One of the important political milestones of the 20th Century merged with one of the century’s important entertainment ones on this day in 1990. That was when Roger Waters staged a concert of The Wall on the site of the Berlin Wall.
The Berlin Wall of course had been the physical manifestation of the ideological concept of “the Iron Curtain” – a separation of the “West” from the communist Soviet regime. The concrete wall, about 11 feet tall in most spots was over 60 miles long and had over 300 East German (communist) guard towers along it. Erected in 1961, it divided the East and West sides of Berlin and aimed to keep the people in the communist/Soviet side from escaping to freedom in the West. Of course, it also divided the city, split up many families and led to at very least 200 people being killed trying to scale it and escape. However, by the late-’80s things were changing. Soviet satellite countries like Poland were rebelling and declaring independence from Moscow, the USSR was engaged in talks with the U.S., and in a famous 1987 speech by the western side of the wall, President Reagan urged the Russian leader along : “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”
In 1989, signs began to emerge suggesting that might happen. By November of that year, the East Germans announced they’d open gates and their people could go back and forth and within a year, demolition had begun and the two Germanies were reunited politically. It was one of the major events of the entire century.
Musically of course, Pink Floyd’s The Wall was one of the highlights of the decade if not century. The 1980 (well, actually 1979 if you’re a trivia buff – it came out in the final days of that year) double-album of dsytopian societies and dreams became one of the biggest-sellers of all-time (at least 30 million copies, even more impressive given its size and price at the time) and one of many fans’ favorites. By 1989 though, the two leaders of Floyd – Roger Waters and David Gilmour – were at each other’s throats, as much enemies as the U.S. and USSR had been. Legal battles had ended up with Gilmour (as well as the other members) retaining legal rights to the name “Pink Floyd” but Roger Waters having all rights to “The Wall”, since it was an album he wrote close to single-handedly. The album had launched a movie and a concert tour, but by the decade’s end, Waters didn’t plan on playing it live again.
“Indoors, it made no sense financially. It’s too expensive,” he told a journalist back then. “And as it’s partly an attack on the inherently greedy nature of stadium rock shows, it would be wrong to do it in stadiums. But,” he teased, “I might do it outdoors if they ever take that wall down in Berlin.”
Well, take down the wall they did, and Waters decided to follow through. Interestingly, it wasn’t the first rock concert at the Berlin Wall. David Bowie had performed on the Western side in ’87 (only days before Reagan’s speech) and Bruce Springsteen had been allowed to play on the Eastern side in ’88. The Communists thought it would show how accommodating they were; instead it seemed to just increase the desire of the youth there for freedom and a unified Germany.
For the Waters show, a huge stage right by the Bradenburg Gate was planned. First, as some of it would be on the “no man’s land” immediately adjacent to the wall, they had to have professionals scan for landmines. They actually turned up a wartime bunker no one knew about they figured Hitler might have used. When the all clear was given, construction began on the set which would include a 550′-long, 80′ high wall of styrofoam blocks. Most of it was built before the show, with the last few blocks added during it and Waters triumphantly tearing it down at the end. Continue reading “July 21 – When Walls Collide”