November 6, 2009 / 8:10 AM / 9 years ago

In Berlin, music fans build a new history

BERLIN (Hollywood Reporter) - Twenty-year-old Emilia was desperately trying to get a ticket to the MTV Europe Music Awards Thursday, shivering outside the O2 World stadium on a chill grey evening in what used to be East Berlin.

“I’ve come all the way from Portugal with my friends. Do you know of anyone who could help us?” she queried, her youthful voice rising with a sense of desperation.

When it was suggested that she head to the Brandenburg Gate, where U2 was playing a free set for 10,000 people to commemorate the fall of the Berlin Wall, she seemed unimpressed.

“But I really want to see Jay-Z and Beyonce,” she said. “And I love Katy Perry.”

Emilia neatly illustrates a point about Berlin’s recent history.

While one generation prepares to commemorate the 20-year anniversary Monday of an emotional and political landmark for all who lived through it, a whole new generation has grown up for whom the past is ancient history.

“Most of our fans were born after the wall came down,” said Bill Roedy, president of MTV International.

In many ways, the MTV story has been part of a larger technological evolution that, in its own way, was an agent of political change. The launch of the Astra satellite in the late ‘80s brought a free-to-air signal to East Germany. Together with cable systems opening up in other parts of Eastern Europe, the new television opportunities meant that for the first time the homes behind the Iron Curtain could see what they were missing.

Adverts for the glossy lifestyle and the wealth of choice enjoyed by their Western counterparts played a part in driving a demand for change.

“We were intertwined with all of this,” said Roedy. “You can credit a whole lot of people with the fall of the wall: You can credit Gorbachev, you can credit the border guards for not shooting, you can credit a whole lot things. But one reason you can add to all the other reasons is technology.”

Across town, U2 sought to “deliver a love letter to this incredible city” from the Pariser Platz, an area that two decades ago was part of the eerily empty no-man’s land between the two halves of a divided city.

The band opened its performance with “One,” a song written to symbolize the city’s reunification.

“Twenty years ago this week we were playing in a studio in Berlin, and as this beautiful country was coming together we were struggling as a band, but we wrote this one song,” said guitarist the Edge. “Berlin, this one is to you.”

Beneath a freezing night sky, the band also played “Beautiful Day” and an electrifying version of “Sunday Bloody Sunday” with a special appearance by Jay-Z that sent the masses wild.

But the real star of the show was the six-pillared Brandenburg Gate, light-washed with illuminated projections of the Stars and Stripes, the Hammer and Sickle and mounted missiles, against a backdrop of hundreds of criss-crossing lasers lighting up the sky.

Twenty years ago a young Roedy was attending a conference in the East, intending to attend a Politburo reception. When he got there, there was no one else. The entire government had resigned and less than 48 hours later the wall came down.

“I went to the East through Checkpoint Charlie. I went back through an open gate,” Roedy recalled. “You’ve seen what happened. The missiles became music, and the Iron Curtain became the red carpet.”

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