“Between 1949, when Germany was formally divided, and 1961, when the Berlin Wall was built, more than 3 million East Germans “voted with their feet” by moving to West Germany. The East German ruling party never enjoyed popular support, and the regime never trusted its citizens. Refugees left East Germany for economic as well as political reasons, and this “brain drain” of young, educated workers had a destabilizing effect on the East German economy. The only way to stop the flow of refugees was to close the border between East and West Berlin” – Professor Mary Beth Stein [1]

After separating families, friends and the city of Berlin for three decades, on the evening of 9 November 1989, demolition of the Berlin Wall was begun by the people of Berlin themselves.  The Wall had been a symbol of the repression of social freedoms for a generation of German citizens whose great city had been bombed, occupied and divided amongst the Allied powers following World War II.  The movements of those in the East had been restricted, then the borders had closed, and finally the Wall was erected to prevent further mass exodus to the West.  Many risked death and, indeed, many died attempting to cross to freedom.

The East German government viewed the Wall as protection against ideals they considered the antithesis of Communism.  They actively discouraged the penetration of western influence on the citizens of the East.  But by the 1980s, the popular culture of the West, including its music, had become all-pervasive.

From June 1987 to January 1989, Michael Jackson toured Japan, Australia, the US, Europe and the UK with his ‘Bad’ world tour.  On 19 June 1988, he performed an open-air concert  in front of 50,000 fans on the grounds of the Platz der Republik, facing the Reichstag, in West Berlin.

Only a year earlier music fans in the East had amassed on their side of the Wall during a concert by Genesis, David Bowie and the Eurythmics.  They had begun chanting “Down with the Wall” and “Gorby, Gorby” in support of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev’s policy reform in favour of openness (“glasnost”).  On that occasion they had been beaten with batons and scores were arrested.  Now, in 1988, the Stasi (East German secret police) were very concerned that a concert by the biggest international music star of the decade would cause similar or worse political unrest in East Berlin.

Following Michael Jackson’s passing in 2009, it was discovered that the Stasi had kept a file on him.  It contained a report that stated: “Youths are prepared to go to any lengths to experience this concert around the area of the Brandenburg Gate [next to the wall].”  The report added that the aim of the clash was to “test the limits of the security organ”. [2]

Time reports: “In the minutes of a preparatory meeting of Stasi officials, dated May 4, 1988, the Stasi notes discussions that it was having with the head of the West German company that was organizing the concert. The names are blacked out in the report. According to the report, the organizer ‘together with Jackson’s management is willing to build the stage at such a height that it is not visible from Unter den Linden’ — the boulevard on the eastern side of the Brandenburg Gate — ‘and to position the speakers appropriately.’ The plan also involved broadcasting the Jackson concert in a stadium in East Berlin with a two-minute delay, so the East Germans could replace the live performance with a videotape of a previous performance should Jackson make any undesirable political comments.” [3]

But there was no stopping the Jackson juggernaut.  In fact, some of the hype was intensified by local TV station SAT who hired a Jackson look-alike to visit Checkpoint Charlie – the famous crossing point from West to East at the heart of the divided city – to see how the public would react.

360_jackson_stasi_0731
Photo of Jackson’s double kept on file by the Stasi.  Source: AP

The double was convincing enough for the Stasi, who closely monitored his movements and kept a photo of him in Michael’s Stasi file (as reproduced here).  On a report card next to Jackson’s name and date of birth, it detailed how the double got out of a limousine at 2.52 pm and was accompanied “at all times by a 25-year-old-female.” [4]  Meantime, unbeknownst to the Stasi, the real King of Pop remained in his hotel.

As Time recalls: “The coup was so successful that it worked again 20 years later when Jackson’s Stasi file, and the infamous pictures, emerged. This time SAT 1 nearly fell for its own prank. ‘We certainly would have fallen for the Stasi pictures but by chance a colleague was on duty who happened to be at the shooting of the Jackson double back in 1988,’ said Diana Schardt, spokeswoman for SAT 1 television. ‘We almost went with it, but then cleared it up.’” [5]

Time also notes that judging by the meticulous notes their agent kept, the Stasi considered the visit of Michael Jackson to be “one of the most threatening moments for the security of the now defunct East German state.” [6]

The plan for a diversionary broadcast in the East did not go ahead, [7] and on the day of Michael’s performance, approx. 5,000 people gathered on the eastern side of the wall to experience as much of the concert as they could.  In the early hours of the following morning, hundreds of East German security forces rushed the crowd and 30 people were arrested. [8]

“They were concerned dissident youths would call for the Wall to fall,” Steffen Mayer, a spokesman for the government agency that looks after the Stasi archives, said in an article published by the Telegraph in July 2009.  “This was seen as a potential security threat given the amount of foreign media that would be present.” [9]

The Guardian stated the violent crackdown was prompted because: “The Stasi considered Jackson, like most western pop stars, to be a subversive influence on its youth.” [10]

Spiegel Online reported that television camera crews from the West German channels, ARD and ZDF, filmed the altercation at the Brandenburg Gate and came under attack from the secret police. The West German administration later made official complaints about the mishandling of members of the western press. [11]

Time concludes that “It’s impossible to say whether the Stasi’s fears of Michael Jackson were justified.”  However, the article notes that two decades later, Checkpoint Charlie is a museum, the Wall is all but gone [except for the sections retained as museum exhibits] and the city centre has been returned to shopkeepers, restaurants and offices.

“Maybe the power of pop had something to do with it.” [12]

The contents of Michael’s Stasi file don’t give any indication of how he might have felt about performing in the then-divided city, or about the discussions between concert organisers and the East German authorities.  But he expressed his feelings about the Berlin Wall in his book “Dancing the Dream” (published 1992):

Berlin 1989
 
They hated the Wall, but what could they do? It was too strong to break through.

They feared the Wall, but didn't that make sense? Many who tried to climb over it were killed.

They distrusted the Wall, but who wouldn't? Their enemies refused to tear down one brick, no matter how long the peace talks dragged on.

The Wall laughed grimly. "I'm teaching you a good lesson," it boasted. "If you want to build for eternity, don't bother with stones. Hatred, fear, and distrust are so much stronger.

They knew the Wall was right, and they almost gave up. Only one thing stopped them. They remembered who was on the other side. Grandmother, cousin, sister, wife. Beloved faces that yearned to be seen.
 
"What's happening?" the Wall asked, trembling. Without knowing what they did, they were looking through the Wall, trying to find their dear ones. Silently, from one person to another, love kept up its invisible work.

"Stop it!" the Wall shrieked. "I'm falling apart." But it was too late.  A million hearts had found each other. The Wall had fallen before it came down. [13]

Epilogue:

Michael Jackson returned to perform in Berlin on his Dangerous (1992) and HIStory (1997) World Tours.  The concerts were held at the Jahn Stadion (close to where part of the Berlin Wall once stood in what was previously East Berlin) and Olympiastadion (formerly in West Berlin) respectively.  Unlike in 1988, anyone who could obtain a ticket was free to attend.  [14] [15]

In November 2002, Michael Jackson made what was to be his last visit to Berlin.  He stayed at the historic Adlon Kempinsky hotel, just east of the Brandenburg Gate on Unter den Linden.  At the Bambi Awards ceremony where he was honoured as the Pop Artist of the Millennium, he declared:

“I have wonderful memories of my visits to Germany. Coming back to Berlin, a city so full of energy…it’s very special to me. Berlin, I love you! Berlin, ich liebe dich!

“September 11th has changed our world. Not long ago, the Berlin Wall came down. But, recently, new walls have been built. 1989, people of Germany said…’wir sind ein volk. We are one nation.’

“We are Germans. We are Armenians, French, Italian, Russian, American, Asian, African and many other nationalities. We are Christians, Jewish, Muslims and Hindu. We are black and we are white. We are a community of so many differences, so complex and yet, so simple. We do not need to have war.”

He exhorted the children of Germany to strive for their dreams, to become whatever they wanted to be, and then concluded:

“I want you to know, I love Germany! You are very special in my heart, so much really. Always appreciate the gift of life. Be happy and have fun.

I love you.

Thank you very much.” – Michael Jackson, November 21, 2002 [16]

Today, the Platz der Republik in front of the Reichstag (home of the German parliament) and the site of Michael’s Bad concert in 1988, remains a green, open square of approx. 36,900 square meters.  It was here, on the night of 2/3 October 1990 that a large German flag was raised to signal the reunification of East and West Germany.

For Berlin, the Cold War was well and truly over.

Kerry Hennigan
November 2017


The set list for Michael’s ‘Bad’ concert in Berlin, 19 June 1988:

Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’
This Place Hotel
Another Part of Me
I Just Can’t Stop Loving You
She’s Out of My Life
I Want You Back / The Love You Save / I’ll Be There
Rock With You
Human Nature
Smooth Criminal
Dirty Diana
Thriller
Bad Groove
Workin’ Day and Night
Beat It
Billie Jean
Bad
Encore:
The Way You Make Me Feel
Man in the Mirror [17]

Sources:

[1] Mary Beth Stein, Associate Professor of German and International Affairs, George Washington University https://gwtoday.gwu.edu/remembering-berlin-wall

[2] http://content.time.com/time/arts/article/0,8599,1914581-2,00.html

[3] Ibid

[4] https://www.theguardian.com/music/2009/jul/30/michael-jackson-berlin-wall-germany

[5] Time

[6] Ibid

[7] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/music/michael-jackson/5944882/Stasi-feared-Michael-Jackson-concert.html

[8] Time

[9] The Telegraph

[10] The Guardian

[11] http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/fearing-the-moonwalk-revolution-east-german-stasi-spied-on-michael-jackson-a-639520.html

[12] Time

[13] Michael Jackson Dancing the Dream. Poems and Reflections, Doubleday 1992

[14] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Friedrich-Ludwig-Jahn-Sportpark

[15] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Olympiastadion_(Berlin)

[16] Bambi Awards speech, [extract] as transcribed on http://www.truemichaeljackson.com/speeches/bambi-2002/

[17] https://www.setlist.fm/setlist/michael-jackson/1988/platz-der-republik-berlin-germany-33d67495.html

Related sources:

Timothy McGaffin II video from the Reichstag, Berlin, Germany on August 8, 2009
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E_8NZDDgaQg

Michael Jackson – Berlin compilation 1988 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rVTD3F52qHU (German narration, with an interview with Jennifer Batten).

Photo montage “Bad in Berlin, 1988” compiled and edited by Kerry Hennigan.  Copyright of the photographs used is vested in the owner/copyright holder.  No copyright infringement is intended in this not-for-profit educational exercise.

13166084_10206583841689909_976874556336893678_n
The author at Pariser Platz on Unter der Linden, east side of the Brandenburg Gate, Berlin, May 2016