EAST BERLIN — Organizers call it the largest, most ambitious live musical event ever staged.
Size aside, it's easily among the more unusual.
Before an expected live audience of 180,000 and an estimated 1 billion television viewers worldwide, former Pink Floyd leader Roger Waters will perform tonight one final, very special performance of "The Wall."
The place: an area in the heart of Berlin that until last November was a barren, heavily mined and fortified death strip behind the real wall that helped divide East from West for the better part of three decades.
Among those performing: the Soviet forces' marching band. That's right. The Red Army. On stage. At a Roger Waters gig.
The reason: charity, the start of a fund known as the Memorial Fund for Disaster Relief. The aim is to raise 500 million sterling ($875 million) over the next six years, 5 (about $8.75) for each of the estimated 100 million lives lost in major wars in the 20th Century.
Such a fund could yield $80 million a year in interest, to be dispersed as immediate, no-strings-attached relief assistance.
The fact that Waters, the event's prime mover, is someone with such an anti-Establishment image, a man who is better known for his rage than his compassion, is a measure of rock's growing social conscience. First felt globally with Bob Geldof's 1985 transatlantic Live Aid concert for African famine relief, this activism was seen most recently at the Nelson Mandela International Tribute in London in April. Both reached an audience of approximately 1 billion.
But Waters' involvement in such an event isn't as strange as it might seem.
Ray White, a New York City disc jockey who knows Waters well, notes that the 47-year-old star has never forgotten the reach and impact of the Live Aid concert.
"He was elated that for once the kids had wrestled the satellites away from the bureaucrats and the corporations," White said. "He kept asking why the satellites couldn't be used for the people more often."
The location is also the ideal backdrop for the theatrical extravaganza Pink Floyd performed 29 times between February 1980 and June 1981. The real wall, which until last November imprisoned an entire nation, 16 million East Germans, symbolizes on a grander scale the alienation, futility and nihilism inherent in the personal barriers people build around themselves, barriers Waters addressed in 1979's "The Wall."
The combination of the chance to perform "The Wall" for a global audience and for a worthy cause at such a site is apparently what persuaded Waters to put aside his dislike for stadium concerts and do it one last time.
The idea came to him a couple of years ago, and he thought of it mostly in jest rather than believing that it might actually be brought off.
In response to continuous pressure to do the "The Wall" again, Waters countered jokingly that he'd do it one more time--but only at the Berlin Wall, if they ever tore it down.
Last Nov. 9, they did just that. As Germans east and west danced atop the barrier that had kept them apart for so long, Waters began to plan. Since then, events have moved so fast that concert organizers have had to persuade East German authorities to leave at least one piece of the wall standing at the site of the concert.
At Berlin's Potsdamer Platz, the old city hub that the Cold War turned into a free-fire zone, the sole remaining evidence of the wall has been reduced to a stage prop.
For a city that thought it had seen everything in the heady months after the collapse of communism in East Europe, huge sets rising in the former death strip--including a new, 60-foot plastic foam wall, only 600 feet long but 4 1/2 times the height of the actual Berlin Wall--all for a rock concert, is just one more wonder that has to be seen to be believed.
Organizers say the concert fits into the same category. Waters' shows have always been known for extravagance, and this one promises to be no exception.
In addition to the wall, which rises in the first act and crumbles in the finale, props include inflatable puppets the size of six-story buildings and British army helicopters sweeping low over the crowd. Plans to have two World War II bombers buzz the audience had to be scrapped for safety reasons, organizers said.
The sets and art design are being handled by Fisher Park, the company that created the original production and, more recently, handled the Rolling Stones' Urban Jungle tour, Tina Turner's Private Dancer show and the Nelson Mandela event.
The concert will be beamed live to 35 countries and taped for broadcast in another 10. Americans will likely see it on a network in September. But they will hear it live on 175 radio stations, according to Kevin Wall, chief executive officer of Radio Vision International, which is handling distribution.
Organizers said Waters and the 10-piece Bleeding Heart Band, which includes guitarist Andy Fairweather Low, have been rehearsing for over two months.