On July 21, 1990, Roger Waters came together with a large list of guest artists and performed Pink Floyd’s The Wall as a celebration of the Fall of the Berlin Wall. Everything about the concert was special. It happened on the death strip between two countries. It was the first time Roger Waters played The Wall after he left Pink Floyd. And, at that time, it was the world record for sell-out crowd in a concert with more than 350.000 people attending it.
This was 26 years ago today and I still have memories of me, as a 9 years old boy in Brazil, watching it live while I played Lego on my living room. I believe I didn’t know what was happening there for real but I remember it was a big deal. Today I understand why.
In an interview in the early 1980’s, just after Roger Waters last performances with Pink Floyd, he was asked if he would perform The Wall ever again. He said that he would never do it again. Unless the Berlin Wall comes down, or something like that. But this was back in the early 1980’s and nobody was thinking about the Fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Soviet Union.
Fast forward to 1989 when rock show merchandiser Mick Worwood asked Roger Waters if he would perform The Wall for a charity called Memorial Fund for Disaster Relief. This was Leonard Cheshire, a former official from the British Air Force, charity against war. Roger Waters was convinced by the correctness and the work of the charity and decided to do it once again, for them. But where would he do it?
The decision to perform The Wall again come to fruition in September 1989. There was signs that something was happening in East Germany but nobody was remotely considering that the Berlin Wall would fall. Because of the size of the project, production was having problems trying to find an adequate place for the event. Most of places that were somehow fit for the concert were in the United States. Some even considered staging it at the Grand Canyon, other wanted to perform The Wall on Wall Street. But November 1989 came and the Berlin Wall was over.
When Roger Waters got to know about the Fall of the Berlin Wall, he took a plane the next morning and flew to Berlin. He walked around where the Berlin Wall was and saw this huge piece of land between parts of the wall, known as the death strip. This particular part of the death strip was placed where Potsdamer Platz used to be but this was before the Second World War. Back then, the area was a no man’s land between two countries and there wasn’t anything there. Maybe this would be the perfect place for a huge concert.
After some discussions, it was decided that The Wall would be performed live in Berlin at the former death strip where Potsdamer Platz used to be. Negotiations started with the mayors from East and West Berlin and, for more than five months, nobody knew if this would really happen. East Berlin was in political turmoil and nobody knew if they could give a permission for that. They never had concerts like this before and nobody knew what to do. But, even though everything was a mess, it happened.
Much of the importance of the The Wall being played live in Berlin may be lost today. The Cold War is long gone, Roger Waters has been playing worldwide solo tours for a while now. But, back them, the world was a different place.
The Wall being played live in Berlin was a celebration of the end of the Communist Rule in Germany. The Wall being played again was a rare chance to Pink Floyd fans who never managed to watch this amazing album live. The band had a brief and unhappy tour between 1980 and 1981 for The Wall but it performed less than 30 times. By 1990, Pink Floyd and Roger Waters were completely different musicians. Pink Floyd was playing live and doing huge sold out concerts and Roger Waters wanted to reclaim his music, his own legacy.
In Berlin, before the Second World War, Potsdamer Platz was a huge square surrounded by what was considered the best shops in Germany and the best examples of early 20th century architecture. Also, it was near the headquarters of Nazi Germany and, because of that, the area was heavily bombed during the last day of the war in 1945. When the Berlin Wall came to be, the area became a no man’s land between parts of the wall and it was a death strip where anybody would be shot.
After the fall of the Berlin Wall, this long strip of land was empty. This desolate field was still surrounded by the wall but it was an empty place now. If you have been to Berlin nowadays, this field used to go from where the American Embassy stands today, close to the Brandenburger Tor, to Potsdamer Platz. Back then, there was no Holocaust Memorial and none of the buildings that you can see today. And in the summer of 1990, there was a huge concert stage being built for one of the most memorable performances of that time.
The barren land between two former countries was left abandoned for such a long time that, when they decided to clean it up for the concert, something weird was found. There were bombs, grenades and live gun shells in the area but they were expecting to find those things. What they weren’t expecting to find was the bunker used by Hitler in the last days of the Second World War. Supposedly, it was still decorated with Nazi Banners on its walls but I’m skeptical about this part. This is how the West managed to find the Führerbunker and, later, the entry door was cemented over and buried. But you have to imagined that everybody that came to see Roger Waters playing that night was dancing upon Hitler’s grave and we like that.
Everything about the performance of The Wall Live in Berlin was outsized and huge. There was a 25 meters tall wall and stretched for 80 meters and that was used as the background for Roger Waters band and his guests. There were military trucks, motorbikes, limousines and the Marching Band of the Combined Soviet Forces in Germany. Roger Waters was joined by a guest list that included a lot of pop stars from the time that included Cindy Lauper, Sinead O’Connor, Bryan Adams, Joni Mitchell, Marianne Faithful and Scorpions.
At 22:00 hours in July 21, 1990, Leonard Cheshire opened the concert by blowing a World War II whistle. Pyrotechnics followed and for the next two hours there was music being played in the former death strip where the Berlin Wall used to be.
Back then, the press announced it as the biggest concert in the history of Rock Music. There are reports of 250.000 tickets being printed and sold but most people believe that there were way more people than that at the concert. Most of it can be blamed at the people taking care of the entrance doors. After all the paying ticket holders were inside, they decided to open the doors for whoever was outside and more than 100.000 people entered the area.
The concert was a major success and a multimedia extravaganza for the time. I believe it was also a historic event since nothing like that can ever happen again and I’m glad that I watched live when I was still a kid in Brazil, one of the 52 countries that showed the two-hours concert live.
If you want to learn more about The Wall – Live in Berlin, you need to read what ultimateclassicrock.com wrote about it on the 25th birthday of it and the huge article rogerwaters.org has about the event. The picture used on the top of the article here is from Robert Roeske found at Wikimedia Commons.