Andere Bands hassten uns, sahen uns als Nichtskönner – womit sie Recht hatten.– Flake Lorenz
…and the band played on, a popular expression, attributed to the on-board band of the sinking Titanic, which kept on playing until the very end. This is also true about Feeling B, which played on before, during and after die Wende, the Turning, the period in time that lead up to the disintegration of the German Democratic Republic, the opening of the Wall and the Unification with its western twin, forming a new, old Germany, and giving birth to the modern state it is today. For better or for worse, some claim, among them Flake, known to most people as the keyboard player and resident jester of Rammstein. In a series of articles, we have tried to paint a picture of the influence East Germany really had on what today is Germany’s musical export extraordinaire, through a number of interviews Flake gave upon the release of the retrospective, the “Best or Worse Of” if you will, Feeling B album, ‘grün & blau’ in 2007. But more precisely, we show here how the music and the times shaped the Flake Lorenz we know today, and how he shaped them.
Summer of 2006. We are sitting with a couple of guys out back in Flake’s garden. The mosquitoes are annoying. Flake talks about old Feeling B recordings he’s found. They’re ancient and actually have to get baked in an oven in order to even be playable again. We pop open yet another beer and debate whether he really should make a Best Of album.
So now, his project is here — it’s called ‘grün & blau’ and it’s not your average Best Of album. The record company didn’t have confidence in an album alone, but asked him to make a small book in addition. ‘grün & blau’ isn’t meant to be a retrospective either. Only the texts are reflective, to shed light on the old times from today’s perspective and make it all more comprehensible.
Flake says that the Orwo-tapes age after 20 years. The magnetic layer dissolves. He went about this like a physician: if the patient is left lying, he dies, but if you perform surgery, there’s the possibility he will die. So Flake had the material “baked”. The sound tapes were put in an oven for three days and heated to 60 degrees C. The magnetic particles stick better through this process. Flake describes how the restoration even came about. “We realized that there were a lot of recordings which I had forgotten all about. When we listened to the pieces, we found a couple of things good enough, that we felt motivated to re-master the songs.” But the release of ‘grün & blau’ hadn’t been planned for long. “I didn’t know what I wanted in the end, and originally, it was never my plan to publish this stuff. It just came naturally since we already had put all this work into it, we might as well release it. And I could just freely choose the songs that I liked the best.”
The record sounds strangely different when you have the old, original Feeling B songs still in fresh memory. But they did sound rather different live as well back then, than on the Amiga recording. How the latter came about is vividly described in our book, “Mix mir einen Drink – Feeling B”. This CD is a compilation of 13 songs. Some essentials are intentionally excluded, such as the timeless, “Artig”, “Ich such’ die DDR” and “Mix mir einen Drink”. Moreover, this is a CD with previously unreleased material and newly re-mastered songs. Titles that were happily played live at the time, but never ended up on a record, such as “Frosch im Brunnen” or, “Graf Zahl” – which was really a hit by the Magdalene Keibel Combo, with Flake and Paul.
Sadly, some of the old songs lose, by comparison, some of their more important elements from being a bit overworked (partially in order to get a better quality of sound). “Alles ist so unheimlich dufte”, here called, “Dufte” for short, loses, during the course of its original 40 seconds, its domineering synthesizer inserts and with it, some of its original charm. “Du wirst den Gipfel nie erreichen” — or, “Gipfel” — is featured without the lively background percussion, the insane brass of the Bolshevik Orchestra and because of this, the lion’s roar at the end sounds a lot meeker and the final verse is drowned out by the overriding guitar riffs. “Space Race” was most likely compressed from the once glorious 31 minutes down to seven for brevity. Flake claims that he was trying to correct earlier mistakes. He re-worked the notoriously thin sound of the Amiga studios at the mixing table. As Feeling B tended to turn their arrangements into audacious leaps, he revised many of the spur-of-the-moment vagaries. Now, he claims, “everything is once again what it was meant to be.”
“We sat around and nothing happened,“ Flake continues. “Either Aljoscha showed up, or he didn’t.” It was out of this situation that the song, “Langeweile” (Boredom) was born, and in which Flake claims that all great inventions, “emerges out of boredom.” Like the cheerful Polka-extravaganza “Herzschrittmacher“.
And so, we can once again enjoy, “Keine Zeit“, the bitter-angry “Häßlich“, and the title track, “Grün & Blau“. With this, Lorenz and Landers, only 17 years old at the time of the recordings in 1983, tried to make everything sound ideal. There are three new songs, which Lorenz and Landers recorded as demos for a fourth Feeling B album that was never released due to the singer, Rompe, feeling left out. “Herzschrittmacher”, “Wieder keine Zeit” and “Häßlich”, the latter sung by the self-proclaimed non-singer Flake, was with its macabre lyrics and cold metal-riffs, already pointing in the direction of Rammstein. The album shows that the good intentions of re-mastering don’t always progress without atmospheric shortcomings as compared to the original material. Connoisseurs, collectors and fans are going to commend this compilation with its “new” songs anyway. This track collection will serve as an indicator of the many layers of the band, and an important addition to the Feeling B discography.
The book has 160 pages of texts and comments from Flake himself, his mother, the producer, Mark Bihler, and Key Pankonin. Additionally, there are private photos, keepsakes, drawings, explanations of songs and Flake’s Stasi file. After reviewing his file, Flake complains, “What I read in it, is utter nonsense. Nothing is correct, as if someone was intentionally planting a false lead.” I would wish that the notes from Flake’s mom had been a bit juicier, but she seems very nice. She must have experienced the most absurd things such as, for example, when the unruly Aljoscha showed up at Flake’s parents’. Mark Bihler, the producer, openly admits that he absolutely wanted to work with Rammstein too, but otherwise, he’s rather rambling in his recollection. Key Pankonin wallows in Feeling B memories.
The book is at its best when Flake himself writes and recounts. Then everything feels alive.
His texts and explanations get animated just because of this special, delightful Flake-humor. You eagerly read it, and really enjoy it. Flake explains, “I simply sat by the computer in the evenings and just wrote. There was no concept, and even now, I wouldn’t really call it a book. I actually didn’t want to bother with it, I just wanted to rescue the pieces.” Flake tells of a time that, in spite of the horrible conditions of the GDR regime, seemed carefree and jaunty – at least the book gives that impression. Flake: “Certainly, it was the best time of my life. It’s always like that between 16 and 25. We really had the time of our lives – it’ll never be that good again.”
But the times have changed. Aljoscha is dead and Flake and Paul are busy with Rammstein. Paul doesn’t think much of his companion’s archaeological diggings. He didn’t contribute, and he reluctantly agreed to the venture. Think of a song if you want to do this, was his advice. Flake: “Yes, it’s an absolutely subjective recollection, and Paul sees things fundamentally different than I do. Therefore, I want to emphasize that the whole thing came from me and he had nothing to do with it.” Hopefully, Flake has made his peace with Feeling B through ‘grün&blau’. He doesn’t want to play the old songs himself anymore – the last time he did that was years ago at the funeral concert for the singer, Rompe. It was good to be there.
– (Review of “grün & blau” by Roland Galenza, December, 2007. Original Source gbv.de)
There are two books published about Feeling B, and a number of mentions in various other literature about the underground culture of East Berlin (which is not equal to, but shouldn’t be separated from, the whole of GDR). “Mix Mir Einen Drink” and the ‘grün & blau’ album’s included booklet by the same name, the latter edited together by Flake himself. None of them are translated into English (yet), and the transcribed pieces floating around the Internet are a hodge-podge of various quality. The texts as such aren’t badly rendered, but the more historical facts are somewhat bewildering. One of the comments on a Feeling B forum about the translation of a paragraph from the book, “Mix Mir Einen Drink” comes through as striking, and quite representative: “This doesn’t make any fucking sense. I guess you’d have to be there to get what it was about.” Pretty much!
To a foreigner, and maybe even a young foreigner, the terms must be confusing at times: The Turning, the Unification, East vs West, a socialist conclave smack in the middle of the metropolis Berlin, Volkspolizei, Visas, STASI, Baader-Meinhof, Walls, approvals in front of the regime’s musical boards — you name it. And in all of this, a punk band lived and thrived on Schnapps, handcrafted earrings and concerts — all on homemade stage equipment hauled around in a beat up old van whilst dodging the regime’s police. Sounds romantic, doesn’t it? As far from the consensus of what a country behind the Iron Curtain was, far from the poverty, the breadlines, the Big Brother control and the oppression associated with the former Eastern Bloc. Peasants starving whilst rolling in muck to the marching rhythm of the Military, parading for all the world to see. And along comes Flake who romanticizes it, claiming it was all a great, long party. What now?
So let’s dig a little deeper into these reviews and see what else we can uncover. Maybe the truth about the GDR lies somewhere in the middle. Because this is the gospel of Flake, his opinions and his side of the story – he keeps saying so himself.
“Flake is still a citizen of the GDR, and he will die a citizen of the GDR. Flake doesn’t even travel on holiday,” says Till Lindemann in an interview in Rolling Stone and adds, “None of [the rest of] us are Ostalgic at all”. We know that Richard Kruspe even made a run for it, and fled the regime. Only to return to the former East Berlin once the Wall was down. But Flake seems to beg to differ – he claims he misses the GDR, that respect for people and solidarity are dead in the new system, where everyone prays at the altar of Mammon. And, “…still to this day, I think the BRD flag is horrid.” Flake is one of the few who actually insists on calling the former West BRD, while the rest of the world calls it, well, Germany.
“…to have good humor,” is the recipe for life, said Flake at a speech given alongside Joey Kelly at the Chemnitz City Hall in January, 2014, and then added that, to this day, the greatest feeling of happiness is when, after weeks of tinkering in the rehearsal room, a useful song idea crystallizes. “I have the found the reason for life in music. Therefore, I am a happy person.”
…the complete title of the book by Roland Galenza and Heinz Havemeister is: “Feeling B – Mix mir einen Drink: Punk in the East – thorough interviews with Flake, Paul Landers and many others“.
At first glance, you think, “How will I ever get through all 600 pages of this? “ But once you start, you can’t stop reading. You need time for this, because this is in no way a novel, a thriller or anything like that. This is the genesis of punk rock in the GDR and thus, the trailblazing story about one of the most important bands in the German-speaking world. With names such as Flake and Paul Landers, it’s evident that this is about Rammstein, although almost exclusively about their preceding band, Feeling B, as the title suggests.
It doesn’t get more precise than this. It doesn’t get more detailed than this. This work is chockfull of enormously informative reports about punk, rock and life in the GDR and after the Turning. In short: in and around the clubs, on tour in this world, and at home with Feeling B. But what is a bit confusing at first, is the narrative as such. Several friends, acquaintances and band members get to have their say and not always in chronological order. Some of the accounts obviously get repeated. This is a little annoying at first, especially when you set out to read though the whole tome in one evening. Additionally, you get the impression that the book could have been quite a bit shorter, in regards to the information about the band’s career. But in my opinion, the stories are captivating, all things considered, and thus, the scene stays engaging, even if it’s a bit chaotic at times – just like punk-rock itself. But there is still so much more for the die-hard fan, with everything that is written on these pages. I’ll be careful not to reveal much more about this publication because, after all, the book itself is rich enough. The many pictures (most of them very funny!) from times past, are throughout, providing vibrancy between the stories.
(Review on Metalglory.de)
Far from being just a garage band in an underdeveloped, repressed country, that fostered two (three, if we count Schneider’s occasional participation) of the members of Rammstein — Feeling B was a cultural phenomenon in its own right. They didn’t have the international recognition that Rammstein enjoys today, but in their own sphere in the GDR, they became an important institution. To the extent that they were featured, among others, in a movie about the GDR’s youth by director Dieter Schumann, called, “Flüstern & Schreien”.
“Most times, it’s fun when the audience is in a really bad mood,“ says Flake in the film, made in 1987 and published in 1988, after a lot of ifs and buts with the East German Film Board and subsequent attempts at censoring, and he was right – Feeling B’s concerts attracted people by the thousands, who found a place to let out their frustration and ease the boredom. “We had an enormous popularity,” says director Schumann about the movie and the following tour along with the featured bands across the GDR. “At the same time, anger was brewing everywhere, that the party officials — against their own words — showed no real confidence in young people. In the press, the movie was likewise praised. The journalists were really happy that they for once could write so openly about the addressed problems.”
This was in the time of the Turning, when the totalitarian regime was slowly beginning to disintegrate. Freedom of speech and press had largely been unknown concepts, so this feature was nothing short of a sensation. The world was changing, and with it, so also East punk. Schumann made a second part of “Flüstern & Schreien” for MDR in 1994, following the careers of Feeling B and Sandow in particular, and while the audience had found the first movie funny, they now wondered why they all were so angry. According to Schumann, it was because of, “…how the musicians reflect on what fundamental ways the new system will change the people in the East.”
The coffin was fitted with pyrotechnics. The Socialist Cemetery in Berlin-Friedrichsfelde had yet to witness such a thundering departure. And after the fireworks came the silence. At the very least, it had very little to do with him, with the man who was found lying dead in his camper van on the 24th of November, 2000. An esoteric oddball who once played a role in the pre-history of the band Rammstein, but that was a long time ago. The memories from this time gradually emerge. In the year 1988, a documentary about the rock scene in the GDR unexpectedly came into the cinemas, by the name of “Flüstern & SCHREIEN” (Whispering & Screaming), in which this man was clearly responsible for the screaming. “Wir wollen immer artig sein,” he yelled at baffled Ostsee holiday makers, for example, while kids were jumping around in between the beach baskets, there a result of being banned from staying in the city, an implement still used at this time. Is this the beginning of the end, everyone asked themselves, and, who let these shabby loons onto the silver screen? He himself, of course, had barged in and gotten the film crew so hopelessly drunk that they, instead of continuing to waste their time on other, boring East bands, rather went drinking with him. Way too much. Aljoscha Rompe would become a legend through this movie, and his band, Feeling B, the delirious voice of a whole generation.
“Feeling B was the soundtrack of the GDR’s demise“, it says in a book recently published about the band. And now, when the movie is finally available on DVD again, it seems that this sort of canonization process is at an end. The eternal kid Aljoscha has become something sacred and stands before us like the apostle of an impossible freedom. His death, the publisher writes, was the, “sealing of a unique view of life, that could only originate under the conditions of the GDR.” From interviews with numerous touring companions, from musical colleagues to the folk music star, Henry Hübchen, publicists Roland Galenza and Heinz Havemeister have compiled a fascinating German biography – and perhaps, at the moment, the best available book about the demise of the GDR and the following years.
Aljoscha’s real name was Arthur Alexander, and he was the grandson of the Philosopher of Law, Arthur Baumgarten, and the son of a Swiss. He got his nickname from the Russian mother of his stepfather, Robert Rompe, who was responsible for the higher education school politics at the Central Committee of the SED (Sozialistische Einheitspartei Deutschlands), whilst Aljoscha’s mother regularly went to West Berlin for, “drinking binges and drug-parties.” At this time, he proved to be a compliant son. He went through physics studies, got into the dissident circles and ended up in the slammer at the end of the 70s due to cooperation of an “Anti-Nomenclature Calendar”. His parents presumably got him out of there, since they signed over one of their properties on Hiddensee to Stasi.
Aljoscha got himself a Swiss passport and traveled to West Berlin where he worked for the duration as a driver for Otto-Versant (mail ordering company) until he crashed one of the delivery trucks, since he was a notoriously bad driver and often drunk. He traveled the world – and then came back to the East. With that, he brought punk to the dropouts’ bonfires. He came to the realization that the West was only boredom and that the party was in the East, at this time when there still was an East.
“Aljoscha told us gruesome stories about the West and the people there. Of the villages where they measured their lawns with centimeter precision, the [country] roads were paved and the car mechanics had smocks on in the workshops. We laughed ourselves silly,” said Paul Landers, who along with Christian “Flake” Lorenz was the core of Feeling B. The two weren’t even of legal age, and Aljoscha was already 35. “The loony and the two kids”, they were mocked by everyone who took music seriously. But they were also liked just because of this by those who preferred some serious noise. They left a trail of devastation throughout the country, in a dilapidated money transport truck; they were musical garbage men, who made the booze-fueled lethargy of the dying GDR into an endless party. Like rats taking over a decaying house.
Their music was once described as Polka-Punk with kiddie’s song-like Casio melodies. And to this, Aljoscha would crow, “Du wirst den Gipfel nie erreichen, weil die Ebene endlost ist,” or, “Mix mir einen Drink, der mich woanders hinbringt!” Whatever he sang about, says the keyboardist Flake, he had experienced himself first hand in the early 90s. What then came out of Aljoscha had more often to do with booze-breath than with actual singing, and it happened that he quite simply fell asleep on stage. In those years, the whole of four concerts were played all the way through to the end, all the others just derailed into pure chaos. But so be it. They were the fun-guerrilla, who at nights at the camping sites simply went looking for a power outlet and started making noise, until they were chased off again. Aljoscha and his band lived in a time-delirium, searched spirituality through spirits, defined communism as free beer and became regular punters at the Whitsun festival in Steinbrücken, Thüringen, where the people generally paid 100 Mark across the board and then spent the whole weekend lying with their heads under the beer tap, before they went surfing in the cesspool. They wallowed in the sputum of the dying GDR – filthy, disgusting and magnificent.
And somehow over. The Turning initially brought an increase of freedom. Almost a year of anarchy in East Germany. But then the goings got tough. “You really had to see that you remained where the action was, that you didn’t flake out.” Aljoscha knew this and fought the battles as an Eastern Housing squatter against the takeover of Prenzlauer Berg by the developers from the West and finally, the Penthouse-Yuppies. He swindled “kilos of ABM-money” for dubious projects. He started the political party, “Wydoks“, and took advice from his friend Gregor Gysi, he crammed Bärbel Bohley and Stefan Heym with pamphlets against the monetary union and fought for the preservation of the niches, or at least, of his own house – which later even briefly led to the suspicion that his death was caused by the occasionally rather brutal methods of the Westification of Prenzlauer Berg.
Come the good times, everyone on the scene gradually went their own way. At some point, the two kids didn’t want to keep making Aljoscha’s “Oompa-Oompa-Punk”, and didn’t want to stand about with Feeling B, “like East marmalade in shops for East products.” After ten years of dabbling and muck, they wanted the exact opposite: mechanical perfection, revenue, while “If we’re in the West already, then so be it.” They founded Rammstein and soon enjoyed international success. They didn’t need Aljoscha as a father and source of energy anymore. He became very peculiar at this time, when “a happy, independent State” in the East definitely was not going to happen, Aljoscha ultimately developed into an Esoteric. He traveled to Goa, tested new drugs, “burned” himself out on a Brain-Machine, or as Flake says — the mind. He dabbled in the worlds of Sci-Fi authors, to Wilhelm Reich, to Atlantis, Osiris and stuff like that. He shielded himself more and more from the world, already long before he suffocated from an asthma attack in his camper van. But perhaps the first drummer of Feeling B is right, and Aljoscha lives somewhere in India as a guru. Maybe, he’s just followed his GDR and got lost in a Party-Nirvana.
– (Review in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung, 2002, of the book, “Mix Mir Einen Drink“)
…and the band didn’t play on anymore. The Titanic sunk. The party was over. We all know what happened next: the band Rammstein took form, took off and is still conquering the world, and gradually, Feeling B and the other punk bands of the East became but a memory. A whole new generation, who knew very little about East Germany, grew up and took to the steady beats of the well-organized, efficient and massive machine that is Rammstein. But as time passes, waves of Eastern nostalgia sweep the population, and suddenly, everything GDR is interesting. Countless books have been written, memorabilia sold, stories dug up and retold, and a romanticism arises – the Ostalgie. The old gets new again. So also Feeling B. Mostly because half the members of Rammstein played in the band at one point or another (once again, Schneider may or may not count), but also the ones who were there at the time want to remember, the old fans, the once disgruntled youth of the GDR, and the ones in the West who missed out on the party. Maybe that is why Flake decided to dive headfirst into the dusty boxes in his basement and dig out what was left of one of the most influential bands in Germany…
Murray, July, 2014