You’ll never reach the top – 25 years of Feeling B

Once upon a time…

Feeling B is a legendary East-Punk band. The singer, Aljoscha Rompe, was one of the most dazzling figures of the Underground scene. His apartments at Fehrbelliner Straße and at Schönhauser Allee were important meeting places. The band was never well-behaved but always a bit different. Not ostensibly political, but then again, political enough through their anarchistic lifestyle. When they released their album, “Hea Hoa Hoa Hoa Hea Hoa Hea”, on the label Amiga in 1989, the GDR was already in its final death throes. What was going on with the band and in the East, can be learned from the book, “Mix Mir Einen Drink” (Schwartzkopf&Schwarzkopf): “Feeling B never rocked the GDR, but it played the soundtrack of its demise.”

It’s been 20 years since the end of the GDR, and not a lot of people know much about its alternative youth culture. Because of this, and so that the recordings of Feeling B wouldn’t rot away in his basement, Flake, the keyboardist of Feeling B and Rammstein, has published the CD, “grün und blau” with Motor Music. To this end, he made a beautiful book with old photos, documents and texts. On the Internet, it reads: “…a stroke of luck for anyone who’s nowadays interested in GDR punk, underground music and the process of the reunification. An important piece of German music history, that lives on to this day in a lot of bands, either content wise (Medieval Rock) or through the former musicians (Rammstein).”

Andreas Düllick talked to Flake about both bands, the East and the new record with the old songs.


SF: How did you come into contact with music and Feeling B?

Flake: I had a friend in school who could play the piano and that made such a huge impression on me that I nagged my parents that I just had to play the piano, too. We bought one from an old lady, it cost 100 Mark and actually worked pretty well. The problem was the hauling of it. The only one who could do it was Neuder, who was driving around in this old, orange lorry. We had to wait four or five months before the piano was finally delivered. My father bought me my first keyboard. That was my ticket to a real band.

When I was 16, a friend of mine, a drummer, said to me: ‘I play in a band now, but it isn’t blues but Deutsch-Rock.‘ I came along with him to an apartment and I thought, ‘This can’t be for real’. My parents had always lived neatly and this apartment was absolutely crazy. I hadn’t seen anything like it before: a bathtub in the kitchen, all painted red, and twigs on the walls. It was Aljoscha Rompe’s apartment, who also came in and laughed loudly. It made no difference to him that I was only 16 and he said, ‘Right, I’m going to make some pasta’. To that, he put a bottle of booze on the table. Come evening, I was plastered, really drunk for the first time.


SF: What was your awakening moment coming to punk rock?

Flake: I think that must have been the Sex Pistols. It was such a knockout and so powerful that it was perfectly clear that punk was the thing to be. There was no stopping this process!



SF: Do you remember your first ranking? (for the GDR regime’s musical board –ed)

Flake: We were at the community cultural hall Lichtenberg. We had rehearsed for weeks for this, with toned down lyrics. We had gotten hold of a movie projector and asked all of our friends if they would build instruments, stage equipment and crates. We did have the largest stage set, and that alone was in our favor. The commission was so delighted that they gave us a special ordinance, which, in any case, you wouldn’t deserve with our musical knowledge.


SF: Did you develop musically over the years?

Flake: We all got a bit better, but we still aren’t really true musicians. The good thing was that Aljoscha was so notoriously unmusical that it also made it all very special. He could sing something too late but still keep the pace, and no one pulls that off unless you’re some kind of rhythmical genius. It really was this inadequate.


SF: What was more important to you – the music or the lyrics? How did you rehearse?

Flake: That was all completely irrelevant and didn’t interest anyone in the least. For one lyric, Aljoscha simply took a book with Stones lyrics, picked random lines from different songs and the lyric was complete. It was just a shame when we had a song which we really liked musically, but didn’t have any lyrics to it. The rehearsals were not what today I would call a rehearsal. We met, we drank a lot and we weren’t very productive at all.


SF: Do you remember your first show with Feeling B?

Flake: Yes, we tagged along with Freygang (the most popular Underground blues band in the GDR. Frequently banned from performing) since we hadn’t any live experience. While they were eating – this was a dance event with several rounds – we were allowed to play. I was so excited that I didn’t even notice that the plug had slipped out of the organ and that no one could hear me. The guitar and the drums were making a hell of a racket on stage, and I just thought that this was what it must be about. But then people began to yell and hurl beer mugs, and since this was a blues audience, they were not used to acts like us at all.


SF: Your Hiddensee holidays, for example, made an impact as well, didn’t they?

Flake: We had to hide out there quite often. And there was this Constable Gruber in Vitte. We were there on the island for six weeks once and only slept where it was forbidden. Gruber hunted us for the whole six weeks. Once in a while he snagged one or the other, because when it was raining, we crashed at the bus stop. It was all a game to us, it had to be, it wouldn’t have been any fun if we’d had accommodations.


SF: How did you make ends meet, financially?

Flake: The thing is, that in the GDR, everything you needed for a normal life was so unbelievably cheap that anyone could live as well as you could ever imagine. And when we were on Hiddensee, we didn’t really need anything other than money for booze. We peeled potatoes and therefore, we had something to eat. We crafted earrings of silver thread. That idea came from Aljoscha, as he could travel to the West and get the material. The people on Hiddensee almost pulled the stuff out of our hands, there was a veritable queue and we had to work really slowly in order to justify the price of 15 Marks for a pair of earrings. We did quite well.



SF: And the earnings for the band?

Flake: We earned the least money with our music. We didn’t have any personal funds then, Aljoscha managed it all. He was of the opinion that too much money fucked people up. He kept telling us to be frugal, as history showed. For example, I had to pay installments on my keyboard, a Casio he had brought from the West for me. He had paid half of it and the other half, I had to pay. Half was taken out of the gage from every concert, so when the others got paid 50 Mark, I only got 25 Mark. This went on for over three years, until he said: ‘Right, now you’ve paid for it, now it’s yours.’


SF: Do you remember the 9th of November, 1989?

Flake: The funny thing is, we had a Feeling B concert at the Pike club in West-Berlin that day. It was in this opening period, when the GDR wanted to show that it wasn’t really all that walled-in, and they let us play in the West. We had working Visas in our blue passports and were allowed into the West, which once had made us so excited. But we were pretty aghast with how it looked. Not even if the Wall had never been built, we wouldn’t had applied for an exit Visa or traveled to the West again. It wasn’t all that great.

Anyway, we played in the Pike, and all at once, a lot of friends of ours from other bands and such came in. I thought, ‘No, they can’t all have taken off, not now, when things are more easy-going – that’s just not possible!’ But they yelled and went on, ‘The Wall is open!’ It made me very happy that the first thing they did was to come to see us. Think about it, the Wall is open, you’re allowed into the West and you head straight to an East band, I thought it was cool.


SF: What did the fall of the Berlin Wall mean for you back then?

Flake: I wasn’t really involved in it, so it was later that I thought about it. It was for me like for anyone else, we just swam along with the stream of history. Then I drove to the West in my Trabi and pounded on the car roof, although I could have done that earlier too. I also collected my welcome money. I was swept along in the euphoria.


SF: What is it like for you today, almost 20 years on? The united German fatherland or Ostalgie?

Flake: I’m one of the glorifiers, I have to admit, unfortunately. Now, when I know both of the systems, I have to say that I liked the GDR considerably better. You could have a less complicated and more pleasant life there. There weren’t that many bad things that happened. I’m quite interested in politics – you have to be, to be able to move around in this world. I thought the GDR was brilliant, just that such a toy nation even existed, totally shielded from the rest of the world – the direct opposite to globalization… I like the idea.


SF: Critics could on the other hand claim that even musicians were suppressed and spied on by the Stasi there. What are your views on that?

Flake: People had it pretty good, being watched, and you noticed what was going on. If no one would look after them, the thought comes to mind, ‘Dead for six weeks in the apartment and no one noticed’ and that surely didn’t happen earlier.


SF: How did you end up in Rammstein?

Flake: After the Turning, Feeling B became somewhat quaint; an Eastern punk band didn’t have any purpose in the new world. We noticed that our band was already pretty outdated, actually. Punk was a thing of the early 80s and suddenly, we were in the 1990s. So, we tried to make a new kind of music with Rammstein.


SF: There is this rumor that you resisted playing in Rammstein for quite a long time.

Flake: Yes, I am a person who likes to hold on to old things. I like old stuff, I only wear old clothes and I like the Classics better than the new cars, I would never live in a newly produced house, and I can’t throw anything away. It’s a state of mind and had nothing to do with the band.



SF: Earlier, you were riding from village to village in a beat up Robur LO. Now you travel by your own private plane to concerts in metropolises, earn piles of money and there is this veritable star cult around you. Do you feel the difference?

Flake: It has been something of a slow, fluid transition for 15 to 20 years. Don’t forget that we have made music together since 1983, in part with the same people. And then, when things begin to change a little, you don’t really notice it. It’s the same with children, when you have one of your own, you don’t notice how they are growing. It’s a bit like that with Rammstein. For us, it just keeps going and people on the outside think, ‘This is crazy, airplanes and whatnot!’


SF: What was nicer, to be on the road with Feeling B, or like now, with Rammstein in luxury hotels?

Flake: There is no comparison, but when it comes to joie de vivre, the knackered old tour bus always wins, that’s evident. What do you do for fun in a luxury hotel or to get a nice feeling? It’s just for convenience, once you’re old or something. Fun is something else.


SF: Do you have any songs from Feeling B and Rammstein that you especially like?

Flake: My favorite song by Feeling B is really ‘Gipfel’ and by Rammstein, it’s ‘Rammstein’, because that is the primal power, it all started out that way and it best represents what we do today.


SF: Is the rehearsal work any different with Rammstein than with Feeling B?

Flake: It doesn’t take more effort, but it’s more disciplined. You begin quite early at 10 AM and then you work until 6 PM, have a beer in the meanwhile, take a lunch break and a stroll in the open air to breathe a little. It’s a bit different.


SF: Are you really all good friends in Rammstein or rather professional colleagues as the Rolling Stones?

Flake: We started out as good friends and now, we’re colleagues too, and the crucial thing isn’t how good you play, but whether you can work in a team, understand the others and be friends at that. A lot of times, the friendship was a lot bigger than the collegial and we still take off on vacation together.

SF: What’s the next project?

Flake: We’re already recording an album which will be done this year and next year, we’re off on tour again.


SF: What’s it like on tour? When you watch the DVD, ‘Völkerball’, you get totally overwhelmed by your success with the fans all over the world, even if you are singing in German.

Flake: I can understand that. We couldn’t speak much English in the East, and still I can’t, even today. Despite this, we sang along to the bands who had English lyrics. What language you sing in doesn’t matter at all, if the band’s good.


SF: How did you get the idea to, make the album ‘grün & blau‘ with Motor Music at the end of 2007, along with a lovely book at that?

Flake: I had the tapes in the basement, and if I hadn’t done it, the tapes would have vanished into oblivion forever. It would be such a waste. Now, when the GDR youth, GDR rock and GDR punk are interesting for the press again, it’s important. I notice that a comical image has sprung up of the Eastern youth, as if under the motto: ‘”What, were you allowed to make music? I thought everything was prohibited and you’d be locked up?!’ It’s like that today, a lot of them weren’t around at the time and can’t imagine for the life of them how it really was in the East.


SF: How interested were the record labels?

Flake: If I hadn’t been Flake from Rammstein, it wouldn’t have worked, no one would have wanted to even talk with me about it. You have this in the back of your mind, that on one hand, it’s a good thing to be a bit famous. But on the other hand, it’s also good to know how interested in these issues a record company really is. Which is, not at all.


SF: Is the project with Feeling B at an end with this record?

Flake: Certainly, there isn’t any unpublished stuff left. I have included every last scrap of paper, so to speak.


SF: What are your dreams, privately and as a musician?

Flake: As a musician, nothing at all, since so much more has happened already, than I could imagine in my wildest dreams. Privately, everything is just fine too, I’m already in the bonus round, in other words.



Original Source: (2008)

By Andreas Düllick
Translation by Murray

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