Till Lindemann, the singer of Rammstein, published a volume of poetry. A conversation about poetry, nature as a sacred place and his life as the son of the East German writer Werner Lindemann.
Till Lindemann is sitting in the dome of a tower above Berlin. The tower was built at Frankfurter Tor sixty years ago by architect Hermann Henselmann, as a power symbol of the GDR. Now there’s a lounge in its top. For twenty years, Lindemann has been singing and writing for Rammstein. No other German band has been so successful worldwide. Lindemann also writes poetry without rock music. In 2005, his first volume of poetry was published, with the title, ‘Messer’. The second is called ‘In Silent Nights’, a collection of touching, amusing, and often dismal verses. Lindemann is reluctant to talk about Rammstein, but much rather so about his poetry and its origin.
Die Welt: Should we talk about poetry?
Till Lindemann: Not really. You read poems, and either you find something in there or you don’t. I know almost no one who still reads poetry.
Die Welt: Not even you?
TL: Of course. Mostly older stuff. My Bible is ‘Deutsche Liebesgedichte’ [‘German Love Poems’]. A publication from the East. I have an ongoing search on ‘Booklooker’ and it has come up only once. I already own 82 copies. My dream is to have a whole shelf full. The book has everything in it, from Eisendorff to Hölderlin.
Die Welt: One of your own poems is called ‘Vatertag’ [‘Father’s day’], “I have your eyes on my face/I know you/Know you not”. Is it the father or the son who speaks?
TL: I speak to my father.
Die Welt: Your father, Werner Lindemann, was a well-known poet and author in the GDR. His book ‘Mike Oldfield in the Rocking Chair’, from 1988, is not about the music of Mike Oldfield, but about you as his son.
TL: I had the book republished seven years ago, after I had a long, good talk with my mother. The second edition was issued by a small publisher in Rostock. We had a new cover picture taken, with me on the railroad tracks.
Die Welt: On the first edition, it was a lonely punk with a cat. Your father was worried about you in the book.
TL: It was at the time after my education, my parents had separated, and I had moved from Rostock to my father in the countryside. I was 18, already had it up to neck with parties and the whole shebang, wanted to leave the fuss of the city behind me and start a new life in the country. I had renovated the loft at my father’s, and he would always come up to my room to bug me about my music. I was listening to a lot of metal and electronic things.
Die Welt: Not Mike Oldfield?
TL: That too. But mainly I listened to Motörhead, Deep Purple and other noisy things. One time he came up, to once again complain about something, but then I was listening to Mike Oldfield, and he sat down and said: “That sounds interesting.” That was a quantum leap for me: my father sits in my room, listens to my music and he likes it. Probably because of its melancholy. He sat there in my rocking chair, which I had made myself, I was a carpenter on a farm at the time. I usually sat in that same chair, relaxing to my music and smoking hand-rolled cigarettes.
Die Welt: Your father didn’t understand your way of self-discovery.
TL: I believe that lies in the nature of fatherhood. After nine months I moved out again, all guns blazing.
Die Welt: What would your father, the national poet, had wished for in a son?
TL: His problem was the general: you shouldn’t wait too long to have children. The distance to the problems of your own youth will be too great otherwise. As a 60-year-old, you cannot understand anymore, why you would come home late at night as a 16-year-old; drink excessive amounts of alcohol, eat unhealthily and sleep until eleven. And why you ruin your ears with loud music. My father was happy to have survived the shelling in the trenches. With a more normal age gap of twenty years, fathers develop more leniency in the father-son conflict. You still remember what you were like at that age and simply let the son sleep. I have done so with my children.
Die Welt: Werner Lindemann’s poems were included in the school curriculum of the GDR. Was he representative of the system for you?
TL: At the time, I didn’t think about it. Or I have repressed it. He’s written poems about Lenin, about the light in the Kremlin. But those were the times. Painters were painting socialist realisms. Sculptors carved workers. My father had a good life. He lived in his country home, just as I do today. He was off for three or four weeks on a reading tour and visited the libraries and schools throughout the GDR, he knew every librarian and teacher in the area. Just like me, he had his little touring venture. Once there was money in the till again, he sat in his small house, wrote poems and had a good time.
Die Welt: He co-founded the artist’s collective Drispeth.
TL: Drispeth, Meteln, Zickhusen. Christa Wolff, Helga Schubert and Joachim Seyppel also lived there. They had sought refuge there. I still live nearby today.
Die Welt: Your father also kept poems of yours: “He cracks quite easily/Every nut/And those who don’t want/Must”. You were nine. This is not too far off the Werner Lindemann’s children’s verses: “There is a tree/In it a hollow space/Therein resides a woodpecker/To me it is right”.
TL: Whether this is hereditary, I don’t know. In any case, he really wanted me to write in my budding youth. Then I would have been his perfect son. I was rather amused with writing at that time. Once, I was ten or eleven, I sat with him in the car and was annoyed with the eternal questions of what I wanted to become. Actually, I wanted to be a deep-sea fisherman. Catching huge horseshoe crabs and bringing them to the GDR, photographing sharks in passing. My father said it was a tough job. And I replied that in a pinch, I could always become an author anyway, like, on the side. He was terribly upset. He felt offended. He realized how he was perceived. But that’s exactly how I look at his profession even now. You can truly do it on the side. The importance, with which so many authors appraise their own work, is truly frightening. They think the world revolves around them.
Die Welt: In ‘Weißes Fleisch’ [‘White Meat’] by Rammstein, you sing: “My father was just like me.”
TL: No, no. That is an offender singing about his excuses for his actions. That is the character’s verse.
Die Welt: Werner Lindemann died twenty years ago. Would he like his son’s poems?
TL: He would be proud that I – in quotation marks — followed in his footsteps. With two books, anyway. But I suspect that we would have been very much at odds. Because of his origin and his history, certain words just don’t belong in poetry. Fuck and ass. Crass word interpretations. Or invented words, neologisms.
Die Welt: Like you, he liked old-fashioned, forgotten words, like ‘Roggenmuhme’.
TL: A fairytale figure and a doll made out of rye straw to save the seeds in the next harvest from the crows.
Die Welt: In your poem, ‘Kindheit’ [‘Childhood’], you state: “The scab of early wounds/Likes to stick to the soul”. Should poetry be personal, per se’?
TL: That depends on how much of yourself you put into it. I’m always trying to let others have a say and then I realize that I mean myself. And so the cat bit its own tail.
Die Welt: Is it like that with Rammstein lyrics as well? You hide behind a character, the cannibal butcher, and, in the end, that’s who you become?
TL: On stage, indeed I must be. Since I play a role there, I must put a lot of myself into it to act convincingly, just as in the theater. But that is far from who I am.
Die Welt: Will you read your poetry in public?
TL: No. There’s nothing worse or more boring than poems read aloud. I don’t write anything connective, no ‘Faust’. I also tend to turn these events into some kind of circus to divert attention from myself.
Die Welt: You were definitely a big fan of poetry declamations in school.
TL: All of this also contributes to spoiling the fun of poetry. Still to this day, Fontane makes my stomach turn. Let them have the children reciting Buchido.
Die Welt: In order to defuse Buchido?
TL: No, for fun. In Scandinavia and Russia, Rammstein texts are used in German classes. Students are able to recite part of them fluently and, God willing, they may even have fun doing it.
Die Welt: Rammstein has done a lot more for the worldwide spreading of German poetry than the Goethe Institute. Even the French can recite ‘Du Hast’ in unison, without an accent.
TL: This is really weird, it still gives me goose bumps. Especially from the French.
Die Welt: You live in the country. Why don’t you actually write nature poetry?
TL: I have never asked myself that question. Maybe it is a sacred place that I don’t want to desecrate. The last untouched refuge. Nature is for me something beautiful. Secure and tranquil. It’s nothing for me to write about. I’m more interested in other things. The abysses, the disgust, what makes life not worth living. Why you cry. This reminds me of something. Nature is peace. Contemplation. I can sit alone for hours somewhere out there and look at a tree. I’ve always liked to wander around the landscapes, observing birds, trees and shrubs.
Certainly the need for rest has to do with my main occupation. Ideally, I would like to rummage around the farm all day, moving something from point A to point B, planting flowers in pots, putting up a board here and poke around a little there, or painting the old cemetery crosses.
Die Welt: What is it that interests you about the human abysses?
TL: I can write about it, I can provoke with it. The more people get upset by it, the more it encourages me to write even worse things. I would have preferred a red censorship sticker on my book, rated 18+. The dialectics of the Index [German censoring list].
Die Welt: Your mother, Gitta Lindemann, is a cultural journalist. What does she think about your poetry?
TL: She’s very critical and picks everything apart. But she’s also glad and proud that I have followed my father. My life unfolded in between cultural programs on the radio and whatever artists’ tours, either with my father through the countryside or with my mother in Rostock. Even today, at age 74, my mother runs a book café in Schwerin. Very modest but also very devoted. She has even asked me to read there.
Die Welt: You were an athlete, a swimmer, you have learned carpentry. Was this also a revolt against the educated middle class parallel world of the GDR?
TL: I was just too bad in school. Of course, everyone would have been delighted if I had studied painting, literature and such stuff. As that didn’t happen, it should at the very least be a craft. My parents hauled me off to do pottery. But then I managed to, with claws and fangs, get an apprenticeship as a carpenter in a residential collective. That would do. For a year, I stood by an assembly line. Then I had my credentials, went to the countryside and became a wheelwright in the LPG [the GDR equivalent of the Soviet Kolkhoz]. We made cartwheels and shovel handles, by hand.
Die Welt: There is a great rage in the music of Rammstein and also in your poems.
TL: It isn’t rage. I’m just working with what has made me unhappy. I don’t know what I have to be angry about. Life simply brings with it certain misfortunes. You can drink your sadness away, or beat the crap out of someone. It has helped me for twenty years, to sit down and write something. Poetry liberates. Maybe it’s also the urge to show our parents: I can also do this, and better than you at that. Although we have always done what our parents didn’t like, listened to Goth music, or punk. Nevertheless, our parents have already liked us for 18 years. Meanwhile, Rammstein is mainstream. Recently, at our concert in Wolfsburg, the Board of Directors of Volkswagen sat in front of us. But if I had played Rammstein to my mother twenty years ago and said that I would have success with it, she would have slapped me.
Die Welt: Gottfried Benn suffered from the modern. For you, there are poems against the obsession with beauty and the search for meaning.
TL: In ‘Hare Krishna’, I step into the tradition of religious mockery. With this whole nonsense of yoga and detoxing. That became too much for me at some point.
Die Welt: You are now 50, and concerned about your age. Therefore you like to write about younger women. The tabloids will have a field day.
TL: I don’t care about ageing. It’s just annoying. Everyone has this, in some form. Sagging skin, dark circles, not everything is operational. I’m not alone.
Die Welt: Do you feel underrated as a humorist?
TL: No, I’m quite happy with not everyone understanding my puns. It’s fun to be rambunctious and not always have to play the necrophile from the crypt.
Die Welt: “It is very, very good/If someone understands your art”, it says at the end.
TL: I’m happy when it hurts. But I am also pleased if someone reads one of my poems and feels deeply understood.
By Michael Pilz of Die Welt.
Translated by Maya Aster. Edited by Murray
Original source: Die Welt