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How Did Music Help Reunite East and West Berlin?

Updated May 17, 2024
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The power of music is universal. Music can inspire, evoke emotion, unite people, and bring down both physical and symbolic barriers. One such example was David Bowie’s 1987 open-air concert. The concert has been noted as a key moment leading to the demise of the Berlin Wall, the heavily guarded barrier that separated democratic West Berlin from communist East Germany from 1961 to 1989.

The stage for the 1987 open-air concert was adjacent to the wall, and despite the physical barrier, East Berliners could be heard singing along with David Bowie’s songs. It was something the musician would never forget, and he described it as being one of the most emotional performances he’d ever done. His performance of the song “Heroes was especially memorable. "When we did 'Heroes' it really felt anthemic, almost like a prayer,” Bowie said. In a place so divided by conflict, tension, and oppression, it really was.

When the crowd of 70,000 people in attendance began to chant, “The wall must fall,” East and West Berliners were united. In the following weeks, an increasing number of riots and demonstrations began to break out in protest of the concrete barrier. Soon after, U.S. President Ronald Reagan told Mikhail Gorbachev, the final leader of the Soviet Union, to tear down the wall. Although it didn't come down for another two years, David Bowie’s 1987 concert created an atmosphere that united thousands of people and inspired them to act out against oppression.

We can be heroes ...

  • Upon David Bowie’s death in 2016, the German government officially thanked him for his role in helping to bring down the Berlin Wall.

  • Bowie lived in Berlin during the 1970s. He and Brian Eno wrote the song “Heroes” there in 1977.

  • David Bowie told Performing Songwriter magazine that the 1987 Berlin concert was “like a double concert where the wall was the division, and we would hear them cheering and singing along from the other side. God, even now I get choked up. It was breaking my heart.”

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