The Stasi against punk: 12 years of war | Culture

From time to time, publicists get apocalyptic and claim that The Rolling Stones (or AC / DC or Pink Floyd) brought down the Berlin Wall. They suggest that the public in the Democratic Republic of Germany (GDR) was so eager for rock that it ended up defenestrating its sclerotic leaders.

There is a problem with that actualization of the Jericho trumpet myth. In truth, the smart kids in the GDR had all the rock they wanted. The news reached his ears thanks to the radio stations of the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG); foreign LPs were not published, but were disseminated through homemade cassettes; occasionally, a western superstar would perform, like Bruce Springsteen in 1988.

In fact, the GDR had generated its own star system rocker, with disciplined groups and soloists who signed with the Amiga state label. Artists who, if they were ideologically reliable, could even visit the West, like Puhdys, who recorded in London and made a promotional tour of the United States.

However, a “modern music” emerged that the communist regime did not tolerate: punk. Punkis appeared on the streets since 1977: the border was porous enough for the music and the image of the Sex Pistols to sneak in. And slogans, initially calculated provocations in London boutiques, took on another dimension in the GDR. They could understand what Johnny Rotten wanted to express when he bellowed “there is no future” but in his country there was too much future … regulated by the state. Mandatory youth organizations, forced career opportunities, “volunteer” work seasons.

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It was hate at first sight. The clothes, the punk hairstyles could be improvised, although they made the brave easy targets. The hostility of the population and the antipathy of the teachers joined the relentless harassment of the People’s Police. First, it was about getting them away from tourist spots, like Berlin’s Alexanderplatz. The police resorted to brutality, arbitrary arrests, endless interrogations. Then, it was passed to the judicial system.

Police photo of rockers arrested by the Stasi.
Police photo of rockers arrested by the Stasi.

They had an abundant legislative arsenal. Be accused of anti-social behavior (antisocial behavior) could mean a year and a half in jail, with the fine print of forced labor (sometimes commissions from Western companies like IKEA) and blood draws also for export. Once the sentence was served, the subject was exiled to lost towns, his mobility was limited or his military service was anticipated. If he was stubborn in his rebellion, he could be expelled to the Federal Republic, assuming that the GDR was heaven.

The politicization of punks stemmed from so much harassment. They found that the only free spaces in the GDR belonged to the Lutheran Church, which had signed a kind of concordat with the regime. In a decentralized institution, some deacons opened their temples to dissident small groups; hippies, pacifists, environmentalists, defenders of human rights. With reluctance, punks were welcomed there. They could stage concerts, thanks to the precedent of the so-called “blues masses”, a euphemism for countercultural rock recitals. On the way out, it is true, the punks risked being arrested, but, by the end of 1982, that already posed logistical problems: the authorities estimated that there were about a thousand punks in the GDR … plus some ten thousand supporters.

Rage in State Security, better known as Stasi. The minister in charge, General Erich Mielke, ordered an all-out war. With his immense resources, he opened a file to the suspects: thanks to the ubiquitous figure of the spitz (the snitch), the Stasi was aware of everything those birds were planning. They tried to locate foreign subversion, the “gold of Bonn”, without understanding that the hard core of the movement detested both the capitalism of the FRG and the degenerate system headed by Erich Honecker.

The punks were audacious: they tried to sneak into acts of homage to martyrs such as Rosa Luxemburg or organized demonstrations in favor of “peace.” Many groups underwent the classification, an exam that allowed to acquire the degree of amateur band, with access to paid bowling in the many authorized youth clubs. With that approval, they even sounded on the state music radio, DT 64, and some even recorded on the Amiga record company, which was eager to follow the new trends.

There were dirty tricks. The authorities initially encouraged the skinheads, a violent minority splintered from punk, to attack their former colleagues. They were slow to notice that, among the skinheads, the hydra of Nazism was emerging again. However, in early 1989, a government report still pointed to punk as the main obstacle to achieving healthy youth. Punk had established national networks, with fanzines cyclostyle in church basements; it had squatted houses that functioned as communes. Unexpectedly, they benefited from the airs of glásnot driven by Gorbachev.

The group L'Attentat, one of the rock bands of the GDR.
The group L’Attentat, one of the rock bands of the GDR.

Above all, punks were the model of stoicism and defiance that, throughout 1989, drove thousands of East Germans to the streets, until that day in November when the overwhelmed spokesman for the GDR government announced that the restrictions were lifted. to travel and, therefore, that the Wall no longer made sense.

The punk of the GDR triumphed and disappeared? If it weren’t for the abundant bibliography, it could have been entombed by the official account. He did not leave too many hymns, in fact there are hardly any audible recordings of the pioneer groups. It happened that, when the unification of the two Germanies came, quite a few of the musicians were saturated with punk rock. They were recycled: thus, several reappeared as part of Rammstein. In general, they turned towards electronics. Thanks to them and their knowledge of the abandoned spaces after the war, Berlin became the world capital of the techno. And it all started with the safety pins.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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