Remembrances  of the Fall of the Berlin Wall

Anniversary Special

by Elizabeth Fiend

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No, these aren’t mug shots. They’re our visa photos. It’s amazing they let us in! Allen Fiend and Elizabeth Fiend, 1989.

Editors note: The Philly punk band More Fiends, founded by Allen and Elizabeth Fiend (host of BiG TeA PaRtY Sustainable Living) is the band that creates the soundtrack for BiG TeA PaRtY videos. Please enjoy this departure from the regular BiG TeA PaRtY sustainable living content and share my recollections of  the fall of the Berlin Wall on this anniversary. Peace out. Love, Elizabeth

I was lying on a twin mattress on the floor of a narrow bedroom watching Happy Days which had turned incredibly funny because in the German dubbed version The Fonz had a whiney, high pitched voice. Plus, come on, Fonzie was speaking German. The program was interrupted by what seemed like some sort of special news report. Instantly — voices, screaming, intensity, astonishment, from the kitchen down the slender hallway of my band’s home base in Hamburg. And more cries from outside, down the block, next door.

It was November 9th 1989 and More Fiends had been on tour already for a grueling seven weeks.

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More Fiends on a fortified roof top, Malmo Sweden. Molotov cocktails at our feet (look to the left of Elizabeth). Left to right: Elizabeth Fiend, Allen Fiend, Ron Fiend, Rich Poor.

Before our back to back 1989 and 1990 European tours were over we would record a Peel Session for the BBC in London; and in Germany a single in a studio that was a  former meat packing plant and before that a Nazi bunker. We would stand on a fortified rooftop in Sweden littered with Heineken bottles tricked-up into Molotov cocktails laying in wait of a raid by the cops; and in the Netherlands would be advised not to smoke in certain rooms because it was were the inhabitants made their bombs. We would be told we couldn’t crash as planned at Hamburg’s famous Hafenstrasse squat because the polizei were on their way to search for members of the Red Army Faction, formerly the Baader-Meinhof Gang, who might be responsible for the recent car bombing death of the head of the Deutsche Bank.

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More Fiends performing in front of the RAF (Red Army Faction) flag.

We would ask why a yard-wide swastika was allowed to remain graffitied on the side of a public building in Tampere, Finland; would participate in a march lead by the Autonomen, the role models for the American anarchist black block, kicking off  from the Rote Flora community center; and would have slept next to a room where mounds of asphalt chunks awaited attacks by the police. The chunks were to be lobbed by radicals donning the protective helmets and hunter grade sling-shots that lined the wall, hanging in very neat rows.

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Elizabeth Fiend and Ron Fiend unloading band equipment in a squat courtyard.

We would gain firsthand knowledge of one such confrontation at the Ungdomshuset in Copenhagen, Denmark one of Europe’s most important occupied youth centers. We would actually be on stage when it was raided by an army of riot-gear laden politiet. As practiced, defensive positions were instantly taken by the locals, doors slammed shut and barricaded, tense minutes passed. And then as suddenly as it started, the police withdrew.

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 No matter when we went through, it was always grey at the crossing between East and West Germany.

And we would wait, and wait, while watching Germans push their cars to save on petrol, rather than drive, through the long, slow lines at the Passport Control Entrance to East Germany on our way to play at the West Berlin club Extacy-MadHaus. Which it was, both ecstasy and madness.

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More Fiends on stage in West Berlin. Left to right: Elizabeth Fiend, Rich Poor, Allen Fiend, Ron Fiend.

We would witness and provide harsh, noisy entertainment for an intensely politicized scene unlike anything in America.

But on November 9th 1989 something unexpected, something beautiful, something no one knew was going to happen occurred. The wall that had separated East from West Germany since 1961 was suddenly flung open. East Germans could now move about freely after over a quarter of a century in forced isolation. The Iron Curtain was rising and would soon fall completely.

I remember thinking how strange that this happened in secret from the people. But I realize now, that even the Soviets and the East German government didn’t know or even plan for the Berlin Wall to come down the way it did. After a flurry of tense protests it really did just sort of happen.

We scurried from our Hamburg flat to welcome the East Germans that flooded the city. We saw old women crying in front of fruit stands having not eaten a banana for a quarter of a century; and the equally ecstatic young men who flocking to the Reeperbahn, Hamburg’s notorious red light district. Seems porn was as scarce as bananas under Communism. Everywhere you looked the iconic East German Trabi cars were parked their windshields adorned with flowers gifted lovingly by their western brethren.

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East German’s in their new More Fiends’ tee-shirts with Elizabeth Fiend, Lubeck, Germany. 

Our next gig was in Lubeck a town very close to the east / west line where we were ironically playing a communist community center. The revolutionaries there were a bit shaken by the sudden fall of the Wall, but assured themselves that their style of communism was the ‘real’ kind and their views would still prevail. They did after all have one of the greatest four color printing presses I’d ever seen, the proliferation of propaganda posters unending. Here we were besieged by young, tough, men waving their East German ids in one hand, beer in the other. They practically held us up for free More Fiends tee shirts which they instantly donned — the sense of entitlement already apparent. A foreshadowing of what we’d notice on our next tour.

A year later, 1990, things had changed a lot in Germany. We felt resentment at our presence. Why after all should they be importing bands from America when there were plenty of great home town bands? But we also noted the resentment towards the East Germans. They had no education, no trade, and a different political view. The harsh economic reality of a country suddenly reunited was sinking in for the West Germans who would have to bear the financial burden of bringing their East German brothers and sisters, uncles and cousins, up to speed in higher taxes, job losses and a tanking economy.

Our tour in Yugoslavia had fallen apart because of the impending violence between Serbs, Croats and Bosniaks.

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Our Polish hosts goofing in front of a Lech Walesa campaign poster.

We were in affluent Switzerland when I made my monthly phone call home and learned that my sister’s husband had dropped dead at dinner of a heart attack. A tortuous 12 hours later, we hit Poland. There was no food, and we were advised not to drink the tap water. The air was thick and smoky from the burning of cheap yellow coal. But even through my grief I could sense the hope which sprang forth in two dynamic ways. To the absolute delight of the people, MTV had finally breached Poland, and slightly less exciting to the young Poles — Lech Walesa, the former trade unionist and founder of the Solidarity Movement, was poised to be the first elected president of the Third Republic of Poland.

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 Elizabeth Fiend at Checkpoint Charlie.

The band had been through Checkpoint Charlie several times, granted entrance by the soldiers and their machine guns. And then one day I stood there totally alone. The one-time symbol of the cold war looking tiny and forlorn — and totally trashed. I remember collecting bits of broken glass and concrete and feeling slightly afraid. It must have been the shadow of all those men in uniform and the military power built up over the decades by two sides fighting an ideological war — the enormity of the fall of the Iron Curtain. I still have my chunks of Checkpoint Charlie and my memories of the rippling wave that was rolling through Europe, changing it in ways we’re still trying to sort out. 

10 Responses to “Remembrances of the Fall of the Berlin Wall by Elizabeth Fiend”

  1. Joe Barron (Senior) Says:

    Elizabeth,
    You did a wonderful job putting this together. I remember the times well. I used to think how horrible it was the way the East German people died trying to get out of East Germany. Oh how they wanted their freedom and were willing to die for it.

    It brings my thoughts up to modern times wwhere we have a President who has at least a half dozen, possibly more socialist, marxist radicals as his advisors and very few people are upset about it. Perhaps we will get upset after we lose our freedom……I hope a lot of people see and remember what you have put together.
    Sincerely, Joe Barron Sr.

  2. Rich Mulhearn Says:

    Awesome! You guys are so cool!

  3. onion Says:

    elizabeth, thanks for putting this together. it was good too chatting about your tour memories the other day…

    I remember those days well too. definitely a crazy time to go on tour. i do remember a whole other side to the wall coming down though. East Germans were straight up shocked to be exposed to a ton of things completely common in the west. stuff like brutal military style police repression, skyrocketing rents and homelessness being suddenly everywhere. Also a new wave of grassroots fascism spread in Germany like wildfire. In Rostock huge racist mobs attacked a refugee shelter and burnt it down (if you can follow a little german, see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xnQwS98dqcI ) and lefties, punks and autonomous and anarchist folks came from all over europe to help defend squats, foreigners and others from nazi attacks that rampant at the time.

    Not to downplay the political repression in the east, but the wall coming down was also an expression of an ugly face of germany that had been largely hidden away since they lost the war. not to mention of course a for many painful victory of free market capitalism over state controlled capitalism..

    and mr barron, speaking for those radicals who voted for Obama after being promised by the Mccain campaign we were voting for a socialist muslim, believe me we could have not been more dissapointed.

  4. Elizabeth Fiend Says:

    it’s true Dave. we saw a lot of ugly Nazi, racist and fascism stuff, in and beyond Germany. in Poland our travel was restricted by the government because they were afraid Nazi youth would come out to an American punk show. in Denmark we played in the home town of the leader of the European Nazi movement. and in Germany one of the squats we were playing at was attacked by Nazi kids during our show — we had to be locked into the club for our own safety. when crossing the ferry into Sweden we saw a kid with a hand painted KKK scene on the back of his denim jacket. and a race riot broke out in the street in front of a club we were playing at in Malmo. and everywhere anti-Turkish, the servant / underclass, sentiments. lov,e

  5. ellen Says:

    Thank you for such a detailed mind’s eye camera eyewitness account of a seminal time. Combined w/ the rare and hastily captured photos, a historical treasure. It has a momentum, a story going on to make me wonder – What happened next!? Are there things to be thinking about now vis a vis today- lessons learned, questions raised? What interests you most? Music? The Freemarket /Free Choice equation? Has Racism in Germany/E. Germany abated or not (and to what degree)? (Sorry to sound like an inquisitor – I can offer “I’ve been grading papers for 2 hrs” as an excuse…)

    It must have been electrifying to be there for freedom and radical overthrow by the people when such a thing was happening. The clashing, the tumult, the ideologies, the pure adreneline weirdness of upset and explosive change. (Hmmm does it sound like a place we might know?) To what extent do you think you were aware of what you all (the group) were travelling into?

    It was then that the US was supposedly all kinds of behind Freedom of Speech, Power to Democracies (Walesa, et al.) – but were we, and where do you think we really are at now?

    I remember the on-the-road truck stops, aka troughs, along the long stretch between W. and E Germany in 1984, the barbed wire, the grim and always gray affect. I haven’t read much from those years and now I’m curious to, what strange and puzzling and persistent dichotomies were going on.

    And the More Fiends! Placing themselves right in the center of it! I can’t help but think of those times, those years, those places, your writing appears to me entirely cinematographic- and it’s wonderful. As is the inspiration to keep learning and being IN IT.

    Thanks again, Keep writing….

    Also I enjoy reading the other thought provoking commenters –

  6. paul d Says:

    hi from Kenya – these are great pics and great stories of an amazing confusing time. thank you for posting these, Fiends. xxxpd

  7. Phebe Shinn Says:

    Hey,, guys, You never told us all these gory details in your letters, or when you got back! I guess it would have been really disturbing for us old folks. But nicely done.
    I wish Mr. Barron Sr. would identify by name the half dozen, or more (more!) “socialist marxist radicals” the President has advising him, identify & share the evidence he has of their political status.

  8. Marlo Says:

    Thanks for this post & photos. They’re great!

  9. seamus riley Says:

    “the Soviets and the East German government didn’t know or even plan for the Berlin Wall to come down the way it did. After a flurry of tense protests it really did just sort of happen.”

    really? that’s what happened? if we’re going to be making up history why don’t we at least make it interesting and say that the decibels from a nearby anarcho-punk rock concert blasted the wall down?

  10. Elizabeth Fiend Says:

    Editor response: “It soon became clear that no one among the East German authorities would take personal responsibility for issuing orders to use lethal force, so the vastly outnumbered soldiers had no way to hold back the huge crowd of East German citizens. Finally, at 10:45 pm, the guards finally yielded, opening the checkpoints and allowing people through with little or no identity checking. As the Ossis swarmed through, they were greeted by Wessis waiting with flowers and champagne amid wild rejoicing. Soon afterward, a crowd of West Berliners jumped on top of the wall, and were soon joined by East German youngsters. They danced together to celebrate their new freedom.”
    Read the rest of the true account here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Berlin_Wall

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