East Berlin’s last ambassador

In Rammstein, Flake Lorenz stands at the organ as the court jester. Now he’s publishing his memoirs. A big textbook on the inner freedom in two German states.

Original Source: Die Welt

By Michael Pilz
Photo © P.R.Brown
Translation: Murray / Edited by Schnitz

Older people can recall that initially, the Germans wouldn’t had dreamed that Rammstein would become their biggest rock band of all time. In the 90’s, the Easterners were regarded as barbarians. The Westerners curtly deemed the somewhat grim-looking musicians as Neo-Nazis or immature troublemakers. That these cultural rednecks, who couldn’t possibly know what they were doing, could become famous when they involved Leni Riefenstahl and put their sinister words to Heavy Metal marching music.

This is hard to believe in the 21st century: Rammstein plays at the VW factory in Wolfsburg as company entertainment. They are lavished with awards from the record industry. Delicately rendered portraits of the musicians are printed in countrywide papers; the more perceptive reports about their travels describe them as the musical ambassadors of their country.

“Somehow, time prevails,“ says Flake. Christian “Flake” Lorenz is Rammstein’s keyboard player and court jester. Without his jingling and fiddling, and the humor upon which this heavy rock theatre balances, the band would perhaps not exist today. Flake says that it’s all the same to him. He sits under the roof of his publisher’s, who has published his book, “Der Tastenficker”, in which he states how he became who he is. A 48-year-old rock’n roll hero who, with the enthusiasm of a little boy, describes how bad luck can become fortune, if only you let it.

He marvels as he recounts and tries to understand what’s now in the book, with the imposing glasses on his face and in his friendly East Berliner accent that you just don’t hear anymore here in Prenzlauer Berg, where he’s always lived. And this is what his memoirs are about: the loss of a homeland. Flake writes, “I really liked the GDR.” No remorseful Stasi officer or humbled Schlager-singer, forgotten Olympics medalist, or no left wing council politician would be allowed to put that in print. An Eastern punk is allowed, if only because the triumphs of the GDR at the time, are not all that different from Rammstein’s.

In the 90’s, everything was handled by commissions that had enough distance to people’s lives, didn’t know much about them and regarded their files as the only truth. Those who didn’t keep their distance in the GDR and had their suspicions about the validity of the files were deemed busybodies who had too much to do to find their way in the new country.

What finally happened to the GDR is even more annoying in the approach of the anniversary of the fall of the Wall: the exhibitions, festivities and TV-specials, churned out by ingenuous editors, didn’t render the dictatorship as it was in the rather gray day to day life. Instead, they depicted the colorful living that wouldn’t let any dictatorship get in the way. The Ostalgia became an internal affair of the West, one that the Easterners bemoaned looked a lot better than it actually was.

And then everyone read the novel, “Kruso”, by Lutz Seiler and were thrilled with the boundless levels of freedom allowed by everyone who came out from the country. From potato peelers, waiters, and artists to Hiddensee. Flake too has washed dishes in the “Klausner”, the real Kruso’s name was Aljoscha, who was the singer in the most un-punky Eastern punk band, Feeling B, in which Flake played his Western-bought, kiddie’s toy Casio. And indeed, as he says, preferably on the island at the island by the island GDR.

Normally, people kept to themselves, didn’t find anything with the GDR especially great, but adhered to its rules. In his book, “Der Tastenficker”, Flake also points to the contrary: You knew what you had in the GDR, the nurturing State, and you could live princely off of it by making a couple of earrings out of dentistry wire, rattle through the country in a small van and play the most carefree music in the world.

Flake wanted to become a physician, like many others like him. But he dreaded the army, as did everyone in the GDR. Those who became physicians got drafted and therefore Flake kissed goodbye his chosen profession and managed to dodge every muster until the NVA was dismantled, by living as a punk nomad. And above all, not ending up in the BRD, as he happily calls the West, something that he is happy about to this day.

He recalls how he met friends who’d deflected and had become disillusioned over there. Feeling B was allowed to play in West Berlin, where they suffered from homesickness just a stone’s throw away. “After we’d gotten a glimpse of the West, we tried to make it as comfortable as possible for ourselves in East Berlin and succeeded to do so too,” Flake writes. Then with the last election to the Volkskammer 25 years ago, the German alliance, the currency union and with the fulfilment of the Unity, the very same BRD came to him, and that makes him even sadder, even today.

While it always amuses Rammstein to mock this new world where there aren’t any punks anymore, but rock stars, Flake takes delight in hailing the lost land as a paradise and to mock the country he now lives in. Is he a nostalgic because he misses socialism? Wouldn’t capitalism be the purest form of nostalgia, since it has existed so much longer? He has not, as Joachim Gauck, in his Speech to the East, always wanted, arrived in the new Germany.

He makes a point of downplaying the facts that the editors so adamantly pursue. There was the Stasi: Flake writes about how practical he found it when the IM (informal collaborator with the Stasi) joined bands, and that their bands were actually called things like Die Firma. “The Stasi encouraged the bands to rebel against the Stasi and call for its downfall,” he says. One of his own bands was called the Magdalene-Keibel-Combo, as the Stasi was located on Magdalenestraße, and the police on Keibelstraße. “I’m trivializing it,” he says. “But that’s how I experienced it.”

Besides his own, there are barely any other real names in his story, just mentions of ‘the father’, ‘the brother’ and ‘the singer’. There isn’t a narrative ‘we’ as there often is in books about life in the GDR. Flake thereby dismisses the fallacy that the Easterner was so effectively collectivized that there quite simply wasn’t an ‘I’ anymore. This particular I grows up with a speech impediment, wears heavy glasses, is teased, suffers from every phobia he’s ever heard of, starts drinking and has a hard time with the ladies. Famous in the East, but in the West he would, with a bit of luck, perhaps be a nerd.

Flake has every reason to be royally upset about how his Rammstein money is forever lost, through shrewd bank advisors and breezy business companions, most recently with an Old-timer rental firm. He curses the ruthlessness, the bad manners and the egotism of capitalist people. And you don’t have to think that the GDR was all that great, or probably didn’t have to have lived there, to understand Flake. There are some who were better off in East Berlin before 1990 than in 2015. “I don’t give much for the concept of freedom,” says Flake, after having explained this in his book more elaborately and even clearer than Lutz Seiler in last year’s “Kruso”, the cryptic Hiddensee novel. Rammstein is not much more than a sociotope, a perpetual kiddies’ birthday party, and today under the sometimes oppressive conditions of the free market.

There are a lot of books published for the 25th anniversary of the German Unity, and if you should read only one of them, it’s “Der Tastenficker“, in which the GDR looks like something you can remember. Perhaps not as warm and cheery as Flake remembers it, or, at least, thought it was. And for music to accompany the reading, I propose a song of the freest German band that ever existed: Sonne, by Rammstein.

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