Music History

How East Germany Tried to Fight Back Against Decadent Rock’n’Roll

The Commies who ran Eastern Europe were terrified of rock’n’roll. Rebellion of any kind was not only to be discouraged but stamped out and killed with fire. Authorities reacted with everything from counter-propaganda to outright censorship. None of it worked, of course, and the music was able to filter its way from the Iron Curtain in Europe to the Pacific in the east.

The Stasi, the feared East German secret police, did their best to counter this cultural invasion with what in retrospective seems pretty bizarre. This is from the BBC.

When music captures the spirit of freedom it can cross any border. In 1961, Communist East Germany built a wall across Berlin, and tried to seal itself off from the West. But new research shows how concrete, barbed wire and a huge effort by the secret police, the Stasi, failed to silence the seductive beat of rock and roll and punk.

The rise of Beatlemania in the 1960s brought a scathing response from Walter Ulbricht, the leader of the German Democratic Republic (GDR).

“Do we really have to copy all the rubbish that comes from the West… with all the monotony of their ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah,'” he sneered during one of his turgid speeches to the Communist Party faithful.

He was 70 years old and in some ways his comments weren’t so different from those of many Western politicians, says Dagmar Hovestaedt, a senior figure at the BStU, the organisation investigating the archives of the East German secret police, the Stasi.

“The older generation, the war generation, was aghast at what youth was doing,” she says.

But for East Germany’s leaders, much more was at stake. They feared that love of Western music would lead to love of Western politics. So they desperately tried to develop “their own version of cool youth culture”.

There were state-planned dance steps, such as the Lipsi, an attempt to prevent the rise of rock and roll dancing. There was also a ludicrous and much ignored quota system restricting how much Western music could be played at parties. But “you can’t organise a youth culture,” Hovestaedt says. “That’s not how it works.”

Which is why many young East Germans remained glued to their radios, trying to catch the latest tunes beamed in by Western stations, and the Stasi did what it could to stop them.

This is fascinating stuff. Keep reading.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

Alan Cross has 38341 posts and counting. See all posts by Alan Cross

Let us know what you think!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.