The Day Bowie Changed History: This Day in 1987

Today’s story documents a man who always saw the world through broader eyes. June 7th 1987, David Bowie returns to Berlin, a decade after he’d lived there in order to control and overcome a severe drug habit. I don’t think even David knew the significance those three shows would have on history, but those nights provided the first glimmer of hope for the divided city!

For those unfamiliar with the story, we must first go back to ‘Heroes’, the 1977 masterpiece. The title track is a story merging both fiction and fact of Bowie’s time in Berlin throughout the Cold War. Primarily, this love song details the story of two lovers, one East and one West of the wall. But further from that, the song also depicts imagery of sights Bowie witnessed out of his flat window of the Schöneberg neighbourhood, as well as true stories of people who tried to flee the East before being brutally gunned down, one example being Henri Weise who drowned whilst attempting to escape – thus the lyric “I wish I could swim, like dolphins, dolphins can swim” was born.

So you don’t have to be a genius to recognise that David Bowie had strong ties with the city, and certainly wanted to inflict change upon it in any way possible – but even he didn’t recognise the impact he would have.

Fast forward ten years and he is preparing to play three shows in front of the Reichstag, Berlin. 70,000 would attend these shows, although that doesn’t take into account the thousands listening from just over the wall. At the time, East Berlin had slowly become a safer place to live, although Rock music was still demonised in all Soviet states. But that didn’t stop people gathering in their thousands to get an earful. “It was like a double concert” Bowie told The Atlantic afterwards as he listened on to the crowd sing behind the Iron Curtain.

Although the first two days were rather peaceful, the third and final day was when the peace came crumbling down. When thousands began to gather again, the police had enough and began to attack and arrest the innocent bystanders. This overreaction was the final straw for many residents, completely changing the mood of the city who finally put their joint frustrations into collapsing The Berlin Wall – it would only last two more years.

Although not the only significant factor in the cause of collapsing The Berlin Wall, the concert in which Bowie claims it was his “most emotional performance” it well documented as a catalyst for change in the city – with him being officially thanked by the German government after his death in 2016.

A man who was never afraid to speak his mind, a man who was before his time, a man who will never be forgotten.

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