On the afternoon of the 10th November 1989 I was sitting in Armadale/Melbourne Australia on the sofa in front of the television feeding my 2 month old son, when suddenly I saw images of Berliners dancing on the wall and vast hordes of people leaving walking through the border control without having to show their ID. I could not believe it! Yes, we knew it was coming, Hungary and Tschecoslovakia had opened their borders months before with many East Germans getting out that way, the protests were escalating, but when the moment finally happened it was due to the mistake of An East German politician who stated that the borders were open “As of now” accidentally on the evening news, which led tens of thousands of East Germans to run to the Border checkpoints after dinner.
In the end the onslaught was so huge, that one border guard called Harold Schaefer, at the checkpoint Bornholmer Strasse in Berlin decided, after hours of trying to ring superiors to get a straight answer, to simply open the boom gates in order to let the crowds through and avoid conflict.
The word spread through the media like wildfire and other checkpoints soon followed. The rest is history.
It was a bittersweet moment for me, as I could not be there at the time to join in the party, having moved to Melbourne in 1986. I did visit Berlin at the beginning of 1989, but at the time no-one could foretell the fall of the wall.
16 months earlier, Bruce Springsteen was allowed to play a concert in East Berlin. He was the first major American musician to do so at the height of his popularity (Bob Dylan and Joe Cocker had previously performed there) and it created quite a stir. Many credit this event, which was gatecrashed by hundreds of thousands of East Germans and broadcast on East German tv, as the defining moment, the impetus that led to the fall of the wall. It’s a nice myth and a book has been written about it, but my guess is that the fact that he was allowed to play and enjoyed extreme popularity in the East (In 1984 I remember a West Berlin radio station playing the whole Born in the USA album solely for the benefit of Eastern listeners)was a sign that a younger generation of East Germans were hungry for freedom , for travelling the world and would no longer be held back by the old divisions.
Bruce Springsteen’s concert did not cause the wall to fall, but it’s fair to say that rock music played a huge part in inspiring a generation of East Germans to fight back. Much is made of the short speech he gave at the time or the Dylan song he sang (Chimes of Freedom) but to me this song that Springsteen still often ends his concerts with, has more to say about the enduring power of Rock’n’Roll as an expression of joy and freedom.