Questions arise over performer's 1988 speech

Did Bruce Springsteen help bring down the Berlin Wall?

Historians have often credited John F. Kennedy (“Ich bin ein Berliner”) and Ronald Reagan (“Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall”) for helping bring down the Cold War barrier with their words. But what about Springsteen’s little speech in East Berlin in 1988?

Twenty years ago, on July 19, 1988, the rocker performed before 160,000 East Germans at an outdoor cycling arena in East Berlin, the largest concert in the country’s history. Annoyed to discover that Communist rulers had decided to call it a “Concert for Nicaragua,” the Boss decided to set the record straight halfway through his three-hour show:

“It’s great to be in East Berlin,” Springsteen said as he introduced “Chimes of Freedom.” “I want to tell you, I’m not here for or against any government. I came here to play rock ’n’ roll for you East Berliners in the hope that one day all the barriers will be torn down.”

Wild cheers. The crowd went wild.

It was the first — and last — major concert by a major Western artist in the country; efforts to get U2 to East Berlin in 1989 were nixed at the top because there was so much dissent by that point.

But the Springsteen concert was a pivotal evening for East Berlin and East Germany. Buzz from the concert and the musician’s words lingered, feeding into the growing discontent in East Germany, where hardline Communist leaders tried to ignore Mikhail Gorbachev’s perestroika reforms.

On Nov. 9, 1989, the Wall burst open in a peaceful revolution that swept the Communist hardliners from power.

Historians have given John F. Kennedy (“Ich bin ein Berliner”) and Ronald Reagan (“Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this gate”) credit for helping bring down the Cold War barrier with their speeches against the Wall delivered in West Berlin in 1963 and 1987, respectively. But what about Springsteen’s little speech in East Berlin in 1988?

The Springsteen concert was a pivotal evening for East Berlin and East Germany. It also came in the midst of a period of personal upheaval for Springsteen, whose first marriage ended six weeks after the Berlin concert. A few weeks after that Springsteen dissolved his E Street band.

Perhaps from the perspective of 20 years it is time to take a fresh look at the role Springsteen played in sparking a movement that brought down the Iron Curtain.

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