Recognizing the problem, the FDJ organized concerts by Western bands such as Bob Dylan, Depeche Mode, Bryan Adams and Joe Cocker in late 1987 and 1988 to give people a little of the freedom they were craving. Springsteen was their biggest coup. It was an attempt to release some of the pressure building up in East German society. But it backfired.
Homemade US Flags
"Quite a few people told me they could sense that the Communist Party leaders were losing control and the Springsteen concert was like a last-ditch effort to change it, but it was too little, too late," said Kirschbaum. "Springsteen only made them want more freedom."
Many at the concert said their lives changed on that balmy summer night when the venue, a large field adjoining a cycle racing track in the Weissensee district of the city, was so packed that people couldn't move, and dozens who fainted had to be lifted over heads to ambulance crews.
Honed from childhood to be good Communists, people found themselves waving homemade US flags and singing along to "Born In the USA" -- while the authorities looked on in bewilderment.
The concert, said Kirschbaum, helped to convince many thousands of people that change was not only possible but imminent. The book describes what many saw as a profoundly symbolic moment when the East German organizers, overwhelmed by the crowd heading towards them, simply opened the barriers and let everyone in, even those without tickets.
'One Day All the Barriers Will be Torn Down'
Springsteen, meanwhile, connected with the crowd not just because he was a working-class icon and made great music, but because he played his heart out on stage that night -- unlike Bob Dylan, who had delivered a tepid, uninspiring performance in East Berlin in September 1987.
After playing the first 12 of 32 songs that night, Springsteen stunned the audience with a message he delivered in German.
"I'm not here for or against any government. I've come to play rock 'n' roll for you in the hope that one day all the barriers will be torn down."
The crowd erupted into a delirious roar. "We all got the message, and it was electrifying," Jörg Beneke, a farmer who drove across East Germany to see the concert, told Kirschbaum.
To ram the message home, Springsteen went on to play his song "Chimes of Freedom."
"You couldn't be at that show and not feel that hope for a change," Landau, Springsteen's manager, told Kirschbaum.
"The effect that the speech and then the song 'Chimes of Freedom' had on the audience was spectacular. It was a moment none of us will ever forget. Bruce walked off the stage after the concert, and we said -- you know just personally to each other -- that we had a feeling a big change was coming in East Germany."
SPIEGEL ONLINE interviewed Kirschbaum last week ahead of the launch of the book. You can read the full interview on the next page.
'The Most Important Rock Concert Ever Anywhere' SPIEGEL ONLINE: When and how did you get the idea for the book?