Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Wall Concert at Potzdam Platz Berlin

The Wall Concert at Potzdam Platz - July 1990

With the fiftieth anniversary of the construction of the Berlin Wall and the 20th anniversary of its fall, I reflect on my time there in the summer of 1990 shortly after it opened and Roger Waters of Pink Floyd orchestrated this mammoth concert production of his Rock Opera The Wall at the Berlin Wall.

The concert stage left ran up against the real wall and it was constantly being chipped away all day and night the whole time I was there. As you got close to it you could hear people chipping at it with hammers.

I went to Berlin with my friend from Ocean City NJ architect Jack Snyder. We were there for a few days and visited East Berlin with a Russian intourist guide who took us to lunch at the revolving restaurant atop the TV Tower, which is something similar to the Seattle Needle or Dallas' Observation Tower.

She told us an incredible story that seems to have gotten lost in the shuffle of history, as they try to give Ronald Reagan and Mikahel Gorbachef credit for the fall of the wall.

Actually she explained, the big impetus that led to the opening of the wall began in the East German city of Lipsig, which has a strong cultural and musical heritage. There, a group of gypsy musicians were being harassed by the government and took refuge in a Lipsig church where the local priest named Christian Fuher.

Fuher had been holding weekly prayer protests for years. Together the harassed band of musicians and praying protests eventually grew from a few dozen people to hundreds and then thousands, and then it began to spread to other cities, including East Berlin.

The first thing people did at the wall, besides climbing it, was to play music, and among those who went there to play included Mstislav Rostropovich and Jackson Brown.

Then Roger Waters got in the act with his major production of The Wall, which included a half-million spectators and a live TV audience from around the world - everywhere except the USA, who had to wait to see it rebroadcast or buy a video tape.

Among those who performed in the show were Cindi Lauper, the German band the Scorpions, the Hooters, The Band (sans Robbie Robertson) and dozens of other acts who performed almost all day and all night long.

After the show we hung around back stage at a makeshift Hard Rock Cafe where I met Patty of Chieftons and Schnade O'Conner, both very personable people.

We stayed at the Intercontinental Hotel where we crashed a private party for the cast, many of whom we knew from back home - including Rob and Eric of the Hooters and Rick Danko of the Band, who was with Rockabilly Ronnie Hawkins. I have photos of me and Rick and Ronnie but they're color slides and I can't scan or post them.

My friend Jack, a USMC veteran, was at the hotel bar with Sir Leonard Cheshire, the head of the International Fund for Disaster Relief, the ostensible beneficiary of the profits of the show, and a very worthwhile charity that I don't believe exists anymore.

According to John Simpkin's
Leonard Cheshire was born in Chester, England, on 7th September 1917. He was educated at Stowe School and Merton College, Oxford. After the outbreak of the Second World War he joined the Royal Air Force. He was posted to 102 Squadron and by August 1942 had been promoted to squadron commander of of 76 Squadron. In March 1943 at the age if twenty-five he became the youngest group captain in the RAF. In November 1943 he was given command of 617 Squadron and over the next few months developed new low-level marking techniques that dramatically increased bombing accuracy.

In 1944 Cheshire was awarded the Victoria Cross after completing a hundred bombing missions on heavily defended targets in Nazi Germany. Cheshire was chosen as the official British observer of the atom bomb dropped on Nagasaki. After the war Cheshire dedicated his life to maintaining world peace and was a member of CND. Cheshire also joined with his wife, Sue Ryder, to establish the Sue Rider Foundation for the sick and disabled. Leonard Cheshire, who was created Baron Cheshire in 1991, died on 31st July, 1992.

In any case, while they were chatting, I was phoning home from a pay phone on the wall, and while I'm talking I see some of the musicians from the show heading into a side room, and when I got off the phone I checked it out. It was a private party for the cast and I just waltzed right in and nobody stopped me. There was an open bar, glasses of wine and champagne and a hot food bar. So I went out and got Jack and Sir, who actually had an invitation, and we hobnobbed with the heavyweights.

The drummer from the Hooters, whose name I can't pronounce - recognized me from interviewing him at Reds in Margate (which is no longer there) back in the 80s.

Then I noticed someone I recognized at the front door, Jerry Hall, Mick Jagger's then wife. She was one of the stars of the show, but she seemed lost and by herself, so I picked up a glass of champagne and walked up and gave it to her. She thanked me profusely, and we started to small talk. I had seen her before having lunch with her children in the dining room at the Seaview Hotel in Absecon, where the Stones had stayed when they wrapped up their Steel Wheels Tour in the USA. I asked her what was her most enjoyable moment in Atlantic City and she said it was taking her kids to Storybook Land.

She complained that she had been so busy that she didn't get a chance to get to the wall and get a piece of it, and it just so happened that I had been to the wall that day and purchased ear rings made from pieces of the wall and gave them to her. She was really impressed and said she would wear them in her next photo shoot in Vogue, but I don't know if she did. Then a papparazi photographer took our picture and wanted to know who I was.

The following night we had to switch hotels and the new hotel had a downstairs bar with a picture window facing the street. While we sat there drinking our beers I noticed a bevy of young girls standing around and then getting all excited as a limo pulled up and they all started screaming as a couple of guys in leather jackets got out and ran into the hotel. It couldn't be the Beatles.

About a half hour later, after the girls had dispursed, two of the guys in leather walked in the bar and had to reach over us to get their drinks. It was little Klaus and the tall guitarist Rudy Schenker from the Scorpions, the German band who opened the show.

They spoke good English and after a few rounds we were getting pretty friendly. They told us about how they were playing a concert in a cabaret somewhere when they saw on TV people climbing on the wall and celebrating, and since they had grown up a few miles away from Berlin they were so happy they started crying.

They inspired by the event enough to record the hit song - number one in the world "Wind of Change," with a video that depicts the fall of the wall.

Then a few months later, back in the States, I got an invitation in the mail for the album release party for the double album soundtrack and video of The Wall. The party was to be held aboard the USS Intrepid aircraft carrier on the Hudson in New York City.

Jack and I drove up and were pretty amazed at the huge carrier. They had a couple large blocks of the Wall as a rememberance, and the party was petty cool.

They made a big stink of all the celebrities as they entered the front door, and Cyndi Lauper got a big reception, but the best was when the Scorpions came in, still decked out in their leathers. They were applauded and as they looked around the room Rudy and Klaus see me and Jack, smiles and walks up to us like we were old friends from long ago. It was good to see him, and that he recognized us, so we grabbed a drink and went out to the edge of the large airplane elevator to get some air and for him to catch a smoke.

When we went back in a paparazzi taking photos of us came up to me and said, "Who are you anyway?"

Tell him Klaus, I said, slapping his leather. "He's just some guy I was with in Berlin, a great time."

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