December 22, 2006
Chad Campbell, NPR


Seventeen Years Later, NPR’s Station in Berlin
Offers Listeners a Behind-the-Scenes Documentary
And a Re-Broadcast of the Final Movement of the Symphony

Washington, D.C.; December 22, 2006 – NPR Berlin 104.1, the FM station licensed to NPR in April 2006 by the Berlin-Brandenburg broadcasting commission to bring American public radio programming to Germany, will offer a special Christmas program:  The behind-the-scenes story of Leonard Bernstein’s historic 1989 Christmas Day performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9, offered in celebration of the fall of the Berlin Wall, paired with a re-broadcast of the stirring final movement of the symphony.

The one-hour event will only be available to NPR Berlin audiences.  It will air Monday, December 25, at 1000 hrs. on NPR 104.1 FM.

Christmas Day seventeen years ago was a historic time in Germany and the world:  the Berlin Wall had fallen only weeks before and the Brandenburg Gate had been reopened only three days earlier.  The legendary conductor and composer decided to mark the events with a special performance and assembled an international roster of artists at East Berlin's Schauspielhaus (now Konzerthaus).  Working with German pianist Justus Frantz, the one-time-only group included orchestral players from the Bavarian Radio Symphony and musicians from orchestras of each of the four countries which had occupied Berlin since the end of World War II.  An extra large choral component was recruited from both West and East Germany and four soloists were drawn from the U.S. and Europe.  To reflect the excitement and celebration taking place globally, Bernstein made one dramatic change in the final choral movement – he substituted the word “freedom” for “joy” in the famous lyrics by the poet Schiller.  The performance aired on worldwide television, attracting more than 200 million viewers, and the CD of the concert became a global bestseller.

  On December 25, 2006 – the first Christmas since NPR acquired programming rights to the FM frequency – NPR Berlin will re-broadcast the concluding movement from that performance. It will be preceded by an original documentary about the landmark event, produced by journalist Paul Gambaccini.  The documentary features interviews with several of the planners, soloists and other members of the original ensemble who took part. 

  In December 2005, the Medienanstalt Berlin-Brandenburg (MABB) granted NPR the license to operate FM station 104.1.  NPR Berlin, which signed on the air in April 2006, features such popular NPR and public radio programs as Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Talk of the Nation, Fresh Air, Wait Wait…Don't Tell Me!, Car Talk and On The Media. The service is free to listeners, as NPR is in the U.S., and the term of the license is seven years.  The MABB’s decision represents an historic relationship between Berlin-Brandenburg and the U.S., the United Kingdom and France.  Beginning in 1995, in honor of the region’s longstanding relationship with these countries, each was granted the right to program an individual regional FM frequency, with the primary criterion that its programming reflect its national cultural voice.  The MABB has also designated the BBC as programmer for a U.K. station and Radio France International for the French one.  The MABB had previously designated Voice of America as the programmer for the U.S. frequency.  With the expiration of the VOA’s license term, the MABB granted the license to NPR.