Berlin Wall- my part in its downfall
Berlin Wall- my part in its downfall


On November 9th the Berlin wall began to be pulled apart with people’s bare hands. It was a a moment in history and we couldn’t resist going there…e xcerpt from John Robb’s 1999 book ‘The Nineties – What the fuck was that all about’

Berlin Wall- my part in its downfall
Berlin Wall- my part in its downfall

Some fools called it the end of history.

Some thought it was the triumph of capitalism.

But those bastards had already won.

It had been great TV.

Watching the collapse of the Soviet empire was prime entertainment – all those people walking out of East Germany with their suitcases. They had had enough and no-one believed in the system anymore. The border guards eventually stood back and the party was literally over.

It was a proper people’s revolution and it was all over for the men in grey.

East Germany was dissolving in front of our eyes and the hated Berlin wall was on the verge of losing all its meaning.

And you knew you had to be there.

So me and my assistant grabbed a couple of train tickets and hit the overnight train across Europe crammed into a carriage with drunken Polish country folk and their fiery jack vodka and stinking chickens spent hours heading east towards history.

Stumbling off the cross European train we alighted in Berlin one stop too late. Its 6 in the morning, freezing cold and we’re marooned in East Berlin – lost and without a visa.

Luckily East Germany doesn’t exist anymore.

In the old days this would have been a bureaucratic nightmare full of stern faced fools interrogating you and making money from your cock up.

Not now.

Everyone seems to have gone home.

Sort of.

In the last couple of weeks history went onto fast forward and the so called communist bloc has just completely collapsed. The streets were full of celebration and there is a whiff of revolution in the air.

Of course I had to be there.

The streets of East Berlin are deserted. Its quite spooky. Not being sure of how to get back on the train and go to west Berlin we set off for the Berlin wall figuring that if we walk around it we will eventually stumble onto checkpoint Charlie and blag our way back in to the more familiar western bit of the city.

We walk down the old high street, Unter Dem Linden, and are astonished by its grandeur. When they carved up Berlin the commies got the best bits there’s none of the western concrete and tack here.

In the distance I can hear a strange clanking sound, chipping away, sounds like a lot of people on a construction site I muse.

Suddenly in the distance the wall looms up. Its brooding concrete always unmissable even in a city of this size. The theory worked- keep walking and you will always find the wall. We walk towards it. Again its strangely deserted, Strangely quiet. The eastern side of the wall is very very different from the western side. For a start there seems to be no graffiti on it, it makes it seem larger, higher, perhaps it is?

I walk up to the wall, rip down my flies, pull out my cock and piss all over the wall. Its a satisfying moment for democracy and for my bladder which has been busting for for a piss. All the guards have their backs to me. They are looking towards the west at the massed ranks waiting for the endgame.

Ten minutes later we’re at Checkpoint Charlie.

It’s a mad scheme when you think about trying to blag through from the east to the west with no visas, nothing. But somehow we do it. The customs look confused, no-one is very sure if East Germany actually exists anymore, its like the country has just fizzled out over night. The guards still wear the uniform and are going through the functions, no-one has told them to go home yet so they turn up pretending that the whole game is still on.

As we pass through unapprehended we bump into some friends who are going the other way- it’s that kind of day. Everyone is up early and the mood is crazy.

On the western side there are loads of people hanging around and the infernal clanking sound is quickly explained- hundreds of people are down at the wall with hammers, shovels, saws, spoons, forks and bare hands- pulling bits of the wall away- tearing it down. I borrow a pickaxe and smash some chunks of concrete out for safe keeping. Nice chunks with bits of graffiti on them for safe keeping.

It's hard to imagine how brutal the Berlin Wall was...
It's hard to imagine how brutal the Berlin Wall was...

Through the cracks in the thick wall you could peer through and look at the bemused soldiers standing there with their guns pointing back. Some of the troops are stood on the wall with their guns pointing down at us not sure what to do. Everyone is waving at them and they glare back – po-faced, defeated.

We put our hands through the cracks in the wall shouting ”Ëœit’s all over! give up! go home now!’ and ”Ëœhow much is your trendy communist army hat?’

Of course they perk up at the last question. They are not fools.

There is a roaring trade in second hand military gear as the broke vanguard troops of communism try and make a few quid before they fuck off back to their barracks in deep dark Siberia.

For the next 24 hours we party by the weall. Hnaging out with a multi national mob. Its the best rave in Europe and the crowd builds up to an epic size. The wall is over.

I’d been to Berlin before. A few times. It was a weird freak island surrounded by the grey mass of East Germany. A strange place full of paranoia and dance till the apocolypse 24/7 lifestyles. A mixture of paranoia and hedonsim, a western edngame perfectly captured by the genius music of Einsterzende Neubaten.

It had become a bohemian bolthole as every freak in Germany would move there to avoid national service. There was an all night party scene, with views over no mans land and deep in the night time you could clamber up look out towers and look over the Berlin wall shouting stuff at the grim faced guards in the distance.

I had once tried to visit the other side.

You could go through Checkpoint Charlie and visit our friends in the east but I got stopped at the border by a moon faced Mongolian border guard, ”Ëœhave you looked in the mirror’ he quipped not au fait to the freak out punk rock and my mid winter coat covered in glue from sticking up membranes posters look I was sporting at the time- ”Ëœhave you fat boy’ I replied. Luckily he was short of English.

The rest of the band got through and spent a freezing afternoon in east Berlin trying to spend the 25 quid they were made to exchange, all they could find to buy was loaves of stale dry bread and came back exhausted and frozen with tales of taking the tram round the city to keep warm.

Berlin has changed a lot since then. I was there last year and went back to the wall. There is a small chunk of it left by a dirty main road and the rest of it has gone.

Well sort of.

Because the land, the no mans land of a thousand heroic escape attempts has become prime real estate and the space that the Berlin wall used to occupy has been filled in the glass towers of banks and offices- its like a new wall has been built- the capatalism wall and its gleaming chrome money belt snakes its was way through the city along it more notorious ancestor.

It’s almost impossable to imagine what is was like 15 years ago.

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Award winning journalist and boss of Louder Than War. In a 30 year music writing career, John was the first to write about bands such as Stone Roses and Nirvana and has several best selling music books to his name. He constantly tours the world with Goldblade and the Membranes playing gigs or doing spoken word and speaking at music conferences.


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