In Berlin, music fans build a new history

MTV celebrates fall of wall as young fans put past in context

BERLIN -- Twenty-year-old Emilia is desperately trying to get a ticket Thursday to the MTV Europe Music Awards and is shivering outside the O2 World stadium on a chill grey November evening in what used to be East Berlin.

"I've come all the way from Portugal with my friends. Do you know of anyone who could help us?" she queries, her youthful voice rising with a sense of desperation.

When I suggest that she head to the Brandenburg Gate, where U2 is due to play a free set to 10,000 people to commemorate the fall of the Berlin Wall, she seems unimpressed.

"But I really want to see Jay-Z and Beyonce," she says. "And I love Katy Perry."

The 20-year-old neatly illustrates a point about Berlin's recent history.

While one generation prepares to commemorate the 20-year anniversary Monday of an emotional and political landmark for all who lived through it, a whole new generation has grown up for whom the past is ancient history.

"That's one of the reasons I'm really glad we have a band like Tokio Hotel playing tonight, says Bill Roedy, president of MTV International, sitting in a windowless production office in the bowels of the O2 Stadium as the strains of Foo Fighters' warm-up permeates the thin walls.

"They were born in East Germany in 1989. It just puts everything in context. It's all about celebrating the music now. Most of our fans were born after the wall came down," says Roedy, who is clearly itching to get away to catch the next rehearsal from Shakira.

In many ways, the MTV story has been part of a larger technological evolution that, in its own way, was an agent of political change. The launch of the Astra satellite in the late '80s brought a free-to-air signal to East Germany. Together with cable systems opening up in other parts of Eastern Europe, the new television opportunities meant that for the first time the homes behind the Iron Curtain could see what they were missing.

Adverts for the glossy lifestyle and the wealth of choice enjoyed by their Western counterparts played a part in driving a demand for change.

Bill Roedy
"We were intertwined with all of this," says Roedy. "You can credit a whole lot of people with the fall of the wall: You can credit Gorbachev, you can credit the border guards for not shooting, you can credit a whole lot things. But one reason you can add to all the other reasons is technology."

Across town, a rock group with its own deep roots in the city that delivered their "Achtung Baby" album was taking to a stage against the dramatic uplit backdrop of the Brandenburg Gate.

Aiming to "deliver a love letter to this incredible city," U2 performed a one-off free gig in front of an audience of 10,000 in the Pariser Platz, an area that two decades ago was part of the eerily empty no-man's land between the two halves of a divided city.

The band opened its performance with "One," the song written to symbolize the city's reunification.

"Twenty years ago this week we were playing in a studio in Berlin, and as this beautiful country was coming together we were struggling as a band, but we wrote this one song," said the Edge. "Berlin, this one is to you."

Beneath a freezing night sky, the band also delivered hits including " Beautiful Day" and an electrifying version of "Sunday Bloody Sunday" with a special appearance by Jay-Z that sent the massed crowds wild.

But the real star of the show was the six-pillared Brandenburg Gate, light-washed with illuminated projections of the Stars and Stripes, the Hammer and Sickle and mounted missiles, against a backdrop of hundreds of criss-crossing lasers lighting up the sky.

Twenty years ago a young Roedy was attending a conference in the East, intending to attend a politbureau reception. When he got there, there was no one else.The entire government had resigned and less than 48 hours later the wall came down.

"I went to the East through Checkpoint Charlie. I went back through an open gate," Roedy recalled. "You've seen what happened. The missiles became music, and the Iron Curtain became the red carpet."

Happy birthday, Berlin.

Bono performs at the Brandenburg Gate (Getty)
Winners of the 16th annual MTV Europe Music Awards follow:

Best song: Beyonce for "Halo"

Best live act: U2

Best group: Tokio Hotel

Best new act: Lady Gaga

Best female artist: Beyonce

Best male artist: Eminem

Best urban artist: Jay-Z

Best rock artist: Green Day

Best alternative act: Placebo

Best video: Beyonce

Best push artist: Pixie Lott

Best world stage performance: Linkin Park

Best European act: maNga (Turkey)