Chimes of Freedom: How Springsteen Helped Tear Down the Wall

Kirschbaum: I was in a taxi on my way home from a Springsteen concert in Berlin in 2002 -- after writing a story for Reuters about how he criticized Bush for bashing Germany's resistance to invading Iraq -- and the taxi driver couldn't stop talking about the 1988 concert in Weissensee. I had never heard about that '88 concert before. The taxi driver said that "88 concert was biggest, best and most exciting concert ever anywhere and it had the whole GDR shaken up." I started looking into that '88 concert and the more people I talked to who were there, the more plausible that theory became that there may be a connection between it and the fall of the Wall. Some might scoff at the idea that Springsteen's concert helped bring down the Wall. But if you read the book and see what happened there, I bet you'll become a believer in the power of rock 'n' roll.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: What concrete influence do you think the concert had on the fall of the Berlin Wall 16 months later?

Kirschbaum: It's hard to pinpoint a direct cause-and-effect with the Springsteen concert and the Berlin Wall falling. And obviously there were a lot of other things going on in that era before the concert with Gorbachev in the Soviet Union, Solidarnosc in Poland, and then later the opening of Hungary's border to Austria in early 1989, the mass exodus of East Germans in the summer and fall of 1989 and the Monday rallies in Leizpig and elsewhere. That said, I think it is clear that the concert was an important spark and had a major effect. There were 300,000 people there at the concert and millions more watched it on (East German) TV that evening. The FDJ was hoping the concert by a big popular Western rock star would appease the increasingly discontent younger generation -- internal East German surveys found that almost none of the young East Germans were listening to East German radio anymore but rather West German radio. But Springsteen's concert had the opposite effect -- rather than appeasing East Germans, it only made them even hungrier for the freedom and fun times that Springsteen seemed to embody up there on stage.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Was it one of the most politically important concerts of all time? How does it measure up against, say Woodstock? Live Aid?

Kirschbaum: Yes, definitely, it was in my mind the most important rock concert ever, anywhere. It amazes me that no one else has ever written about this concert before in the context of the monumental changes that brought down East Germany in 1988 and 1989. As a journalist it was almost too good to be true for me to stumble upon this earth-shaking concert but no one had connected the dots before. There was fortunately quite a bit of material, films, Stasi reports, records and other stuff about the concert available and thousands of witnesses who were happy to talk about it. Woodstock certainly had a profound effect on the United States and the atmosphere in East Berlin can perhaps be compared a bit to Woodstock. But if you look at what happened after the East Berlin concert, I think Springsteen's '88 concert is in a league of its own as the most important rock concert ever anywhere. The taxi driver was right!

SPIEGEL ONLINE: The East German authorities allowed Springsteen to perform because they wanted a release valve for an increasingly frustrated East German youth. Why didn't that work?

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