Tear Me Down: Five Songs About The Berlin Wall
Today is World Freedom Day! The holiday was declared in 2001 by George W. Bush to celebrate the fall of the Berlin Wall and just how awesome he felt Ronald Reagan was. It was 21 years ago today that East and West Berlin were reunited, and the Berlin Wall remains a source of musical inspiration even to this day. Here's our five favorite songs about the Berlin Wall.
5. "Tear Me Down," Hedwig and the Angry Inch
The wall between Communism and the freedom of the West plays an enormous role in John Cameron Mitchell's punk-rock opera. Born in East Berlin, Hedwig undergoes an botched sex change operation in order to marry an American G.I. and escape his oppressive community.
Now, neither fully woman nor man, Hedwig's music becomes centered around the lines that divide what was once fully whole. The heart-stopping opening number "Tear Me Down" sets the tone perfectly with a brief monologue in the bridge comparing Hedwig to the wall's fall.
4. "Germany," Sloppy Seconds
For our money, Sloppy Second's Destroyed is the best punk album ever released. Amidst the odes to Traci Lords and pleas to not be gay are many songs of surprising emotional depth. One of those songs is "Germany," in which our protagonist steals all the money of his cheating girlfriend to fund a trip to Germany. He celebrates this act by surfing down the Rhine and spray painting her phone number on the Berlin Wall. He laments how much money she'll miss out on by not sleeping with Communists.
3. "99 Luftballoons," Nena
At a 1982 Rolling Stones concert in Berlin, Nena's guitarist Carlo Karges watched a mass of balloons released. The balloons came together into various odd shapes, some of the seeming to form spacecrafts. Karges wondered aloud later what the reaction to seeing the balloons floating over the wall would be. Would the communists think they were under attack and unleash war?
2. "Holidays in the Sun," Sex Pistols
We'll let Johnny Rotten tell this on in his own words from autobiography Rotten: No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs:
Being in London at the time made us feel like we were trapped in a prison camp environment. There was hatred and constant threat of violence. The best thing we could do was to go set up in a prison camp somewhere else. Berlin and its decadence was a good idea.
The song came about from that. I loved Berlin. I loved the wall and the insanity of the place. The communists looked in on the circus atmosphere of West Berlin, which never went to sleep, and that would be their impression of the West.
1. "Nikita," Elton John
You want to talk about star cross'd lovers? The Capulets and the Montagues had nothing on the East and West Berliners in Elton John's 1985 "Nikita." The song centers around a crush on an East German border guard that can't be acted upon because John can't get into the country.
John later admitted that the song was about a man, despite the foxy blonde who starred in the official video. Interestingly enough, then-Russian premier Nikita Krushchev was the man who ordered the wall's construction in the first place.
Jef With One F is the author of The Bible Spelled Backwards Does Not Change the Fact That You Cannot Kill David Arquette and Other Things I Learned In the Black Math Experiment, available now.
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