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(photo credit: AP)
'I'm so very happy to be in your country," Barbra Streisand told 18,000 ecstatic fans Saturday night. The line was typical concert banter from the singer - or it would have been, if this particular concert hadn't been taking place in Berlin, a city where the music and film star had reportedly long refused to perform because of German history and the Holocaust.
For weeks, Berlin has been plastered with brown and gold posters of the star, her gaze seemingly fixed on a distant dream. When this proudly Jewish diva - who kept her family name and refused to bob her nose - took to the stage at the huge outdoor Waldbuehne arena on Saturday night, she finally belonged to Berlin for a few precious, and expensive, hours. And these hours have been a long time coming.
When the planners of Berlin's annual Jewish festival asked Streisand to perform here a few years ago, the answer was not a flat - nor a sharp - no. Instead, it was right on the money. One million bucks, to be exact.
"We didn't know if it was just an excuse not to come," said Berlin Tagesspiegel journalist Thomas Lackmann, who coordinated the 2004 event, and invited another artist. "[T]here was also the story that Barbra did not want to perform here because of the Holocaust."
It's an oft-repeated rumor he couldn't confirm and that Streisand - whose paternal family came from Austria - has not clarified. She hasn't given any interviews during the tour. But her fans haven't been thinking about the past. They've just been kvelling.
"I was very happy to hear she is coming," said Stephan Kramer, general secretary of the Central Council of Jews in Germany. The council's late president, Paul Spiegel - a talent agent - also "had tried for a long time to get her to Germany," Kramer said.
During the initial planning stages of Streisand's current tour, it was unclear whether Germany would be included.
"We had some inquiries from people about whether this was a sign that Barbra is not touching German soil," Kramer said. Her decision to sing here "shows her confidence," he said. "I am not saying it is another step to normality, but she has a lot of fans in Germany."
Saturday's performance took place in an outdoor arena built during the Nazi era, accompanied by a 58-piece orchestra. According to news reports, the sound of sawing and hammering had been ringing through the natural amphitheater for days before the show.
Rumor had it that the star would also spend a day touring Berlin. The director of the city's Holocaust memorial and information center had extended an invitation to Streisand for a private visit, but there was no word on whether she had accepted.
Though Streisand has never performed in Germany, she did introduce her film Yentl on a German TV show in 1984.
This is her first tour on the European continent, though she has performed in London.
Avitall Gerstetter, a cantor for Berlin's Jewish community, said it would be a dream to hear Streisand sing - and maybe even to sing with her. But she found the ticket prices prohibitive, with the cheapest seats going for around $200. There were still some tickets available on the eve of the concert, ranging up to about $1,400. Reportedly, about 75 percent of the intake will go to charity.
While the ticket prices raised eyebrows and ire in some cities along Streisand's 10-concert tour route, Berliners appeared willing to shell out the euros, reports said.
The star did her best to give her Berlin fans their money's worth, reeling off a bit of German and complimenting sources of German national pride ranging from apple strudel to Beethoven.
"Thank you for coming to Berlin!" a fan called out at one point during the show, according to Reuters.
"It's my pleasure," Streisand responded. "I'm thrilled to be here."
Lackmann, the journalist, said Streisand is a draw for many Germans because of their philo-Semitic feelings. They think of her as a survivor, "fighting and struggling and winning," he said. "For Jews in Germany and everywhere," he added, "she is a hero."
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