Bowie has gone down in history as one of the most influential pop stars of his era, known for persistently reinventing his image and releasing original songs. He created some of his most famous singles while living in West Berlin, and loved his time there. He was subsequently very keen to take part in a gig besides the 10ft Berlin Wall in 1987 during the three-day concert – and he was enthusiastic for it to be broadcast on the radio, too, so that East Berliners could experience the music as well.
BBC journalist Louise Hidalgo spoke on the BBC programme, ‘Witness History’ and recalled how the event has since been credited with leading to the fall of the Berlin Wall.
She spoke to German journalist Christoph Lanz in November 2019 about Bowie’s impact in particular.
Mr Lanz said: “Rock and pop music has an incredible power and the concert is one of the most powerful examples of that.
“We are talking about freedom here, freedom of expression.”
He worked for the only radio station which was allowed to broadcast the gig at the time, and noted how the sound travelled straight across to East Germany.
Mr Lanz said he heard it was the first time the youth in East Germany “got so sick” of living under authoritarian rule that they “started to shout ‘The wall must go’”.
The 10ft wall divided East and West Berlin for more than 25 years.
The East was controlled by the Soviet Union, while the West was formally controlled by the Western Allies.
However, Mr Lanz pointed out that this was only the first sign of a stir against the wall.
Although East Berliners clashed with the police in their desperation to see the concert and many were arrested, Mr Lanz explained how at that point, “none of us thought that what happened on November 9, 1989 would happen”.
The reunification of Germany officially happened in 1990, while the wall was officially destroyed in November 1991.
Bowie had lived in West Berlin between 1976 and 1979, prompted by his love of the German music scene.
He shared an apartment with Iggy Pop and developed his ‘Berlin Trilogy’ there.
A 2016 article from The Guardian, written by Bowie’s friend Rory MacLean, revealed why Bowie had a place in his heart for Germany.
He explained: “[Bowie] dressed in baggy trousers and dowdy shirts, and enjoyed the Berliners’ disinterest in him.
“No one bothered him on the street, unlike in star-struck LA.
“Away from the limelight, he composed, painted and, for the first time in years, ‘felt a joy of life and a great feeling of release and healing’, as he put it.”
He recorded his hit song, “Heroes” there too.
Mr MacLean wrote: “‘Heroes’ became Berlin’s rock anthem, a droning, courageous wall of sound, fired with deep emotion, hammered by a clanging, metallic rhythm.
“Bowie called ‘Heroes’, and his three Berlin albums, his DNA.
“Time and again, it would be named one of pop’s greatest and most original singles.”