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Muro de Berlín

3 Songs that Tore Down the Berlin Wall

The cultural battle was key to tearing down the Berlin Wall and ending the communist tyranny. For decades, figures like Kennedy, Reagan, Thatcher, and John Paul II stood as defenders of freedom in the face of Soviet oppression

Every November 9th we celebrate the anniversary of the “Fall of the Berlin Wall” in 1989. Although some may not consider it a reason to celebrate, the truth is that no one who values freedom should commemorate the date of the beginning of its construction, on August 13, 1961.

About a year later, on August 17, 1962, a young 18-year-old Berliner, Peter Fechter, was shot in the back by communist guards who were watching that no one tried to escape from the prison that the German Democratic Republic had become.

He was the first known victim of a total of 200 people according to the records, who were killed while trying to escape to West Berlin.

In 1972, with his great international success “Libre“, the Spanish singer Nino Bravo paid tribute to this young martyr and, by extension, to all the victims of the socialist dictatorship. Such was his success that the song was immediately banned in Cuba because of its great political charge.

Although the song is very famous in all of Latin America -and probably one of the most chosen to be sung in karaoke sessions-, not everyone knows the sad story behind the lyrics of this song. Once we pay attention to its lyrics, it becomes impossible not to notice its valuable message against communist repression:

“He’s almost twenty years old and he’s tired of dreaming. But behind the border is his home, his world, his city. He thinks that the fence is only a piece of metal, something that can never stop his desire to fly”. “With his love for flag, he left, singing a song. He was so happy that he didn’t hear the voice that called him. And lying on the ground he stayed, smiling and not talking. On his chest crimson flowers sprang up without ceasing.”

“Free, like the sun when it rises, I am free like the sea. Free, like the bird that escaped its prison and can, at last, fly. Free, like the wind that picks up my lament and sorrow, I walk without ceasing, behind the truth and I will know what freedom is at last”.

The cultural impact of the infamous construction was enormous and also inspired great successes of English music, which helped raise awareness about the systematic violation of human rights on the eastern side of the “Iron Curtain”.

In 1977 David Bowie recorded an album in a studio in Berlin. One of his most famous and celebrated songs, “Heroes”, was inspired by the atrocities of the Soviet tyranny that he observed during his stay in the German city. This song tells the story of a loving couple, living in West and East Berlin respectively.

“I can remember, standing by the wall. And the guns, shot above our heads. And we kissed, as though nothing could fall. And the shame was on the other side. Oh we can beat them, forever and ever. Then we could be heroes, just for one day”.

Despite the fact that Western music was strongly subjected to communist censorship, Bowie’s song gradually became a kind of freedom anthem for the young people of the German Democratic Republic (GDR). At least for those who were lucky enough to escape the “Stasi” and could get copies on the black market.

In 1987 an open-air music festival was held for three consecutive nights in West Berlin, near the Wall, where about 70,000 people attended to hear Bowie himself, as well as “Eurythmics”, “Genesis” and other artists. The inhabitants of East Berlin spontaneously crowded around the wall and were able to sing the songs until the communist riot police violently dispersed them.

Many consider this event as one of the sparks that ignited the flame of freedom that ended up knocking down the wall of infamy two years later, the historic November 9, 1989.

First the Berlin Wall fell, then the Soviet Union

The “fall of the Berlin Wall” was the prelude to the dissolution of the Soviet Union, which took place between March 1990 and December 1991. During these years, the song that put the soundtrack to the end of one of the most ruthless and bloody regimes in history was “Wind of Change”, by the German group “Scorpions”, published in November 1990.

With the progressive political opening of the Soviet Union (glásnost) and its economic restructuring to open up to the rest of the world (perestroika), in August 1989 the “Music Peace Festival” was held in Moscow, in which Ozzy Osbourne, Motley Crüe, Bon Jovi and the Scorpions themselves performed, among others.

It was in this concert that the vocalist of “Scorpions”, Klaus Meine, was inspired to compose “Wind of Change”. Years later he declared: “During our stay in Moscow, a new energy was felt by the young Soviets, they wanted to be part of the rest of the world, this motivated and inspired me to compose the song in September 1989”.

The cultural battle was key to ending the communist tyranny. For decades, figures such as Kennedy, Reagan, Thatcher and John Paul II stood as defenders of freedom in the face of Soviet oppression, giving voice to millions of people who demanded peace and freedom. But music also helped young Soviets amplify those voices into a thunderous cry for freedom that could no longer be silenced.

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