Sex Pistols on the West’s radio, punk concerts as church services and beer by the gallons: in the 80s, punk was thriving in the backwaters of the GDR system. Flake, the keyboardist from “Rammstein”, was right in the middle of it. With his band at the time, “Feeling B”, he even managed to get the first punk album issued in the socialist regime.
Flake was born Christian Lorenz in 1966 in East Berlin. Since 1994, he’s the keyboard player in the equally fierce world renowned band, “Rammstein”. In 1983, he, along with three friends, formed the Western music such as “Sex Pistols” and “Stooges”-inspired, band “Feeling B”, one of the most notorious punk acts in the GDR. The anarchistic band with their nonsense texts was so popular in the East that they were even allowed to issue an album on the official GDR label, Amiga, in 1989.
Now, Flake has dug out old “Feeling B“ recordings and published them on a CD called, “grün und blau”, along with a book about the history of the band. He tells Der Spiegel about how it was to play in a punk band in the former East.
Sometimes, people ask me how it was possible as a teenager to listen to punk in the East. The thing is, in the beginning of the ‘80s, it was all but impossible not to come across punk in the GDR!
Once a week, there was a show on the West’s radio with the English DJ, John Peel. It was compulsory to listen. And then there were of course the Freies Berlin broadcaster, and RIAS 2, also from the West, that played rock in the evenings. No one was interested in what was on the GDR radio. I, for one, don’t know anyone who voluntarily listened to the East’s radio.
I had my awakening in regards to punk rock at a party: at the time, there were, of course, no DJs, the word didn’t even exist. It was simply a party at someone’s apartment, and music cassettes were played, always the entire album. When, “Never Mind The Bollocks…” the first album Sex Pistols made, was played, it became clear to me: That has to be them! We knew the name of the band long, before we even heard the music – the Sex Pistols were in the air somehow.
After this, I darted around and was dead set on playing in a band. It was totally unimportant what kind of music they were playing. The requirement for this was to own an instrument, in all cases. As long as I didn’t have one, I played Blues Rock in a church band. But I could really just sit on the side lines at the rehearsals and listen, or fetch beer. And for the concerts, I had to borrow an electronic piano. There were quite a few bands that rehearsed and performed in churches. Churches were more or less above the law, and that meant that even the most awful punk- and blues bands were allowed to play there, since it counted as church service.
The police were the biggest enemy.
My father immediately understood my penchant for punk, since he had been playing jazz earlier. And that was viewed with even more suspicion at the time than punk was for us. At some point, he bought me a Weltmeister-Orgel. It was already 20 years old, so outdated that it became cool just because of that. The organ had cost 2000 Mark. That was very, very much money when you take into consideration that my father, as an engineer and the supervisor of a factory for 20 years, only made 800 Mark a month.
Then in 1983, I met Aljoscha, Paul and Alexander. We were inseparable from day one. We’ve lived together, gone on holidays together, chatted the whole day long about everything under the sun. For us, it was obvious: if you’re in a band together and are serious about it, you spend your lives together, too.
We rehearsed in a rather dull flat in the midst of an apartment complex. We were insanely loud, but no one complained. The neighbors beneath us had children, and when they wanted to put them to bed, they came up and asked us: “Please stop now.” The common enemy, the police, was more important than the noise.
Not a punk band in the sense of punk.
And really, our music wasn’t much more than noise. We were a bunch of amateurs and our lyrics weren’t really about anything. To the punk rockers, we weren’t a punk band at all. They wouldn’t have anything to do with us, from the first day to the last. For the party officials, we were, of course, the worst kind of punk there ever was. My mother called all the bands,“Hottentottenmusik”. She didn’t know the Beatles from Heavy Metal – it was all Hottentott to her. And that was also the case for the party officials when it came to punk.
When we started “Feeling B“, the biggest wave of punk bands was long over. “Planlos”, “L’Attentat”, “Wutanfall”, “Tapetenwechsel” – they had fought our battles for us years before we came along. They had been thrown in jail because of their music, had been deported, or fled to the West as they knew they’d be in trouble. By comparison, we were really harmless. I didn’t know until recently that the Stasi had a file on me. I had it sent to me immediately. My favorite paragraph says something like: “Herr Lorenz seems very neat, he’s very polite. He even wears jeans that have been washed.” Just the thing, to wear jeans, was worth mentioning in the Stasi file. I found that pretty funny.
We began touring on the weekends once we had enough songs. Every town had a village hall. There were always dances there on Saturday nights, and they were always chockfull. The people arrived at three o’clock, the place was packed by four and at five o’clock, the bands started to play. Quite often, a blues band, a punk band and a metal band performed on the same evening. The blues fans and the punk fans were principally one group. The blues fans often became punks. That was the case with me, too. Before my punk phase, I wore a Thälmann hat, short jeans and Trampers. (rawhide shoes, significant for the counter culture in the GDR) Then I just whipped up my hair, dressed in old jackets and became punk.
“And I have paid admission for this? Are you insane?”
The touring weekends always followed the same pattern: meet up early, drink beer, and then climb into an old lorry for a six hour journey to the concert, and drink beer. Arrive, drink beer. Eat, build the stage, drink beer. During the show: drink beer. And after the show: drink liquor. We boozed ourselves half to death, but that was part of the game. Alcohol was the only thing that was available in the East. We drank such an awful lot, that I don’t even dare to think about it in hindsight. There are photos from concerts where our singer, Aljoscha, lies fast asleep, on stage, with the microphone in his hand, completely wasted.
People were totally aghast, of course, when they saw us for the first time. They threw beer mugs at us. Understandable. There were a lot of concerts where we were playing as the only act, and the singer was suddenly nowhere to be found. Or everything fell to pieces, or the audience quite simply left. We really were very bad and often downright embarrassing. Patrons came up to us afterwards and asked: “And I have paid admission for this? Are you insane?” We really couldn’t say much to that. They were right. But people also wanted a bit of this chaos. It was very annoying for them that everything always was so orderly, and with us, you never knew what could happen. Later on, sometimes up to a 1000 people came to a concert, just to see us.
We didn’t earn any money to speak of, not to live off, that first came after the Turning Time, and then only for a short while. Before that, we only just survived. To keep our noses above the water, we made earrings out of silver thread and sold them. Or when someone brought some bed sheets, we dyed them and made them into shirts.
We partied, the Stasi-bloke buttered his sandwiches.
At the end of the eighties, we were readily asked if we wanted to make a record with Amiga. It was in the Turning Time, and the GDR time was soon to be over. Maybe a few party officials wanted to quickly make themselves seem open minded. So, we were the first punk band that made a record in the GDR. That was so much fun.
We were in the same studio where Manfred Krug had recorded his albums. A team of highly qualified sound engineers worked there. They didn’t know much, so we brought cassettes and we played for them these aggressive things like Laibach – whatever made the worst noise at the time. So that they would know what a real bang was.
We could pretty much do whatever we wanted in the studio. We invited punks to scream along in the choruses, we had parties, and in front of us, there sat this fat Stasi-bloke, buttering his sandwiches. But once the clock struck 11 PM, he went: “Out, power off, lights out, end of shift, done!” On the dot, regardless of whether the song was finished or not.
Then came the Unification. We had, luckily enough, a small fan base already, so that we could continue to play live, but no one in the East cared anymore, everyone only wanted to see and hear Western bands. We played in the West once, in a club in Nürnberg, and eight people showed up.
Everything died after the Unification.
Around this time, we had more or less disbanded, just like “Die Skeptiker“, “Sandow“ and most other Eastern punk bands. Everything died out in the years after the Turning. After the Unification, there just wasn’t a common enemy anymore, no sense of direction. We noticed that as we continued our little venture – just as “Die Ärzte”, “Brieftauben” and that lot – that no one gave a damn in the West. When you really want to provoke, you have to come up with something new for people to get really outraged about. So, we started Rammstein. This kind of brutality was the best course of action for us, to remain true to our music and nevertheless do something to get through this whole pile of bands singing in English and all that bullshit.
There wasn’t any system to criticize in the East. We liked the GDR, even in the time of the East. We could do what we pleased and we had no existential angst. I liked it. Even the wall was a no-brainer for me. It was written on it: “If you try to climb over, you’ll get shot.“ And then, if you do try to climb over, you know that you can get shot. You always had an option.
I had to make decisions anyway: I really did not want to join the army, but you had to, otherwise you’d end up in jail. I decided against it, regardless. Therefore, I was not allowed to study and couldn’t become a physician. But it was a free choice of mine. For me, it meant freedom to have a choice, to do what you wanted. And that worked pretty well for me in the East. And now, so much bullshit is happening through capitalism all around me, since so many people do whatever idiotic thing just to make money. That annoys me.
I miss the GDR even today. More so than the bands from that time.
Original Source: Spiegel Online
By Christian “Flake” Lorenz
Recorded by Benjamin Maack
Translated by Murray