Rocking the Wall - Bruce Springsteen - Erik Kirschbaum

Bruce Springsteen’s anti Berlin wall speech in East Berlin

If you ask Bruce Springsteen fan Erik Kirschbaum, correspondent for the news agency Reuters, about the legendary Bruce Springsteen concert in East Berlin in 1988, he regrets not being there himself. Yet, if you read his book “Rocking the Wall - Bruce Springsteen”, you feel as if he was right there. To do this, Kirschbaum has collected the impressions of over 50 contemporary witnesses and worked through the more than 80 pages of comprehensive Stasi report about the concert and numerous articles from this time.

Out of this has come a book which grippingly tells the German-German history leading up to the fall of the wall and made this musician the voice of the GDR youth. As the concert was registered as a solidarity concert for Nicaragua, Springsteen gave a speech in German, because he didn’t want to allow himself to be instrumentalist by politics:

‘ “It is lovely being in East Berlin”, he called to the people in German. His German chauffeur had noted down the correct pronunciation for him, just as Kennedy had done 25 years before him. “I am not for or against either government”, said Springsteen. “I just came to play Rock’n’Roll for you in the hope that, one day, all barriers will be torn down.” Hundreds of thousands of people broke out into frantic cheering at this. ‘

Instead of the expected 160,000 spectators, more than 500,000 people turned up in the end at the race track arena in Weißensee. The event organizer FDJ at some point had a barrier fence put up to avoid a possible mass panic. This was because the entirety of the GDR youth had travelled to East Berlin to experience Springsteen live - from Leipzig, Dresden, Magdeburg, Cottbus, Karl-Marx-Stadt, Neubrandenburg, Potsdam, Halle, Erfurt, Jena, Suhl, Rostock and Schwerin. Nobody knew at that time how the democratic efforts in the Eastern block would develop. Indeed, the FDJ intended that young people would no longer apply for exit visas, however the opposite was true. The lackadaisical security checks and the fact that Springsteen was allowed to play what he wanted taught the spectators and the world that even in the GDR, anything is possible and that the GDR citizens could personally dare to want more without being prosecuted by the Stasi. Erik Kirschbaum highlights this discrepancy between intention and effect of the concert organized by the GDR leadership in his book: because although the four-hour concert by Bruce Springsteen was not one of his best performances, it was certainly among his most important appearances.

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