Relive David Bowie’s unifying performance of ‘Heroes’ at the Berlin Wall, 1987
Today, we’re looking back at a quite unbelievable performance from The Starman, David Bowie as he took the stage on this day at one of Germany’s most poignant landmarks. Watch below as David Bowie performs ‘Heroes’ at the Berlin Wall in 1987.
To jump to a ludicrous conclusion and suggest that Bowie was a major force in the dissolution of the wall in 1989 would be a mistake. But just two years prior to the landmark event, the singer gave an earth-moving performance at the divisive wall and shook the occupants of both sides to their emotional core.
Bowie was performing at the event as part of his massive eighties explosion, the Glass Spider tour. As part of the tour’s European leg, the Thin White Duke joined the bill for a three-day rock festival with both Phil Collins’ Genesis and the Eurythmics both performing at the Platz der Republik event. While the concert was being held in West Berlin, the event’s location meant that East Berlin could also hear the enigmatic singer’s dynamic performance.
Rumours that the festival deliberately turned the speakers in the other direction have never been confirmed but the vibrations of the show could be felt across the wall. “We kind of heard that a few of the East Berliners might actually get the chance to hear the thing, but we didn’t realize in what numbers they would. And there were thousands on the other side that had come close to the wall.”
“So it was like a double concert where the wall was the division. And we would hear them cheering and singing along from the other side. God, even now I get choked up. It was breaking my heart. I’d never done anything like that in my life, and I guess I never will again.”
One song which is dear to the heart of most Bowie fans would hold extra weight in such a setting. Bowie wrote the 1977 hit ‘Heroes’ while staying in West Berlin and midway through the set Bowie performed the famous song and saw it take on a whole new life. He told Rolling Stone, “When we did ‘Heroes’ [at the 1987 Berlin concert] it felt anthemic, almost like a prayer,” he remarked. “I’ve never felt it like that again. That’s the town where it was written, and that’s the particular situation it was written about. It was just extraordinary. I was so drained after the show.”
“It was one of the most emotional performances I’ve ever done,” RS reports Bowie said back in 2003. “I was in tears. There were thousands on the other side that had come close to the wall. So it was like a double concert where the wall was the division. And we could hear them cheering and singing from the other side. God, even now I get choked up. It was breaking my heart and I’d never done anything like that in my life, and I guess I never will again. It was so touching.”
The sheer importance of the show, performing to two separated cities at once, shimmying the western dream across the wall towards the East Berliners, clearly was not lost on Bowie. Never one to miss the occasion to highlight the unifying power of art, Bowie called out to East Berlin before playing ‘Heroes’.
“We send our best wishes to all of our friends who are on the other side of the wall,” exclaimed the Starman. It would be a sentiment that would send over 200 East Berliners charging at the wall with subsequent arrests and complimentary beatings. Soon enough a small riot had ensued and demonstrators began chanting “The wall must fall!” and “Gorby get us out!” It would be one of many acts of civil unrest that would lead to fall of the wall in 1989.
Bowie’s performance is simply mesmeric. Utilising his theatricality to show the breaking of shackles and using his new rock and roll tone to deliver every rousing lyric. A song which always landed with hefty aplomb whenever it was performed, seemed to somehow transcend its nature as a simple pop song, and for one moment, unify a city.
Watch below as David Bowie performs ‘Heroes’ at the Berlin Wall in 1987.