Reichstag building

The Reich­stag build­ing in 1982
© Havel­baude via Wiki­me­dia Com­mons, CC BY-SA 3.0

The Reich­stag build­ing has a rich his­to­ry. Con­struct­ed in the late 19th cen­tu­ry, it served as the home of the Impe­r­i­al Diet (par­lia­ment) of the Ger­man Empire until the end of World War I. In 1933, the build­ing was severe­ly dam­aged by a fire. Many believe it was set inten­tion­al­ly, which con­tributed to the rise of the Nazi regime. Dur­ing World War II, the build­ing suf­fered fur­ther dam­age. After Ger­many’s reuni­fi­ca­tion in 1990, the Reich­stag was recon­struct­ed with a mod­ern glass dome designed by archi­tect Nor­man Fos­ter. It sym­bol­izes trans­paren­cy and open­ness in gov­ern­ment. Today, it hous­es the Bun­destag, Ger­many’s fed­er­al par­lia­ment.

On June 9, 1987, Bowie per­formed in front of 60,000 peo­ple on the lawns in front of the Reich­stag build­ing. The site was­n’t cho­sen for its his­tor­i­cal sig­nif­i­cance, but rather for its prox­im­i­ty to the Berlin Wall. This allowed his East Berlin fans, who were oth­er­wise restrict­ed by their gov­ern­ment from attend­ing such gigs, to expe­ri­ence the show. Dur­ing the Cold War, East Ger­mans were pro­hib­it­ed from enjoy­ing West­ern rock music due to its per­ceived neg­a­tive influ­ence. Nonethe­less, on the night of the con­cert, the streets around the Reich­stag were filled with thou­sands of East Berlin­ers who defied their author­i­ties by gath­er­ing to lis­ten to the music as an act of resis­tance.

It was one of the most emo­tion­al per­for­mances I’ve ever done. I was in tears. […] 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.

– David Bowie, Per­form­ing Song­writer, 2003

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