Since the early 1950s, the East German leadership rejected the Anglo-American imperialist mass culture including its musical influences (Kirchenwitz 7). Western pop culture was seen as class enemy. Institutions monitored youth groups who met to listen to rock music and drank a lot of alcohol; this way of life was regarded as “decadent” and not exemplary. The majority of people rejected such teenage behavior since it offended values such as decency, order and tidiness (Maase 12-3). The problem of the youth was not necessarily the Nazi past of their parents, but the continuous dogmatism of parents, teachers and the ruling party in East Germany, the Socialist Unity Party of Germany (SED). This supported the development of a cultural milieu, which was against the ordinary beliefs of the political elite (Kirchenwitz 6). The following paper will cover these emerging subcultures during the 1970s in connection with musical influences coming from the West. It will identify popular East German bands and explain the conflict between youth interest and public claims. Furthermore, the essay will describe the overall setting of the German Democratic Republic in order to increase the value of comprehension and understanding in today’s totally different world and time.
The East German youth culture was very much dependent on the SED’s changes of policy, but the idea of distance from the guidelines of the state became increasingly important. The state wanted to maintain traditional values of folk culture such as the celebration of work as the center of every citizen’s life and important part of the development of one’s identity and personality. Therefore, pop culture could not be accepted since it implied spontaneous leisure activities, thereby negatively infiltrating the political and ideological system (Maase 12). In order to secure the children’s upbringing according to socialist standards, the youth was, figuratively speaking, always accompanied by the state in kindergarten, school and mass organizations such as the Freie Deutsche Jugend (FDJ/Free German Youth) or the Junge Pioniere (Young Pioneers). Individual interests and commitment, which were not consistent with the state’s guidelines, were disliked and therefore undermined by the state. Dancing to the Rolling Stones, for example, was seen as a form of immorality as well as alienation of socialism. Here, the East German government did not distinguish between American or British influences (Poiger 21). Western bands allegedly destroyed morals and promoted violence and sexual appetite (BStU). A demonstrative example for the state’s oppression is the Beat revolt. After the popular beat band The Butlers had been prohibited, two teenagers printed leaflets, calling to participate in a protest march. The East German police was alarmed immediately and interrogated many people; thereby advertising the march even more. On October 31, 1965, more than 2000 people gathered in Leipzig, East Germany, either to protest the ban on approximately fifty amateur beat bands, or simply out of curiosity. Although the crowd did not show any banners or make noise, they refused leaving the location. The police soon started hitting them with clubs and arrested 267 people. Later, some were sentenced to forced labor (Maase 10, “BStU Regionalgeschichten”).
However, the number of adolescents listening to Western music and adapting Western styles of fashion and dancing increased despite the construction of the Wall and public oppression. Nonetheless, many young people who were interested in Western styles did not necessarily reject the political system or the state they were living in; they often remained loyal to the GDR (Maase 13). By the 1970s, the SED tended toward “peaceful coexistence” with the anti-socialist youth, depending on the youth’s appearance and integration in society. The SED expanded leisure activities more and more. There were now more clubs, discotheques, music programs on TV as well as concerts, for example (Maase 14). However, sixty percent of songs had to come from East Germany. Western records and audio tapes then became rare and expensive on black markets. Often, young people sat in front of their radios for hours in order to record Western songs.