There is no other German band who’s as famous, desired and beloved in America, the motherland of rock music, as Rammstein. How did that happen? A DVD shows how, a documentary explains why.

Plenty of those who were sitting behind the Wall in the former East Germany didn’t think of the BRD when they thought of the West, but instead, of the USA. As guitarist Paul Landers explains in the documentary, “Rammstein in Amerika”, it had to do with the fact that both the State and school in the GDR “proclaimed the USA to be the land of bad taste to people who were already bored out of their minds in the East. Rock music came from the USA. America was where the noble reds lived, the Indians, who fought against the white philistines. A few connections were made.”

In 1993, the musicians, some of whom would form Rammstein a couple of years later, finally ventured to the USA. They traveled through their dreamland with a minimum of money and knowledge of English. This was their escape from Germany, they argue in the movie, since they never wanted to defect from the GDR. Pictures from the 80s show how they traveled through East Germany, played their jester punk at the beaches and enjoyed the pogo dancers and the inner freedom. In America, five years later, they seem just as free as in those old photographs. Rammstein, the band reminiscences, is the sum of their life in the DDR and their experiences in the USA.


Singer or Entertainer?

You know how the story ends. In December of 2010, 18,000 Americans came to Madison Square Garden in New York, a sacred temple in the history of music. The concert was sold out after only 20 minutes; the 18,000 strong audience sang along to every German word in the darkness and in the end, when the lights came on in the venue, they stood there with scorched faces from the fireworks and sticky with foam from a penis-shaped cannon, and just could not take it all in. Hannes Rossacher, a Viennese veteran of pop portrayals, has shot the documentary. As usual, it’s way more than just a feature-length video. Rossacher tells us about the East and the West and about how you can be both German and rock’n roll and yet, somehow, neither of the two.

It was in 1997 that Rammstein first touched down on American soil, to give a concert in a New York club in front of 30 people, but that didn’t deter the band from performing as if they were in huge stadiums or striking fear into those attending. On one hand, everything came together: a culture where the consumers wanted to be entertained and a band whose flame-engulfed singer stated: “Am I a singer? I don’t know. Am I an entertainer? Yes, I think that’s more like it.“ On the other hand, Rammstein and America remained strangers, despite the film score to the David Lynch movie, “Lost Highway”, and praises from their American colleagues: “We’re brothers in pyro,” says Kiss. “They are so very German,” says Anthrax, “everything runs like clockwork”.

Dankeschön, Amerika. Foto: Frederic Batier
Dankeschön, Amerika.
Foto: Frederic Batier

They toured the country with domestic bands such as Korn and pondered why those guys weren’t as hung over or done in as themselves, while the Americans asked themselves why the Germans gathered around a set table rather than ordering something from catering. The East German culture encountered the very professional pop business. More than anything else on their travels across America, the band found out that the freedom everyone was on about, as well as its limitations, could be a somewhat facile concept.

On Halloween, they put on costumes, which meant that they were playing almost naked, and were duly shoved off the stage. Some concerts were cut short due to open fire. When they played “Bück Dich“ in a provincial town, and, the singer, Till Lindemann, terrorized the keyboard player, Flake, with a dildo, they were both put in the slammer and brought before court. The DVD from Madison Square Garden shows that, ten years on and quite a bit bigger, they don’t play “Bück Dich” in the US anymore, although they do perform “Pussy”, along with a giant penis for a foam cannon. Everyone’s happy, no one cares. Everything is allowed in America, says Iggy Pop, as long as the product is recognizable; art only counts when there’s money to make from it. A lot of money.

In the fall of 2001, Rammstein witnessed the terrorist attacks and how America renegotiated the concept of freedom out of fear. Flake put himself on a plane and went home. The band alienated itself from its Western Shangri-La and from itself. Once back home, they recorded “Amerika” as a political satire about the Americanization of the globalized world. They became something that they’d never even touched on before: explicitly political. They were seen by the Westerners in the 90s as either political provocateurs or plain politically impaired and naive. The German East viewed them as a comical commentary to the reunification with capitalist implications. That was in the ‘00s. Rammstein was just Rammstein.

Their return in 2010, and their huge show in New York, did not just reconcile Rammstein with America. In the film, actor Kiefer Sutherland, says: “They’re authentic.” The discussion has since then been widely recognized even in Germany: entertainment can be authentic. In other words: Rammstein is the voice of two worlds.


Original Source:  DIE WELT
Translation: Murray/Schnitz

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