A BRIEF FLASHBACK
The 19th of July 1988 was a hot summer day in Berlin. The sky was blue, and the sun shined brightly. The youth organization of the GDR, the FDJ, had invited the youth to an exceptional concert. This had a particular reason. In the previous year, riots had broken out when Berlin celebrated its 750th anniversary. Many events took then place in the East and West-Berlin.
One of them was the “Concert for Berlin”. It was hosted in West Berlin, more precisely at the Reichstag, right next to the infamous Berlin Wall. There, three superstars of the ’80s performed at this event. Among them was the one and only David Bowie. Thousands of Bowie’s East-German fans flocked to the Wall’s east side.
The consequence was a rebellion of the crowd. They led to the first-ever protests, which can be – without any doubt – considered as the beginning of the GDR’s end.
In the assumption that they would probably never experience their “Hero” live onstage, they tried to listen to him from a distance. In 1987, the Wall was still dividing the city into two parts. Thus, the Stasi, the East-German security service, tried to dissolve the illegal gathering of music fans at the Wall.
However, nobody could foresee the upcoming course of events back in 1988. On the contrary, the GDR tried to win the revolting youth back over to the usual obedience.
And, for this purpose, the FDJ organized the most legendary concert in the history of Eastern Germany. Even more: on this fateful day, a special chapter in rock music history was written by none other than Bruce Springsteen.
A CONCERT THAT CHANGED THE WORLD
Only a few international superstars performed in the GDR. The budgets were far too low, and the effort associated with the restrictions that existed in this country was far too high. Therefore, it was a big challenge to get a ticket for a concert of an international artist.
In the socialist satellite state GDR, there was no chance to purchase concert tickets in a shop during the 1970s and 80s. As usual in a dictatorship, everything was controlled by the state, including the sale of tickets. These were distributed “fairly” by the government. People who made a special contribution at work, at school, or in their studies were the first ones to have the chance to get one or two of these coveted entry tickets.
I had just graduated from school and was enjoying the summer. Although I probably was anything but system-compliant as a punk at the time, my good performance in school made me one of the lucky ones who got a ticket, for only 19.95 Mark. If we now take the unofficial exchange rate from Mark (East Germany) to D-Mark (West Germany) and convert this into Euros or Dollars, we end up – ignoring the inflation, of course – with an amount of only € 0.99 or $ 1.20.
Bruce Springsteen: I’m on Fire
BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN IN EAST GERMANY
To get permission and budget from the government to realize a project, business, or event, it had to relate to a political or social approach. Therefore, to manage the Bruce Springsteen concert, the FDJ chose the then 9th anniversary of the Nicaraguan revolution as the subject. Thus, the original concert ticket shows the slogan “Concert for Nicaragua.” But we were not interested in that. At that time, we couldn’t even travel to France or Spain, and, thus, we asked ourselves: “Where the hell is Nicaragua?”
Bruce Springsteen: The River
For me and my friends only one thing was important; The name on the ticket: Bruce Springsteen. We were also not interested in the obligation associated with purchasing the ticket. We were initially made to wear the so-called blue shirt, the uniform of the FDJ. That wasn’t cool at all. But what are bags for? Even before, at other events organized by the state, we had swapped the shirt with our personal outfit after a short time. That unforgettable day in July was no different.
The concert should start at 7 p.m. Entry started at 4 p.m. But we couldn’t stand the tension and were already at the venue at 1 p.m. But when we arrived at the ‘Radrennbahn Weißensee’ much too early, we could hardly believe our eyes. There was pure chaos. An exceptional state that we had never experienced before.
Thousands upon thousands of people were already on site. Some of them had tickets, some didn’t. The latter group in particular was desperate to gain access to the concert area. Great, we thought, then we’ll be somewhere in the last row during the concert.
The security, which was supposed to keep the growing crowd under control, consisted of pupils, apprentices, and students. They had been assigned to this service by the FDJ. Without any experience, completely overwhelmed, and even more, completely planless and helpless.
These unfortunate girls and boys fought against the growing pressure of the crowd that shook the barriers. Still dressed in our blue shirt, we went to the desperate security guys and pretended to be their reinforcements, assigned by the FDJ to help. Maybe that was a little mean. Anyway, it worked.
Overjoyed, the security forces let us in. And so, for a little more than five minutes, we really helped them to set up and strengthen the barriers. But then, when the time was right and nobody was observing us, we took the chance and ran in the direction of the stage intending to be able to experience the Bruce Springsteen concert from the front row. At the right time, because a short time later, the gates were opened, and the crowd also stormed to the stage.
Similar to the well-known Marvel heroes, we transformed while we were heading for the stage. Our blue shirts disappeared in some inexplicable, magical way. In my case, the shirt was replaced by my Jack Daniels shirt, 5 studded belts, and funny green neon suspenders. A skull scarf rounded off the look. Yes, it was like that back then in the 80s.
Our worries that the security would be looking for us quickly evaporated. Apparently, all the barriers had been overrun. Because from second to second the place filled up. It was literally flooded.
More and more people poured into the field. Thus, it got very tight and very hot. What’s more, it got wet. A heavy but warm downpour began. It was very sexy. Because now not only we were wet, but everyone around us too. Girls and boys.
The rain stopped as suddenly as it had started, and the hot summer sun drove the clouds away in a flash.
It dried our bodies and clothes in seconds. But it also dried the puddles that the rain had left in the mud under our feet.
As a result, the evaporating water created a sauna effect, which not only made us sweat a lot, but it also robbed us of the air to breathe. This, as well as the ever-growing crowd that pushed purposefully towards the stage, made us surrender to the situation.
We asked the security staff, who fortunately had a professional background here and consisted of strong guys, to get us out of the crowd. For a moment, we were disappointed to lose our place in the first row.
However, when we witnessed how one of our friends, a competitive athlete, wrestler, a colossus of man, made the security guys struggle with his physical mass as they tried to lift him out of the crowd, our mood quickly brightened up again. In 1988 there were no smartphones to record this moment. Today that funny scene would have gone viral instantly.
While the security was trying to lift our friend over the heads of the others, I had the opportunity to look at the audience. And again, I caught my breath.
My gaze wandered over a colorful ocean on which blonde, brown, black, and red waves played. Up to the horizon. Never ever before had I seen so many people gathered in one place. At that moment I felt that something unique was happening here.
Still a little disappointed, my friends and I walked to the side. Of course, we didn’t want to give up just yet. So, we were looking for a good place to see Bruce Springsteen’s performance.
Luckily, it was easier than we thought. Because many in the first rows felt the same as us before. They could not withstand the enormous pressure of the crowd.
Therefore, they had to be pulled out of it. Thus, we could advance relaxed and, before the concert started, we were in a good position again. Now, we had a great view of the stage.
THE BEGINNING – BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN APPEARS ON STAGE
And then it started. I will never forget that moment when the drums of Badlands pounded through the gigantic speakers. I had never seen such PA monitors before, let alone heard them. Nor had I ever seen such video screens that were set up so that everyone could really experience Bruce Springsteen live.
Every beat and sound flowed deeper and deeper into our bodies and our hearts. The power of the music and the special moment automatically brought tears to our eyes. Bruce Springsteen was there. And he played for us. In East Berlin.
Before him, other international artists had already performed in East Berlin. One of those was Depeche Mode. Of course, the guys from Basildon, UK, had a lot of fans in the GDR. They brought Berlin to a boil in March 1988. Due to the low budget available to the GDR, however, they only played excerpts from their concert program.
Springsteen, on the other hand, played an incredible 4 hours.
And he played rock at its finest! During the short break, which he allowed himself in the middle of the concert, he only changed his clothes quickly. Then he answered questions from the East German press representatives in a kindly, no, even amicable manner.
THE MAGIC OF BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN
So, this Bruce Springsteen concert became an unforgettable highlight for all visitors on so many levels. Even more, it was just magical. One of those truly magical moments was when Springsteen brought a pretty girl out of the audience to dance to Dancing in the Dark with her.
When the two of them hugged, none of the crowd felt any kind of envy. Everyone rejoiced with the chosen one. Besides, certainly, everybody saw in her a representative for all of us. Despite the incredible crowd, Bruce Springsteen became approachable to everyone.
Moving and magical was also that special moment when Bruce Springsteen took a note out of his pocket and said in German: „I want to tell you I’m not here for or against any government.
I’ve come to play rock ‘n’ roll for you East-Berliners. In the hope that one day all the barriers will be torn down.”
Even if Bruce Springsteen had heeded the advice of his tour management, which asked him beforehand to tone down the speech and not to use the term “wall”, the speech did not miss its effect. Springsteen’s message got under everyone’s skin. It caused an outcry of freedom that sparked an energy that words cannot describe.
Probably the most impressive moment of the evening, however, is difficult to recognize and understand for those people who were lucky enough to be allowed to grow up in freedom when looking at the old video recordings.
However, those who have had the painful experience of living in a country in which values such as freedom – including freedom of speech – and, thus, essential human rights are disregarded by the government, know what it means to break political taboos in public.
For the East German government, the USA was the symbol of decadence and capitalism. The GDR considered the United States of America as an enemy of the state. Therefore, the small country used all means to defend against this corrupt and depraved system. This ideology was diligently taught to children in their first years of primary school. Pure brainwashing, that failed luckily.
BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN SINGS “BORN IN THE USA“ AND CHANGES THE WORLD
Because now Bruce Springsteen was on stage. In the middle of East Berlin. The organizers of the concert had prohibited him in advance to play what is probably his most famous song. However, nobody can dictate rules to the “Boss”. And so, of course, Bruce Springsteen played “Born in the USA”. The energy of a volcanic eruption is nothing compared to the energy that arose when hundreds of thousands of East Germans sang these iconic lyrics with him at the top of their lungs.
During the song, music and joy dominated. After the song, however, everyone felt the energy and power that united the crowd. At this moment, that much is certain, most people felt that this powerful connection, this strong feeling, and this unique solidarity have the power to change the country and thereby the world.
SPRINGSTEEN PARTIES WITH 160.000 BERLINERS
Officially, 100,000 tickets were made available for the event. But at least 160,000 people certainly followed the concert on site. According to some sources, there were even 250,000 people. No matter how many people were on site finally, it was enough to shape and change history. The history of rock music and the history of Europe as well.
In 240 minutes, Bruce Springsteen took us all into a completely different, beautiful, and lovable world. He not only played rock. But he gave us love.
Moreover, for a moment he showed the people who lived behind the wall what freedom means. This strong feeling that the rock star, who has always remained loyal to his homeland New Jersey, gave to the people, generated an irrepressible urge for freedom. And exactly that was what should ultimately lead to the fall of the wall.
To this day, I carry this feeling of pleasure and freedom deep inside me, which I was able to experience for only 20 marks back then. It always comes back when I hear a song by the Boss of Rock. Read the next report.