Did you know that Bruce Springsteen played the largest concert of his career in East Germany? With a total of 160,000 tickets sold through official channels, the actual size of the audience at the concert in Berlin-Weißensee is estimated at closer to 500,000 people. Bryan Adams, Joe Cocker and James Brown also played the same venue in the summer of 1988. What many people don’t realise is that socialist East Germany had its own home-grown live music scene. Many of these bands are still touring and recording today. To commemorate the 30-year anniversary of the GDR’s legendary ‘Summer of Rock’, this article looks back on some of the acts that shaped the vibrant music scene in East Germany.
Founded by Fritz Puppel and Klaus Selmke in 1972, City is a true East German rock’n’roll original. 45 years on, the East Berlin band still tours regularly in front of sell-out crowds. Their most famous track is ‘Am Fenster’, recorded in 1977, has sold a total of 10 million copies.
City Band – Photo: Stefan Brending / , via Wikimedia Commons
Photo by foretagimark on pixabay.com
Another of the GDR’s major rock acts, Silly was founded in East Berlin in 1978 under the moniker ‘Familie Silly’ – ‘Silly’ alone being too much of an Anglicism for the purists in the licensing office. Four years later, the band was granted official approval to rename itself. Silly survived the fall of the Berlin Wall, but suffered a painful loss in 1996, when their charismatic singer Tamara Danz died of cancer at the age of 43. The band is still touring with a new line-up and released a double album of live tracks in 2017. ‘Bataillon d’Amour’ is among their most enduringly famous tracks.
Silly Band by Supernorbi at de.wikipedia (own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Photo by Anthony DELANOIX on Unsplash
The 1970s were the golden years of rock in East Germany and Karat, founded in autumn 1974, have been at the forefront of that genre ever since they played their first-ever concert in February 1975. They soon became popular, cementing their growing fame with their breakthrough hit ‘Über sieben Brücken musst du gehn’. In 1979, they were even granted permission to perform in West Berlin. Karat are still touring; their most recent studio album was released in 2015.
Karat Band by Patrick Baumbach (own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
The Puhdys are probably the GDR’s oldest rock band. Officially founded in 1969, they’d been making music with a similar line-up, known to rock historians as the ‘Ur-Puhdys’, since 1965. In 1970, the band was banned from performing in Karl-Marx-Stadt, where officials deemed their noisy cover versions of English-language hits unsuitable for local audiences, prompting the band to start writing their own songs in German.
After these initial hick-ups, the Puhdys quickly made a name for themselves as one of East Germany’s best-known and best-loved rock bands. Their 1988/89 farewell tour across both parts of the divided country was followed by a three-year hiatus and a reunion in 1992. The Puhdys recorded many more albums and played countless concerts before splitting up for good in 2016.
Puhdys Band by Paulae (own work) [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Photo by David Rangel on Unsplash
Germany’s First Lady of Punk, Nina Hagen, was born in the wonderful East Berlin district of Friedrichshain, the location of the Central Berlin residential development. Her initial ambition to become an actor was scuppered by the East German government because her mother’s relationship with the dissident Wolf Biermann made her politically suspect. After a year of voice training, she joined a band called Automobil and recorded her first single ‘Du hast den Farbfilm vergessen’ in 1975, which remains an East German cult classic to this day. Shortly after Biermann’s expatriation in November 1976, Hagen and her mother were also forced to leave the GDR. Though she went on to a successful career in the west, the foundations of this success were laid in the GDR.
Nina Hagen by Dirk Herbert (Dirk Herbert) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons