Chimes of Freedom: How Springsteen Helped Tear Down the Wall

Kirschbaum: The East German leadership seemed increasingly worried that they were losing control of the younger generation that was well aware of the Gorbachev-inspired changes and reforms taking place in other Eastern European countries. The East German leaders were willing to jump over their shadows and start doing once-unthinkable things like: allowing in an American rock star to perform for young East Germans. That would have been utterly unimaginable just a few years before. You have to remember that rock music was long officially frowned upon by the regime in East Germany; it was seen as a decadent American export designed to corrupt young people and seduce them away from Communism. And now, in the eyes of many young East Germans who grew up following that anti-rock party line, the Communist leaders were inviting in one of the world's biggest American rock stars? It was just too strange for many young East Germans.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: How important was Springsteen in all this? Do you think the impact would have been the same if Queen, David Bowie or some other mega-act had come to East Berlin at that time?

Kirschbaum: I think it's fair to say that Springsteen is a special case and his special form of rock music and his working class ethic came across especially well to East Germans. He played for about four hours, and he played his heart out. That's something a lot of the eyewitnesses said again and again. They really felt Springsteen was going all out for them. Even though some said they had trouble hearing all the music because of the poor quality of the sound system -- and because the place was so packed -- everyone there said it was a magical evening. Many East Germans were huge Rolling Stones fans, and the Rolling Stones would probably have had a massive impact as well. But the Rolling Stones wanted hard currency and, in fact, did not go to East Berlin until the summer of 1990 -- once East Germans had converted their Ostmarks into D-marks but just a few weeks before reunification. It was a great concert, but the crowd was smaller and the Wall had of course already fallen about 10 months earlier. I think it was a combination of it being Springsteen, who he was and what he stood for as well as his willingness to basically play for free in East Berlin and his desire to play in East Berlin along with his anti-Wall speech in German.

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