By Erik Kirschbaum
BERLIN (Reuters) - Rocker Bruce Springsteen touched on a nerve of widespread discontent with the financiers and bankers at a Berlin concert on Wednesday, railing against them as "greedy thieves" and "robber barons."
Springsteen, a singer-songwriter dubbed "The Boss" who has long championed populist causes, played to a sold-out crowd at Berlin's Olympic Stadium, singing from his album "Wrecking Ball" and speaking about tough economic times that have put people out of work worldwide and led to debt crises in Greece and other countries.
"In America, a lot of people have lost their jobs," said Springsteen, 62, who performed for three hours to some 58,000 fans in the packed stadium that hosted the 1936 Olympics and the 2006 World Cup final.
"But also in Europe and in Berlin, times are tough," he added, speaking in fluent German. "This song is for all those who are struggling." He then introduced "Jack of All Trades", a withering attack on bankers that includes the lyrics: "The banker man grows fat, working man grows thin."
Europe has been especially hard hit since 2008's financial meltdown that sparked an enduring sovereign debt crisis. Unemployment on the continent has risen to levels not seen since the 1990s.
Springsteen's "Wrecking Ball" tour began on May 13 in Spain, which is struggling with its crushing debt load, and it runs for 2-1/2 months with 33 stops in 15 countries before concluding on July 31 in Helsinki.
'FAT AND EASY ON BANKER'S HILL'
Berlin, largely a working class city, has been a special place for Springsteen since his July 1988 concert behind the old Iron Curtain in East Berlin.
Watched by 160,000 people, or about 1 percent of then Communist East Germany's population, it was the biggest rock show in East German history, and The Boss boldly spoke out against the "barriers" keeping East Germans in their portion of the city.
Some historians have said the concert fed into a movement gaining moment at the time that contributed to the tearing down of the Berlin Wall 16 months later in November 1989.
"Once in a while you play a place, a show that ends up staying inside of you, living with you for the rest of your life," he told the crowd on Wednesday after being handed a poster from a fan thanking him for the 1988 concert. "East Berlin in 1988 was certainly one of them."
Even though Germany has managed to come through the current financial crisis in fairly good shape, Berlin itself is struggling with a double-digit unemployment rate, low wages and a high poverty. And some of the lyrics in Springsteen's "Wrecking Ball" album clearly struck a chord with the crowd.
In "Shackled and Drawn", Springsteen sings about "Gambling man rolls the dice, working man pays the bill. It's still fat and easy up on banker's hill. Up on banker's hill the party's going strong, down here below we're shackled and drawn."
With "Easy Money", Springsteen rips into the "fat cats" who will "just think it's funny ... when you're whole world comes tumbling down." In "Death to My hometown", Springsteen assails the "greedy thieves and robber barons" who "destroyed our families, factories and they took our homes." In the song "Wrecking Ball", he sings: "Hold tight to your anger."
"The financial world has caused us all a lot of our problems and Springsteen has always been a critical spirit - that's what I like about him," said Kathleen Wapp, a 42-year-old doctor's assistant from Wolfsburg who was at the show. "I like the way he's not afraid to put a critical light on the key issues."
"I think it's great the way he's taking on the banking industry - he's got it dead right," said Matthias Beck, 46, a carpenter from Leipzig. "There's hardly anything good about banks. They take advantage of the little people, and it's always hard to find someone who'll take responsibility when it all goes wrong."
(Reporting By Bob Tourtellotte)