The surge of summer music festivals in Berlin by 1988 were becoming more than just a series of cultural events for local West German citizens, but musical events on both sides of Berlin were becoming a platform for political statements. By mid June of that year, Michael Jackson had performed in sold out stadiums and arenas in over four different continents, and for the last four weeks he had made his trek across Europe for his first set of solo shows throughout the continent. The singer was set to make his seventh stop of the European leg in West Berlin on June 19, 1988, and despite the high demand for tickets to the sold out show on the grounds in front of the Reichstag building, another show was set up on the other side of the Brandenburg Gate to detract protestors in East Germany from inciting a riot to get closer to the Jackson concert.
In the weeks leading up to one of the most anticipated events in West Berlin, on the same day of the Michael Jackson concert was a festival just five miles east of the Brandenburg Gate that separated the two sides of Western and Eastern Germany.
A symbol of pride and hope for the youth of the GDR (German Democratic Republic), Katarina Witt was a determined young athletic superstar whom by the mid 1980s was a popular name in Eastern Germany as Jackson was as a superstar throughout the rest of the globe. After performing a breathtaking performance at the 1984 Winter Olympics in Sarajevo, Witt would internationally catapult into a household name most importantly for her athletic achievements, but in East Germany, her celebrity would help establish her as a political activist for German youth of the GDR to help restore the political unrest in the East.
The Ministry of State Security, also most famously known as the “Stasi,” was a major intelligence agency in GDR for close to forty years. The agency’s clandestine operations included the responsibility of close surveillance of inhabitants within the GDR, as well as keeping close surveillance of any threats outside of the Socialist Unity Party of Germany. Every political leader from each corner of the globe who would conduct any business within Germany, as well as foreign dignitaries and military members, lawyers, activists, even artists were kept under close surveillance under Stasi’s operations in the East, including Jackson by the time the Bad tour would touch down in Berlin.
Jackson’s influence on the youth of the GDR was so feared by members of the Eastern Government, there was a special team of Stasi officers specifically assigned to keep him under close surveillance during his stay in Berlin. Many Eastern political leaders were afraid a riot would ensue with police on duty near the Brandenburg on the day of the show, and to prevent any altercation, a major concert event hosted by Katarina Witt was arranged the same day and time of Jackson’s show. A day before Jackson was scheduled to perform near the Wall, it was rumored that he was seen making an unscheduled appearance at Checkpoint Charlie, the crossing point that connected Western Germany to East. It was later determined that the man falsely identified as Jackson was an impersonator hired to create a spectacle to promote the concert event in the West, but to also divert the surveillance off of the real superstar to the Stasi officers.
[An excerpt from Retrospective magazine, coming this Winter]