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Rolling Stones in Berlin

Gina Krymalowski / kbmJune 10, 2014

The Rolling Stones return to Berlin for a concert that should've taken place in 1969. Back then, the communist authorities arrested hundreds of young East German concert-goers. Some of them were imprisoned for two years.

The Rolling Stones performing in Zurich in 1976, Copyright: picture-alliance/dpa
Image: picture-alliance/dpa

It's October 7, 1969, the 20th anniversary of the founding of communist East Germany (GDR). Peaceful celebrations are being planned on the Karl-Marx-Strasse in Berlin.

Not far away on Leipziger Strasse, young people are gathering for an entirely different reason. Rumors have been circulating that the Rolling Stones will be giving a concert on the roof of the Axel Spring House, a tall publishing house located in West Berlin, but close enough to the Berlin Wall that the music would be audible from the East.

The Rolling Stones stood for revolution. Their look, their attitude and their music fascinated millions of young people all over the world. Even in East Germany, behind the Iron Curtain, young men let their hair grow, sewed patches on their clothes and wore bell-bottom pants.

In May 1966, Erich Mielke, the head of the feared East German state security service, also known as the Stasi, ordered a crackdown on "political-ideological diversion." Which meant that young people who didn't follow the communist party line were closely observed by the Stasi.

Prison instead of music

Nevertheless, thousands of young people came to East Berlin on October 7, 1969 in the hopes of hearing the Rolling Stones live, even though they knew they wouldn't be able to see them up close. But instead of the concert, the only thing that took place that day were hundreds of arrests.

Berlin Hohenschönhausen prison used by the communist East German regime, Copyright: NovoPicsDE - Fotolia.com
A concert visit turned into a prison sentence for someImage: NovoPicsDE - Fotolia.com

More than 40 years later in reunified Germany, some of those young concert-goers from 1969 were invited back to the Axel Spring House to share their stories with the state commissioner tasked with working through Stasi's old files, Roland Jahn.

For one of the young concert-goers from 1969, Eckart Mann, the consequence of showing up for the planned concert was two years imprisonment followed by extradition to West Germany. He was only 16 when he was arrested for "being rowdy" just 800 meters from the Axel Spring House. The public prosecutor later accused him of participating in protests as well.

"You were 16 and knew you weren't going to get out of the GDR, but you wanted to believe it," said Mann when asked why so many young people traveled to Berlin for the planned concert.

Today, Mann says, he's proud of the fact that he didn't submit to the regime, even while he was in prison. After two years of detainment, he was expelled from the country and moved to West Berlin, where he still lives. One of his first jobs there was working as a DJ.

Günter Kalies, Copyright: DW/G. Krymalowski
Günter Kalies was detained for four weeks after the planned concertImage: DW/G. Krymalowski

'We just wanted to listen to music'

Günter Kalies gets emotional when he talks about the events of 1969. He was on his way to the concert when he was stopped by the Stasi, beat and then arrested. He was taken to a basement where his hair was cut off. Kalies was kept there for four weeks. In order to leave, he was forced to sign a statement saying he had been well treated.

"They couldn't understand that we just wanted to listen to music," he said. Kalies remained in the GDR after that; it was his home.

On June 10, 2014, the Rolling Stones are set to perform on Berlin's Waldbühne stage in remembrance of the concert that, nearly 45 years ago, never took place. Eckart Mann, Günter Kalies and a number of other witnesses from 1969 will be present. And this time, there will be music.