The power of pop

Publish date 15-12-2023

by Renato Bonomo

When it comes to the strength of pop music. On June 19, 1989, Michael Jackson's concert took place in West Berlin, near the Reichstag building, on the western side of the wall. The songs were so overwhelming and the volume was so loud that it pushed young East Berliners to gather on the other side of the wall to listen to the music that the communist regime had forbidden to broadcast.
The police had intervened, but the crowd had protested: they simply wanted to listen to those songs that they had known clandestinely, through the Western media. That protest was the first of a long series that the population of East Berlin implemented and which, in the following months, led to the definitive crisis of the Eastern regime.

The fall of the wall was an extraordinary event. November 9, 1989 remains one of those days that happen every now and then and seem to have an irreducible power: that of erasing in a few hours what had been built over decades of history. It had happened on other occasions such as 11 September 2001, 25 July 1943 with the fall of fascism. The American historian of the eighteenth century and the Enlightenment, Robert Darnton, was fortunate enough to be an eyewitness to the fall of the Berlin Wall. In his Berlin diary 1989-1990, Einaudi, Turin 1992, he writes: «For those who don't know Berlin it is difficult to imagine to what extent the wall managed to divide the city. Soon after the wall was built in 1961, the one million residents in the west and the two million in the east began to lose contact. By 1989 an entire generation had grown up in the shadow of the wall. Most of it has never crossed it, not even when the passage from west to east was accessible. This generation of young people has accepted the wall as a reality of life, something inevitable, an integral part of the landscape. It was there when they were born, it would be there when they died."

Yet, something had changed in the meantime and habit had given way to the idea that it was no longer acceptable to leave things as they had always been, from generation to generation. That time it was the music that awakened us from the torpor... Again Darnton: «It is likely that we will never know what happened inside the crumbling power structure of the German Democratic Republic.
But whatever the trigger may have been, the true protagonist of the demolition of the wall was there before everyone's eyes on the night of November 9th: the people of East Berlin. It had conquered the wall in the same way as it had invaded the streets in the previous two months, armed with nothing other than its ideas, its discipline, and that strength that only the great masses can unleash. As they swarmed west, the citizens of East Berlin spoke the language of freedom, a language of gestures rather than high-sounding rhetoric.
They physically took over the wall: they climbed it, broke it down, demolished it."

Only fifty years earlier, crowds in Berlin were chanting Nazism and book burning. Many, upon seeing the fall of the Wall, fear prevailed that an imminent German unification could resurrect the specter of National Socialism, but the author of the diary himself realized that that fear had no basis: «The crowd showed enormous enthusiasm for the opening of the wall and, in some cases, for the reunification of the two Germanys.
But the tone of the demonstrations echoed that of the student movements of popular culture of the recent past, certainly not that of any form of ancestral Teutonic nationalism."
Freed from many ghosts, on that November 9th, the young people who attended Michael Jackson's concert and those who had to listen to him on the other side of the wall were finally able to embrace each other.

Renato Bonomo
NP November 2023

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