42nd Annual Meeting Society for Ethnomusicology

23-26 October 1997

Sheraton Square Hotel, Pittsburgh, PA

Title of Paper:

Negotiating the Nation in Post-Unification East German Popular Music



Popular Music and the Nation-State

Thursday, 4:00-5:30 pm

I would like to thank the following foundations and agencies for their support in completing this project: The Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, The German Academic Exchange Service, the University of Maryland Baltimore County and the Forschungszentrum Populäre Musik, Humboldt-Universität Berlin.


It is not particularly exceptional to hear a pop song with the words "I love you." It could be argued that this is just a kitschy, banal line in one of thousands of indistinguishable song productions churned out yearly by an international industry intent on blanketing the globe with the same drivel. Traditionally, it has been used as an expression of heterosexual love. When sung by a male rock group, it is usually directed at a females, offering identification to its male adherents in whose name the females are addressed. On the other hand, a pop song containing the command to "shut up" would indicate that a relationship is threatened with dissolution, or at least that it is in jeopardy or highly contentious. A song that declares "I am afraid for you" but "I need you" means that the relationship is perhaps precarious and dependent, but nonetheless worthwhile for at least one of the partners. There is, however, one problematical fact about the lyrics of these songs which, on the surface, address the disembodied "you" so familiar in the pop music world´s eternal partner: The addressee is a country, i.e., "Germany."

In this paper, I will show how three songs by East German rock groups represent different narrative stances - contained both in the lyrics as well as in the musical style and sound - for negotiation of a post-unification national identity in East Germany. I will show how their lyric construction of Germany can be correlated to recent narrative positionings on German identity in political discourse. Unification has altered previous postwar identities of the two former German states. In West Germany, views among the predominant sectors of bureaucrats, intellectuals and politicians of a post-nationalist, non-ethnic German identity have been on the defensive as the social-democratic and left-wing precepts upon which it was based were dismantled along with the Berlin Wall(1). The more nationalistic right-wing concepts of German identity advocating more German assertiveness in foreign affairs have gained ground(2). The notion of a separate East German socialist nation has also crumbled with the Berlin Wall as well. The return of Germany to unity has therefore prompted a general renegotiation of German identity in which the historical past becomes doubly contested: One the one hand, renegotiation focuses on the Nazi past (1933-1945) with its racist and aggressively xenophobic and Anti-Semitic policies. On the other hand, it reinterprets the role of the postwar, pre-unification German states (1949-1989), the West German Federal Republic and the East German Democratic Republic, states which emerged in the Cold War from the defeat of Nazi Germany, the last time the country was a unified whole. These two pasts become the tropes, objects, and vehicles in a contested search for a reconfigured German identity for the future. The field of popular music is just one of many in which this negotiation is taking place, reacting to a devaluation of the GDR past withing the newly unified Federal Republic. It could be an important as a site and space for alternative and competing discourses to those presented by state "master narratives" dominated by West German discourse.

This task is complicated by outdated concepts of German ethnic identity based on blood, in which a growing proportion (currently 8%) of the population is considered to be non-Germans - immigrant workers from Turkey and other southeastern European countries, asylum seekers, Jews and Gypsies - and are therefore refused full citizenship even though a substantial number of them may have either grown up or have been born in Germany and thus speak the language or have been socialized into German society(3). Even the so-called Resettlers - those supposedly of German descent from Poland, the Czech Republic, Romania and Russia who may not speak German - are socially marginalized as "polluted" ethnic brothers and sisters due to the inability of many of them to speak the language.

The narrative stances of the three songs by the East German bands under scrutiny here reflect the deep transformations in East German society wrought by unification, the imposition of the West German system upon the East, and the devaluation of the GDR past. Constitutionally, the New German States, as the East German territory was termed after the GDR administrative districts had been abolished and Federal states restored, "joined" the West German Republic. This meant that the provisional constitution of the old West German Federal Republic would not have to be completely overhauled or replaced, but merely extended to cover the New Federal States, thus avoiding a broad discussion within society about the past, present and future of the new Republic. This resulted in reinforcing stability and maintained the power of the West German elites - the victors of unification, i.e., those in the Federal Republic. The intimacy of the imputed "you" of popular music embodied by a historical entity of both the past, which is negative (Nazi Germany), and of the future (a re-unified Germany) indicates that the transformation has deeply affected spheres of life long considered a haven from the public and official sphere in the East which comprised the non-political "Nische" of family and friends.

I will try in this paper to make sense of the different narrative stances by means of kinship descriptions and analogies. The union of the two halves of Germany proceeded on the basis of blood ties, ethnic-racial concepts of identity which entail a certain degree of involuntariness. Belonging to a unified Germany on the basis of blood is ascribed and not necessarily a choice. In addition, the manner of unification itself, that of imposing the Western model of a capitalist society on the New Federal States, as the constitutional path to unification was ultimately determined, was not unproblematical, despite the early demonstrations by East Germans advocating immediate unity. At any rate, I will argue here that the net result of membership within the newly reconfigured territory of a unified Germany entails a certain irreversibility analogous to membership in a family. Allegiance or loyalty to the family is another matter, however, and these may range from angry repudiation to critical solidarity or conditional or tentative loyalty. Within the context of kinship designations, the narrative "you," the addressee "Germany" in the three songs under consideration here take on three different roles. For one of the bands, the Skeptiker, Germany is the antagonistic adversary to whom loyalty and allegiance is refused outright and unconditionally. In terms of family relations, the Germany embodies the recalcitrant yet perhaps immature spoiled bully. The Germany of the Puhdys, another band, is one of a paternal guardian of weak resolve, into whom the group invests its - perhaps ultimately disappointed - hope for the future. It is deserving of a critical loyalty insofar as it is able to protect and give hope to its offspring who may be led astray to racism and xenophobia, as is the case with Neo-Nazis. The Germany of Pankow, the third band, is one of a troubled and immature sibling, or perhaps a vulnerable child susceptible to the evils of racism and collaboration with the former GDR state security apparatus Stasi ("Staatssicherheit"), but who deserves understanding and loyalty nonetheless. The "Germany" addressed in the songs of the Puhdys(4), the Skeptiker(5)

or Pankow(6) is a unique construction. All three narrative depictions of Germany can be characterized by conditional and tentative loyalty or allegiance, in the case of Pankow and the Puhdys, or by outright repudiation as with the Skeptiker. Not one of the three groups accepts Germany as an unconditional aspect of belonging.

Germany as a Problematical Sibling

The Germany of Pankow deserves love "although it is so industrious (fleißig)" and in spite of the bigotry of people who are
not brown by nature (meaning Neo-Nazis, as in "brown-shirts"), who "need to be understood" and be overwhelmed by
those "who are in the majority." Love to Germany is not diminshed by those with "bad taste" who "are not particularly [politically, E.L.] vigilant" but still "should not by lynched." Instead, these people should be overwhelmed by "people who do not sell out" their values, a reference to those who may have collaborated with the Stasi like Pankow singer Jürgen Ehle. Germany's sense of "order and cleanliness" had ruined the lives of quite a few people, while its "industriousness and arrogance" has frightened "my friends in our neighboring countries." While these negative qualities - arrogance, industriousness, order and cleanliness - predominate, the positive Germany is reduced to a small circle of intimates, "Louise, Karin and André." On the surface, the seemingly undivided loyalty of "understanding" engendered in these lyrics is retracted by the last two lines: If this Germany seems to be inadequate or lacking, then "another country is also ok," as if one could change one´s nationality like changing a shirt. This type of contingent identification with Germany represents a continuation of the privatized path of identity-formation in which "the scope of allegiance" is "reduced to the self, the family, and perhaps the local community"(7) which typified post-war West German identities as well as those in the East German Nischen-Gesellschaft in the 1970s and 1980s. It also reflects the "broad re-examination of the historical basis of German identities" engendered by unification,(8) both in West Germany, where "post-natonalist self-consciousness" was predominant among intellectuals, as well as in the East, where the concept of the "separate 'socialist nation'" was repudiated. Neither ethnically nor territorially is the loyalty to the nation unconditional in this case.

The song "Germany" (I love you) starts off with a plaintive lead voice singing a simple melody in E with a piano accompaniment, underscoring the intimate personal relationship with the "partner." The first two verses, which start out "Deutschland, ich liebe dich" in spite of the drawbacks subsequently mentioned in the lyrics, are sung solo by the lead singer. The bridge consisting of the complaints about order and cleanliness, industriousness and arrogance is reinforced by an insistent chorus with a female vocal part underscored by quickening of the tempo of the song, which intensifies the impatience with these qualities considered traditionally German. The lead guitar, which in the first two verses was a part of the background accompaniment (with the piano) as a short, punctuating riff at the end of each line with the piano, pushes into the foreground at the bridge and dominates all four lines, almost as if the guitar symbolizes those negative qualities subdued in the background of the first two verses. The final four lines return to the almost endearing intimacy of the voice with piano accompaniment at the slower tempo.

Before unification, Pankow had earned a reputation as a critical and contentious band that was ultimately supportive of socialist reforms. It earned respect among audiences in the early 1980s with a theatrical rock program called "Paule Panke - a day in the life of an apprentice," using Rolling Stones-derived music to portray a critical and ironic view of life for youths working in GDR factories as something less than ideal. Due to its critical stance, the program was never released on recording, despite its popularity, until years later, in 1988. Another program of the band which, like Paule Panke, featured a theatrical presentation revolving around issues of growing up in the GDR, was "Hans im Glück." This was a developmental piece about what happens to a high school graduate when entering the real world of socialist society. Since most of the alternatives offered to the graduate led to failure, corruption or despair, the "Hans im Glück" program was highly controversial and the final scene of the show had to be re-written and rediscussed countless times to satisfy the ideological demands of cultural bureaucrats for an optimistic conclusion. The group's notoriety increased toward the end of the GDR when it went on tour with the big band of the Soviet Army stationed in East Germany. One of its most popular tunes during this period just preceding the ultimate downfall of the GDR was one called "Give Me a Sign," ("Gib mir ein Zeichen") referring to the Perestroika policies of Gorbachev and thus challenging the GDR authorities' efforts to thwart discussions of such policies among the GDR public. One of the songs on the Hans im Glück LP, "Er will anders sein" ("He wants to be different"), a song about becoming a non-conformist to the constraints of narrow GDR life and society, was generally sung in concerts as "we want to be different." Although Pankow was allowed the privilege of traveling to the West for concert tours, its lead singer, André Herzberg, was considered politically unreliable by the State Security service (Stasi), and this privilege was granted only around the mid-1980s.

Pankow's post-unfication repertoire contains certain reflections about the GDR period with inferences about the disillusionment with the progress of unification. The song "harte zeiten" ("hard times"), for instance, asks "where are we headed?" and answers " To hard times, hard times," allowing the inference that the GDR period was perhaps not as difficult as one might have assumed at the time. The people expect "a new German 'fräuleinwunder,'" a reference to the "Wirtschaftswunder" of the West German Federal Republic of the 1950s and 1960s, one of the primary motivations for East Germans to advocate immediate unification with the West after the opening of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Instead of an economic miracle, the result is a "dead animal on the road" ("ein totes tier auf der fahrbahn"), representing the disappointment with the lack of economic improvement. Another song on the same CD, "Somewhere," which uses the song "Somewhere over the Rainbow" (from the Wizard of Oz), using alternating lines of the English title with German narrative verses, as its focal point for the search for "a country where you can be happy," to be "liberated from all frustration," where "feelings are not murdered," where "tenderness is the strongest power." The disillusionment with unification is complete when the singer declares that "a country, colorful as a rainbow, has mesmerized me, but its colors have deceived me," an oblique reference to the glitter of consumer goods in West Germany which hypnotized the East Germans just after the Wall came down. The only space remaining for happiness is thus "a life with you," and "your love to me," within a small group of intimate friends. In another song addressed to an obviously overbearing partner which the listener may interpret as West Germany, a song on the Vierer Pack CD released in December 1993 tells the intrusive, presumably female antagonist to "leave him alone" and to "try to live alone," after she has helped him "lose his laughter," had begun to "dissect his soul," and assist in "doing away with all his friends," while asking around "what others are doing," i.e., perhaps spying or just even prying into people's private business.

Pankow´s newest CD released this year (1997) features no songs explicitly addressing Germany. Most of those on the previous CD were written by keyboarder Rainer Kirchmann, who did not record the new CD with the band. Many of the new lyrics to the songs on the new CD were written by André Herzberg, the former lead singer of the group during the GDR period but who had left the group to pursue his own projects and has now returned to record with them again. Many songs on the new CD revolve ostensibly around the typical male-female relationships, but if we were to interpret the "you" in some of the songs as a metaphorical Westerner stereotypically depicted in discourses of German identity, the songs achieve a further level of meaning typical of East German songs prior to unification. For instance, in the song "verknallt sein" ("in love with you") states that the antagonist must be in love with the protagonist, since s/he doesn't like his style, what he says, and shows his disgust. The list of things the antagonist dislikes includes the shirt, friends, automobile, his ass, his nose, the guitar playing and his face, and a whole host of other objects and qualities. This dislike is interpreted by the lead singer as a sign of love.

Germany as Family Bully

The Skeptiker, a band belonging to the pre-1989 independent scene, tell their Germany to "shut up," since it is continually trying to "increase its power," enlarge its "stupid feeling of self-value," and is a "fat bag" which is always trying to dominate other people. They insist that Germany let the foreigners, considered by many on the Right to be a disturbing influence, but who have "given it wealth," remain in the country. Germany should stop dreaming of dominating the world and consider that it might fail in its efforts to do so. It should therefore "stay at home." Germany is run by "those with money" and "Bonzenschweine," high government bureaucrats and the politically and economically powerful, who "start a terror campaign and a witchhunt against its enemies, but who may end up with a bomb under their car." Her Germany represents perhaps the "rich uncle" obsessed with consumerism and politically reactionary.

The song is introduced by a driving guitar and breakneck drum beat on the second and fourth beats in speed metal style, into which the lead singer screams "Germany, shut up." While the lead vocalist continues with the lyrics, the chorus including the rest of the band screams in unison "shut up" everytime "Deutschland" is encountered in the text or a new verse begins. This has the effect of replicating a gang or a demonstration of power towards the repudiated belligerent, self-delusional, overconfident and self-indulgent Germany. The furious tempo of the song is interrupted in different way at the bridge than the Pankow song. Instead of speeding up, nearly impossible considering the breakneck speed of the song, it slows down and changes to a minor key to explain the thinking of officials and functionaries, i.e., that people with money have the power, concluding that regardless of their money and power they are vulnerable to terrorist methods of resistance.

The Skeptiker were a part of a productive and vibrant independent scene in the pre-unification GDR period throughout the 1980s. As such, its music was generally only heard on the airwaves after 1986, when the radio show "Paroktikum" was initiated by the newly-reorganized youth broadcasting service DT64 as part of an effort to revive the sagging popularity of the more privileged rock bands like the Puhdys and Pankow. As a part of the independent scene, the Skeptiker were at the forefront of efforts to delegitimize the GDR by circumventing the GDR institutions and using private cassette tapes to break the established institutional music-aesthetic monopoly of the radio stations and the record company. The independent scene helped to deconstruct the legitimacy of the GDR by developing an alternative music aesthetics, utilizing punk-derived idioms (like Rosa Extra/Hard Pop, Feeling B.) as well as electronic and experimental sounds (AG Geige, Expander des Fortschritts) previously excluded from pop music broadcasting. This contrasted sharply with the so-called "melody-heavy" (melodiebetont) and thus "soft" sounding "GDR rock music" favored by functionaries and bureaucrats in the radio stations, district cultural councils and the record company until the mid-1980s. The alternative and independent scene also refused to employ the typical double-coded lyric messages of the more established groups like Pankow, City and Silly, who used metaphors of nature and personal relationships to express oppositional or critical stances. Many in the independent scene used English lyrics as a vehicle of opposition to GDR cultural policy requiring the use of the German language in broadcast productions in the radio or those released on recordings. The independent scene evolved alternative distribution networks with private cassette tape recordings to circumvent the state licensing authorities, record comany and broadcasting censors. However, the independent scene was infiltrated by the Stasi very early and many of its more radical adherents were later revealed to be "inofficial collaborators."

Its rejection of, and opposition to a united Germany reflects an attitude within a sector of alienated youths who grew up in the GDR period hoping for meaningful reforms of the socialist system, but instead were confronted with a reunifed Germany and the imposition of the Western society. Their rejection of Germany as an aggressive, arrogant and politically repressive state is an attitude shared by many in West Germany in the socalled "autonomous scene," militantly radical anti-Nazi youths in the larger cities who regularly demonstrate against reconcilitation with racist Neo-Nazis, but who also alienate more moderate opponents of Neo-Nazis with their confrontative tactics.

Germany as Dubious Paternal Guardian

The Puhdys are one of the most successful bands of the GDR era and one most closely associated with an affirmative stance toward the GDR government. Their popularity has not only not diminished since unification, but has become reinvigorated. This popularity is invariably interpreted as a sign of nostalgia for the GDR, or at least some of the values it represented when juxtaposed to that of the West, including social security, job security, free health care, but also intangibles like a lack of individualism and less consumerism. They appeal to Germany, who is "loved and hated" to "not leave your children in the lurch," because they now find nothing to hope for, or whose hope for a better world has been "carried to its grave." This is a reference to Neo-Nazi youths, whose prospects for jobs have dissolved since unification. For them, the future holds no hope and they seek solace in right-wing gangs. The refrain of fear for the future of Germany alongside the desire to be included - "we need you"- contrasts sharply with the defiant narrative stance expressed by the Skeptiker to "shut up." The Puhdys, on the other hand, sing about the ambivalent feelings of everyone when Germany is mentioned ("they love you and they hate you"). The Puhdys sing about the hopes invested in the future of the country and urge "Germany" not to disappoint them, at the expense of ultimately jeopardizing freedom such as during the Nazi period. That is the underlying fear in the Puhdys song, and a common reference point for the negative qualities of all of the groups.

The music of the song starts of with a drum introduction, followed by a lead guitar riff and finally the whole band joins in to sing the chorus unisono "Deutschland, Deutschland" four times in a row. The verses of the song are sung by the lead singer without much accompaniment, just a subtle drum, rhythm guitar and bass background, while the chorus of "Deutschland, Deutschland" continues as a whisper insistently in the background at the end of each line, suggestive of a conscience or consciousness of the atrocities of Nazi Germany which must not be repeated. This is followed by the full chorus of "Deutschland, Deutschland," punctuated by the lead singer with "I am afraid" and "I am afraid for you." This juxtaposition of a call and response, with "Deutschland, Deutschland" resembling either a cheer or a chant at a political meeting or demonstration of the group voices interrupted by the voice of the lead singer puncturing that impression with his doubts and fears, mirrors the ambivalent feelings about unification, i.e., something to cheer about, yet something foreboding and questionable.

The Puhdys achieved their first popularity in the GDR by covering Uriah Heep and Deep Purple tunes in the early 1970s. They composed the music for the soundtrack to the first successful youth film in the GDR, the "Legend of Paul and Paula," an adaptation of a teenage romance story by GDR author Ulrich Plenzdorf. The Puhdys song, "Geh zu ihr" (Go to her) gained notoriety and popularity for its thinly veiled eroticism ("Go to her and let your dragon climb," 'cause you don't live from bread alone"), a highly uncommon and direct way of expression sexual desire in the relatively repressive GDR music landscape at the time. The Puhdys were also well-known in the West German Federal Republic, where they were one of the first groups to popularize rock-based pop songs with German lyrics. The Puhdys were a familiar sight at official GDR state celebrations. The group had planned to cease touring and disband in 1989, the year the wall came down, after record sales had plunged. As one of the more privileged groups in the GDR, they had an impressive number of LP releases throughout the years and generated a large financial surplus for the pop label Amiga.

In the post-unification period, the Puhdys have released two CDs. The first one, in 1994, was entitled "Zeiten ändern sich" or "times change," an indirect reference to the demise of the GDR and unification. Many of the songs on the CD address the ensuing situation and reflection upon the GDR period, such as the look to the past "Keine Meile tut mir leid" ("I do not regret one single mile"). The song "Es war einmal" ("Once upon a time") relates that "once upon a time in a country someone thought up fairy tales," meaning, of course the propaganda of the GDR government. Hopeful songs about the future also abound on the CD. For instance, "Keine Ahnung" ("No idea") states "We have no idea what we should expect" in the future. The song "Die Show muß weitergehen" ("the show must go on") uses a narrative about the age of the band and their longetivity to provide an optimistic look to the future: "We look to the future through the optical fish-eye glass and stand with a lead foot on the gas pedal."

Their most recently released CD, in 1997, "Frei wie die Geier" ("free as the vultures") seems to assess the "changes" referred to in the 1994 CD. The title song reflects a greater degree of resignation and frustration than many songs on the first CD, depicting a space filled with decay, with "contaminated illusions," and "destructive vanity." The future looks like a "flight back into the ice age over the dead sea," while "after us the deluge, after us comes nothing at all." Instead of the optimistic hopes from the previous CD, the present is like "sodom and gomorrha" with "drunk hatred of foreigners" and "hungering losers that the dear Lord forgot." Other songs on the same CD portray the negative sides of social life in Germany, like child prostitution in "feige, geil & gnadenlos" ("cowardly, lustful and merciless"), or homelessness "leere hände" ("empty hands").

Continuities and Discontinuities

The music industry in East Germany has undergone radical changes since unification. The state record company VEB Deutsche Schallplatten has been dissolved and the back catalogue of its Amiga pop music label was bought by the BMG recording conglomerate, while smaller "independent" labels have emerged in the East catering to East German audiences, like the K+P label (allied with BMG), and the independent Buschfunk record company and distributorship.The highly centralized GDR broadcasting industry has been replaced by the regional federal model of public broadcasting of the West German Federal Republic, while private commercial radio stations offer mainstream pop, transplanting the dual broadcasting system of the West German Federal Republic to the territory of the former GDR. Deregulation meant replacing the highly controlled live performance market of the GDR, whereby both amateur and professional bands and musicians were required to obtain and annually renew performance licenses after an audition in front of a local cultural commission. Bands were obligated to abide by decrees stipulating that their repertoire be comprised of 60% music from the East and 40% from the West. Instead of state agencies for bookings and referrals for performance dates, a free market has now developed whereby the Eastern states of the Federal Republic, the Neue Bundesländer, have retained their cohesion as a market for East German groups, while the West has remained relatively inaccessible to them.

The deterioration in the social situation of many East Germans, unemployment and social insecurity caused by either sporadic employment or threats to job security is a situation that the musicians share with many in their respective audiences. Many of the former GDR bands have had to reduce their tour schedules and embark on self-financing their CD-productions. They have found that their access to West German audiences has been undermined in certain instances and that band members who previously could make a living by selling records and touring were now forced to take on additional jobs to try to make ends meet. Also, band personnel has been subject to much fluctuation since unification. During the GDR period the bands were like self-contained small businesses with their own equipment, studios, vehicles and booking managers. The permanent members of some of the bands even received regular "salaries" because of their tours. Now, many of these bands rent much of their equipment and vehicles, and band overheard has been reduced substantially. Band members may now work in a variety of different projects and only come together as a band for the recording session. The recording session itself may feature not only members of the original band personnel, but also guests culled from other (largley East German) bands (the new Puhdys CD and the new Pankow CD).

Until the 1980s, the GDR cultural bureaucracy was intent on creating an alternative music sound distinct from that of the West. This strategy was supported by a special group of terms designed to create and control a separate discursive space for popular music produced and consumed in the GDR. Thus, the term rock music was disdained in favor of the term "youth dance music" (Jugendtanzmusik). A disc jockey was called a "recording entertainer" (Schallplattenunterhalter), and a rock band was called a "combo" or a "Kapelle." In the late 1970s and 1980s, the term "GDR Rock" was introduced to help delineate the GDR music on the airwaves and help identify GDR groups in concerts abroad who had obtained travel privileges. Even as late as 1982, punk-influenced New Wave music was officially designated "Neue Tanzmusik," in order to increase the discursive space from its Western counterparts. "GDR rock" usually signalled a certain cooptation into the system for domestic audiences. The sound of GDR rock groups during this period were constrained by institutional concepts which emphasized "melodious" aspects of the songs at the expense of the rhythmic. These views, which ultimately had their roots in racist attitudes about primitivity and depthlessness of African-American rock and roll music, gradually weakened with the advent of the New Wave in the early 1980s. Along with the emergence of the independent scene and the radio show Paroktikum in 1986, GDR groups were also using prominent West German record producers and studios, in addition to greater freedom to experiment with their own sounds in newly-proliferating private studios.

In the face of these radical institutional changes, the music of the three above-mentioned groups, their sound and styles, have barely changed at all. All three groups still maintain their recognizable sounds and thus represent an element of continuity from the pre-unification to the post-unification period, thus anchoring the musical point of reference for all three groups in the GDR period. The music of the Skeptiker retains its punk and hardcore-derived roots reminiscent of its days in opposition to the GDR state, while the music of the Puhdys reminds audiences of the good times enjoyed while growing up in the GDR, but whose time is irrevocably gone, forcing people to the realization that current problems must be tackled. After unification, the term "Ostband" (Eastern Band) was applied to many of the pre-unification groups of "GDR Rock" as a means of pejoratively marking them on the unified Germany market as musically inferior, politically compromised, and culturally backward. The East German bands, however, now have access to the same studios and producers, and potentially the same audiences and the same venues as those in the West. Many of these groups, such as Karat, one of the most prominent GDR soft rock bands (melody-heavy), but also groups like Rockhaus and Pankow, found their previous audiences reduced to a handful of what they previously were. It is therefore hardly surprising that many of the East German bands reject the term "Ostband" as a negative category. They consider it an effort to marginalize their presence on the unified German market. There are, however, a handful of bands from the East who have successfully shed the "Ostband" label, primarily Metal-based groups like the Folk-Metal Inchtabokatables, or the Death Metal band Rammstein and the Skeptiker.

A further feature in the discourse of demarcation is the reproach leveled at East Germans who might want to evaluate any aspect of their lives in GDR in a positive manner as "nostalgia." Most East Germans are happy that the German Democratic Republic and the Cold War have disappeared and would not welcome its return. However, many also refuse to condemn all aspects of their own personal lives under what passed as socialism, citing a higher level of collective responsibility, greater equality and social welfare. In addition, they feel that massive unemployment, particularly among youth and women, cutbacks in social services, drastic rises in housing costs and the cost of living introduced since unification are detrimental to a just and socially responsibile society, and criticize the individualism and consumerist mentality that unification has fostered. I have therefore argued that what has been denounced as nostalgic is in reality an instrument for incorporating the historical past of those in East Germany into the historical memory of the unified German state after 1989. This is based on a reading of Barbero(9), who emphasizes that cultural memory "has nothing to do with nostalgia," but functions, instead, "to give continuity to the ongoing construction of collective identity." Both the discursive construction of the "Ostband," as well as the "nostalgia" complaint are similar devices of marginalization which are a part of the elite exchange undertaken by West German authorities in the East, and can be seen as part of a general strategy to marginalize alternating or competing narratives.


The narratives stances towards Germany contained in these songs highlight the dilemma of the "new imaginings" stimulated after the unification of the Neue Bundesländer with the West German Federal Republic in 1990. These would normally function to "present a vision of ethnic fraternity of elites and masses through a historical drama in which a unified past is uncovered and re-presented…to evoke deeper meanings of collective destiny and community"(10) Several code words in the debate on German identity have found their way into the songs presented here - arrogance as a pejorative interpretation for the takeover of the East by West Germans, for instance - and coincide with a critique voiced by Habermas that the joining of the East to the West happened without a major public debate or consensus on the goals, values and strategies of unification. These songs can therefore be seen as part of an effort after the fact to participate in the public debate and contribute to a civil public in the Habermasian sense. The identification of East Germans with foreigners and their unease with the treatment of foreigners in the newly unified Germany results from analogous processes of marginalization they and their narratives are subject to by the dominant West German state "master narrative." We can conceive of the three songs featured here with Billig(11) as a means of identity formation, i.e., as a way of "talking about the self and community." The narrative stances are also efforts at aligning "disparate experiential tropes" of different sectors of the East German population into a "shared history of the nation," in which the newly unified, and West German dominated state has already "provided the preferred master narrative"(12) against which contested lifecourses are juxtaposed and legitimated. In the marginalization of the East German narratives we may see that "dominant narratives are units of power as well as units of meaning"(13) of the predominant elites in the West over many in the East.

Particularly the Nazi past becomes a problematical focus (not just for intellectuals) in the quest to rediscover and reconstruct the past and try to posit the country within myths of liberation, a golden age, decline and rebirth(14). The songs addressing a problematical Germany reflect the misgivings of Habermas(15) in the reinterpretation of the past as a result of the demise of the GDR: it "stirs up other (italics by JH) pasts, whether we have personal memories of the prehistory or not, including pasts that ought not to serve as models for the future, pasts that shouldn't regain any power over the present." Habermas indicates that people in the East "don't have the feeling that they made a revolution"(16) and because of the collaboration of many of the early newly-elected leaders with the Stasi, the heroic impetus of the turn of events was thwarted, resulting in an unimpressive administrative procedure without democratic dynamic(17), without any heroic rejuvenation. The narratives here illustrate that the past is never unitary and linear, but rather "multi-layered and susceptible of different interpretations"(18). This dilemma of the past as a problematical focus of allegiance and loyalty is reflected in all of the lyrics of the aforementioned songs. If one assumes, with Zetterholm, that national culture "establishes a system of common reference between the contending actors which is a common perception and conceptualization of the world"(19), then even the Skeptiker, who seemingly repudiate a united Germany completely, are a part of the symbolic construction of an East German community within a unified territorial framework.


1. Cf. Jarausch, Seeba, Conadt. P. 56

2. Cf. Jarausch, Seeba, Conradt. P. 55.

3. Cf. David Horrocks and Eva Kolinsky (Eds.) 1996. Turkish Culture in German Society Today. Providence RI: Berghahn Books.

4. Track No. 5, "Deutschland, Deutschland" (3:04), on CD Puhdys. Zeiten ändern sich., PB 33050-2, Dakoda/Zyx. 1994.

5. Track No. 4, "Deutschland, Halts Maul" (2:37), on CD Die Skeptiker Live, RTD 195-1730-2, Our Choice/Rough Trade. 1994.

6. Track No. 13, "Deutschland" on Pankow. Vierer Pack. Buschfunk 0034-2 BF. 1993.

7. See P. 39. Konrad Jarausch, Hinrich C. Seeba, David P. Conradt, 1997. The Presence of the Past. Culture, Opinion, and Identity in Germany, in Konrad H. Jarausch (Ed.) After Unity. Reconfiguring German Identities. Providence RI: Berghahn Books. Vol 2. Modern German Studies. Pp. 25-60.

8. Ibid. P. 48.

9. Jesús Martín-Barbero. 1993. Communication, Culture and Hegemony. London: Sage Publications. P. 184.

10. A.D. Smith. 1986 The Ethnic Origins of Nations. London: Blackwell. P. 173

11. Michael Billig. 1995. Banal Nationalism. Thousand Oaks CA: Sage Publications. P. 60.

12. John Borneman.1992. Belonging in the Two Berlins. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Pp. 37-38.

13. Edward M. Bruner.1986. Experience and its Expression. Introduction. In Victor W. Turner and Edward Bruner (Eds.) The Anthropology of Experience. Urbana-Champaign: University of Illinois Press. P.19.

14. A.D. Smith.1986. The Ethnic Origins of Nations. London: Blackwell. P. 192.

15. Jürgen Habermas. 1994. The Past as Future. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press: P. 37. Interviewed by Michael Haller, Translated and Edited by Max Pensky.

16. Ibid. P. 39.

17. Cf. Habermas 1994. The Past as Future. Pp. 40-41.

18. A.D. Smith 1986. The Ethnic Origins of Nations. London: Blackwell. P. 178.

19. Staffan Zetterholm. 1994. Introduction: Cultural Diversity and Common Policies, in Staffan Zetterholm, (Ed.) National Cultures and European Integration. Exploratory Essays on Cultural Diversity and Common Policies. Oxford UK/Providence USA: Berg. P. 4.