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How the Berlin Wall inspired celebrities

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How the Berlin Wall inspired celebrities
A mural of Bowie in south London and Hasselhoff in Berlin last year. Photo: DPA
14:01 CET+01:00
From Bowie to the Boss, Pink Floyd to Knight Rider, the divided city of Berlin had a powerful attraction for global celebrities - and some just can't stay away.

When US entertainment legend David Hasselhoff popped up in Berlin last year to campaign for a preserved Wall section under threat by developers, he drew grins and groans but also a few nods to his own unlikely role in the heady days of the Mauerfall in 1989.

After all, not everyone can say they wore an outfit covered with LED lights while singing about freedom to half a million people from a crane over the Brandenburg Gate.

But the Hoff can - and does.

“I find it a bit sad that there is no photo of me hanging on the walls in the Berlin Museum at Checkpoint Charlie,” the Knight Rider and Baywatch star once told Germany’s TV Spielfilm magazine, maybe only half in jest.

Not far behind him at the East Side Gallery protest was Pink Floyd founder Roger Waters, who in July 1990 performed the acclaimed 1979 album The “Wall” in Berlin to an audience of 250,000 to mark the barrier’s demise.

“I’m not known for recommending the maintenance of walls in the world,” the performer said at the imperilled Wall stretch. “But in this case I’m extremely happy to make an exception.”

This month Berlin will host a lavish line-up of commemorative events marking 25 years since the Wall fell and the end of country’s 40-year division.

In the mix, Peter Gabriel will stir memories with a rendition of  ‘Heroes’, a song about a love affair David Bowie wrote while living in West Berlin in 1977 that still evokes the so-called ‘Wall of shame’.

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.

Also on the other side, briefly, was Bruce Springsteen. In another historic twist  the rock star was invited to play a concert in East Berlin in 1988 to show the GDR youth that their rulers were pretty hip after all, and that no one needed to yearn for the West.

During the three-hour outdoor gig, Springsteen upset his hosts with a quick speech delivered in faltering German to around 160,000 people in attendance.

“I am not for or against a government,” he said, reading from a phonetically written prompt card. “I’ve come to play rock and roll for you, in the hope that one day all barriers will be torn down.”

The crowd roared with approval but the authorities used a cautionary time lag of a few seconds to cut his words from the TV broadcast of the concert.

Despite chaotic overcrowding, the event went well enough for the organizers to want to bring U2 to East Berlin in August 1989. But the idea faded amid official concerns and the rapid turn of events in the country.  

On November 9th, the crowds were joined in the destruction of the concrete barrier by members of Spandau Ballet, who happened to be playing in West Berlin at the time.

“We all helped to chip away at the Wall,” guitarist Garry Kemp recalled during the 20th anniversary in 2009.

And talk about good timing: “Through the Barricades” became a very poignant song at that moment,” he added.

Little did the hammer-wielding new romantics know that the guy bashing away  down the line was France’s future president Nicolas Sarkozy.

But asked about their memories of the end of the Berlin Wall, some big names who watched it unfold from afar, including director Quentin Tarantino and Soft Cell vocalist Marc Almond, still only remember one face.

“I was watching it on TV and have this image of David Hasselhoff there somewhere,” laughs Almond.

Least able to shake the image a quarter century on are those who witnessed that legendary performance of “Looking for Freedom” on New Year’s Eve 1989.

“We were pointing to the person on the Wall, singing, wearing a jacket with sparkling lights on it. At some point someone told us it was David Hasselhoff,” recalled Keara Giannotti, a US language student who travelled to Berlin for the party.

“It was like someone was playing a prank on everyone there. But the Germans loved him. They were going wild.”

So while the Hoff and his loyal German following are still the butt of many a joke, the last laugh probably goes to them.

Maybe that photo will make it to Checkpoint Charlie one day.

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