Albert Finney -- had retired to the Hotel Intercontinental for an early morning dance party. Waters's Wall -- bigger, taller, cleaner, prettier than the one the Communists built -- was being stacked for a recycling company.
Sixty yards away, the real sound of Berlin could be heard once more. Sharing hammers and chisels, Germans and foreign visitors got back to the work that has united the city, the hollow clink of metal against concrete, the destruction of the Wall.