Sunday, November 08, 2009

Beyond The Wall

The Berlin Wall was opened twenty years ago. The Fall of the Wall set East Germany on the inevitable road to its absorption by the Bundesrepublik a few months later. In the rest of Eastern Europe, the transition saw regimes fall, but in East Germany the fall of Communism saw an entire country disappear.

As you know, East Germany was formed in the Soviet occupation zone in eastern Germany. The early years of the DDR* coincided with the birth of rock and roll in the USA and this strange new music's appearance in Europe. At first, the East German state shunned this new music. Rock and roll was seen as the degenerate outpourings of late capitalism, a sure sign that the USA had fallen into decadence and was on the brink of socialist revolution.

Despite the best efforts of the regime, however, the youth of East Germany became more and more interested in the new American music. Rather than leave them to the tender mercies of West German broadcasting and the likes of Radio Free Europe, the DDR's rulers sought to co-opt rock and roll by allowing East German rock bands to come into being. Ideologues also discovered that rock and roll was not an alien import, but an authentic development of proletarian culture. They came close to implying that it was a development of East German proletarian culture, as though the first rock and rollers hailed from darkest Saxony rather than the American south.

I have a few reissues of music that originally appeared on Amiga, the East German state record label. I will now talk you through them, introducing you to the magic of socialist Germany's popular music.

The first East German music I acquired was a box set collecting the three discs of the series Das Beste Aus Der DDR. The first two discs (Rock and Pop respectively) are not really up to much. They demonstrate that even deformed workers states can make bland & anodyne mainstream music as unappealing as that found under capitalism. It says a lot about how dull these two discs are that the music on them both is pretty interchangeable, with little or no obvious concessions to their notional Rock and Pop subjects.

The third disc (Kult) is a completely different kettle of fish. I think maybe the title is a little misleading. This is not music from some edgy underground scene. Quite a few of the musicians from this record appear on the other two discs, and the music they make here is probably as mainstream as on the other volumes. It is just much better. It is like the compilers have kept back their good tunes for this one. And as well as rock and pop music, the Kult disc also has music from other genres – socialist children's music, communist folk-rock, TV themes, and a couple of odd novelty tunes. I recommend this disc highly – if you were to buy just one East German record, make it this one. As well as the novelty stuff, it includes music by big names on the East German rock scene, such as DIE PUHDYS, Renft, and Nina Hagen.

The story continues in the next post, when I will look at some other reissue of music from socialist Germany.

Wall image source

Kult image source

* Deutsche Demokratische Republik (or German Democratic Republic); you knew this


String Bean Jen said...

What is that character on the cover of that albume? o_O

ian said...

Hi Jen, the guy on the cover of Das Beste Aus Der DDR is Pittiplatsch. That's pretty much all I know about him, but Wikipedia suggests that he is a Kobold (kind of like the Elves from the Elves and the Shoemaker story). He is a bit mischievious, but his heart is in the right place.

Ray said...

Did you see this?

ian said...

Das ist gut, ja. I am still a bit vague as to what would actually happen in episodes of Sandmann.... must read the little Sandmann book I bought in Berlin sometime. Ja!