Archive for February 7, 2015


One of the unsung heroes of the Cold War, poet Wolf Biermann was born in 1936 in Hamburg, Germany. The son of a German communist killed in Auschwitz, Biermann emigrated—“in unbroken humility” – to East Berlin in 1953 – to “sing in revolt” – with Brecht’s Berliner Ensemble.
With his aggressive, provocative and ironic lyrics, Biermann criticized the social and political situation, first in the GDR and then, after his expatriation in 1976, in the Federal Republic of Germany.

“I can only love what I am free to leave.”

Wolf Biermann became popular as a performer of his satirical songs and ballads – but – as he grew critical of the régime – was forbidden to perform in East Germany from 1962 – more or less – until 1976 when he was stripped of his citizenship and sent into exile by the politburo – a theatrical gesture – after his concert in Cologne under the sponsorship of the West German metalworkers union.

After being banned from public performance for eleven years, Biermann appeared on September 11, 1976, in the Nikolai Church in Prenzlau. He later claimed that his visit was tolerated because the Stasi confused him with a pastor there of the same name. The Lutheran churches had become places where some opposition to the state could be tolerated, and the good atheist Wolf Biermann found his first audience since 1965 there. Following this performances, the ruling party (the SED) boewed to enormous popular pressure from the IG Metall, the West German metal worker´s union, to allow Biermann to go to West Germany in November 1976. On November 13, 1976, Biermann gave a concert in the Sporthalle in Cologne, which was broadcast on West German television and, of course, seen surrepititiously in East Berlin. His concert was the overt act that enabled the “rotten old men” (his words in a song) of the SED to banish him. The power of his performance was linked to the oppositional message. Poetry read by the elite is much less dangerous than songs or films that reach the masses. The leadership of the SED announced that because Biermann was born in Hamburg (in West Germany), his permission for him to remain in the GDR had been rescinded. Truly scurrilous accounts of his sexual life began to circulate to the media. Three days after his legendary concert in the Cologne sport arena, he was expatriated by the East German party leaders for his “hostile performance” and not permitted to return to the GDR.

Over 100 artists, writers and actors in the socialist German state staged public protests. When the authorities responded with intimidation, jail sentences and bans, masses of intellectuals picked up and left the GDR.
Biermann saw his expatriation as a catastrophe. “I thought it was all over with my life as a singer and poet,” he said later.
Indeed, the first years in exile weren’t easy. Nevertheless, the “Troubadour of inner German conflict,” as the “Süddeutsche Zeitung” called him in a 1987 article, carried on with his career. He published several volumes of lyric and prose and settled old scores with both East and West Germany on concert tours at home and abroad.

“I do not keep silent about my silence.”

Not to be undone – Wolf Biermann – the source of countless poetries and recorded lyrics – returned to perform in East Berlin in 1989, and was named an honorary citizen of Berlin eight years later.

“Still it is taking place – the sunrise. The dark night, still – it is being preformed.”

Wolf Biermann now lives in Hamburg, Germany.

Biermanns legendary 1976 concert was documented on the double-album “Das geht sein´ sozialistischen Gang”:

Wolf Biermann – Das geht sein´ sozialistischen Gang
(192 kbps, cover art included)

By April 1, 1960, when they recorded their fifth Vanguard album (which was their third live disc and second to be recorded at Carnegie Hall), the Weavers had overcome the loss of Pete Seeger and fully integrated his replacement, Erik Darling, who proved a banjo virtuoso and exuberant humorist (listen to his kazoo solo on “Bill Bailey Come Home”).

They had an excellent act, mixing old favorites dating back to the days of the Almanac Singers (“The Sinking of the Reuben James”) and newer songs that would become standards of the folk boom (“Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream”).
And, at least at this point, they seemed to be riding the crest of that boom, which they had inspired with their 1955 Carnegie Hall show, recorded for their first Vanguard album, The Weavers at Carnegie Hall (1957), which belatedly jumped into the album charts a couple of months after this album became their chart debut at the start of 1961.

In retrospect, however, the cannily titled Vol. 2 (you’d think it was more from the first concert, wouldn’t you?) represented the peak of the Weavers’ comeback; in ’60s terms, with their bow ties and tuxedos, they seemed like something from an earlier time compared to the collegiate earnestness of the Kingston Trio and the political seriousness of Peter, Paul and Mary (who debuted the following year) – and, of course, they were. But with “The Weavers at Carnegie Hall, Vol. 2” however briefly, they finally exorcised the ghost of Seeger and demonstrated that they were a valid and popular act on their own.

The Weavers – At Carnegie Hall, Vol. 2 (1960)
(320 kbps, front cover included)

Karl Wolf Biermann (born 15 November 1936) is a German singer-songwriter and former East German dissident.

Biermann was born in Hamburg, Germany. His mother, Emma (née Dietrich), was a Communist Party activist, and his father, Dagobert Biermann, worked on the Hamburg docks. Biermann’s father was Jewish and a member of the German Resistance and was sentenced to six years in prison for sabotaging Nazi ships. In 1942, the Nazis decided to “eliminate” their Jewish political prisoners and Biermann’s father was deported to Auschwitz concentration camp, where he was murdered on 22 February 1943.

Biermann was one of the few children of workers who attended the Heinrich-Hertz-Gymnasium (high school) in Hamburg. After the Second World War, he became a member of the “Free German Youth” (Freie Deutsche Jugend, FDJ) and in 1950, he represented the Federal Republic of Germany at the FDJ’s first national meeting.

On finishing school at the age of 17, Biermann decided to emigrate from West to East Germany where he believed he could live out his Communist ideals. He lived at a boarding school near Schwerin until 1955, and then began studying political economics at the Humboldt University of Berlin. From 1957 to 1959, he was an assistant director at the Berliner Ensemble. At university he changed courses to study philosophy and mathematics under Wolfgang Heise until 1963, when he completed his thesis. Despite his successful defense of his thesis, he did not receive his diploma until 2008 when he was also awarded an honorary doctorate degree.

In 1960, Biermann met composer Hanns Eisler, who adopted the young artist as a protégé. Biermann began writing poetry and songs. Eisler used his influence with the East German cultural elite to promote the songwriter’s career, but his death in 1962 deprived Biermann of his mentor and protector. In 1961 Biermann formed the “Berliner Arbeiter-Theater” (“Berlin Workers’ Theater”), which was closed in 1963 before the production of Biermann’s show “Berliner Brautgang”, which documented the building of the Berlin wall. The play was officially banned and Biermann was forbidden to perform for six months. Although a committed communist, Biermann’s nonconformist views soon alarmed the East German establishment. In 1963, he was refused membership in the
ruling Socialist Unity Party of Germany (SED), although no reason was given at the time for his rejection. After the Wende, documents available from Biermann’s file at the Stasi Archives revealed that the reviewers were under the impression that he was a regular user of stimulants, leading to the rejection of his application.

In 1964, Biermann performed for the first time in West Germany. A performance in April 1965 in Frankfurt am Main on Wolfgang Neuss’ cabaret program was recorded and released as an LP titled “Wolf Biermann (Ost) zu Gast bei Wolfgang Neuss (West)”. Later that year, Biermann published a book of poetry, “Die Drahtharfe”, through the West German publisher Klaus Wagenbach. In December 1965, the Central Committee of the Socialist Unity Party of Germany denounced him as a ‘class traitor’ and placed him onto the performance and publication blacklist. At this time, the Stasi developed a 20-point plan to “degrade” or discredit his person.

While blacklisted, Biermann continued to write and compose, culminating in his 1968 album Chausseestraße 131, recorded on equipment smuggled from the west in his apartment at Chausseestraße 131 in Mitte, the central borough of Berlin.

To break this isolation, artists like Joan Baez and many others visited him at his home during the World Youth Festival in 1973. Karsten D. Voigt, chairman of the West German Socialdemocratic Youth (Juso) protested against the suppression of the freedom of opinion and information by the state security.

In 1976, the SED Politbüro decided to strip Biermann of his citizenship while he was on an officially authorized tour in West Germany. It later turned out that the Politbüro had decided to do so before the first concert in Cologne, even though this concert was used as the official justification afterwards. Biermann’s exile provoked protests by leading East German intellectuals, including actor Armin Mueller-Stahl and novelist Christa Wolf. In 1977, he was joined in West Germany by his wife at the time, actress Eva-Maria Hagen and her daughter Catharina (Nina Hagen).

Now living in the West, Biermann continued his musical career, criticizing East Germany’s Stalinist policies. He was able to perform publicly again in East Germany in late 1989 during the Wende that eventually toppled the Communist government. In 1998, he received a German national prize. He supported the 1999 NATO Kosovo War and the 2003 invasion of Iraq.  He lives in Hamburg and in France. He is the father of ten children, three of them with his wife Pamela Biermann.
About the album:

In 1964-1965, the conflict between Wolf Biermann and the SED authorities eventually escalated; Biermann gave his first performances in West Germany and earned his first critical acclaim there. His first record release, “Wolf Biermann (Ost) zu Gast bei Wolfgang Neuss (West)” (1965), a collaboration with the West German political satirist Wolfgang Neuss (1923-1989),was only published in West Germany. In the GDR, Wolf Biermann was finally banned from performing and publishing; his poetry and songs were classified as obscene and a betrayal of communist ideals.

Tracklist:

A1 Wolfgang Neuss Begrüßungs-Conference 3:22
A2 Wolf Biermann Keine Party ohne Biermann 1:55
A3 Wolf Biermann Kunststück 2:20
A4 Wolfgang Neuss Sie – hallo, Sie 1:10
A5 Wolf Biermann Was verboten ist, das macht uns gerade scharf 1:55
A6 Wolfgang Neuss Onkel Paul schreibt vom Schwarzen Meer 1:55
A7 Wolf Biermann Das Familienbad (Die Ballade vom biederen Familienvater) 2:30
A8 Wolfgang Neuss Innere Führung-Kettenreaktion 1:50
A9 Wolf Biermann Soldatenmelodie 1:45
A10 Wolfgang Neuss Frische Luft-Nummer 3:26
B1 Wolfgang Neuss Der Schlachter 13:30
B2 Wolf Biermann Ballade vom Drainageleger Fredi Roßmeisl 3:40
B3 Wolf Biermann Ballade von der Buckower Süßkirschenzeit 3:10
B4 Wolf Biermann, Wolfgang Neuss Kleinstadt-Sonntag 4:20

 Wolf Biermann & Wolfgang Neuss – Wolf Biermann (Ost) zu Gast bei Wolfgang Neuss (West) (1965)
(256 kbps, cover art included)