Ronald Reagan told Mikhail Gorbachev to “tear down this wall,” but Bruce Springsteen may have helped swing the hammer. In his new book Rocking the Wall, journalist Erik Kirschbaum makes a case for Springsteen’s July 1988 concert in East Berlin serving as a catalyst for bringing down the Berlin Wall, Reuters reports.
The Wall separating East and West Germany had been up for almost 27 years by the time Springsteen played to more than 300,000 fans, plus millions watching on TV. Perhaps the most famous, and monumental, moment of the show was a brief speech Springsteen delivered in German, which Kirschbaum argues had a potent effect on East German citizens, inspiring them to push for freedom.
“It’s great to be in East Berlin,” Springsteen said onstage. “I’m not for or against any government. I came here to play rock & roll for you, in the hope that one day all barriers will be torn down.” Springsteen and the E Street Band then kicked into a cover of Bob Dylan‘s “Chimes of Freedom.” Within a year, citizens were taking to the street to protest the oppressive government, chanting “Wir sind ads Volk” (“we are the people”); and 16 months after the concert, the wall had been breached as the Cold War shuddered to an end.
To frame the story of the show, Kirscbaum delves into Cold War history, and also uses documents from show organizers and even files kept by the Stasi, the East German secret police. Though Kirschbaum wasn’t able to talk to Springsteen himself for the book, he interviews the rock star’s longtime manager Jon Landau – who provides backstage anecdotes – as well as concertgoers.
“It was a nail in the coffin for East Germany,” one such attendee, Joerg Beneke, told Kirschbaum. “We had never heard anything like that from anyone inside East Germany. That was the moment some of us had been waiting a lifetime to hear.”
Of course it’s difficult to give absolute credit to Springsteen for bringing down the wall, but as Kirschbaum says: “What is beyond doubt is that Springsteen’s 1988 concert is a glorious example of the influence that rock ‘n’ roll can have on people who are hungry and ready for change.”