Sunday, June 8, 2008

"Casablanca" East German Rock and Cultural Boundaries

Along with the Puhdys, Karat and Silly, City is one of the most famous rock bands from the former East Germany. Founded in 1972, it went through name and lineup changes. It started up as City Band Berlin , then it became City Rock Band. Eventuallly it settled on its current name of "City.
In order to be permitted to perform in the former East Germany, one needed to go through a sort of security clearance, taking a course in Marxist ideology and being liscenced to perform, first at small events and eventually in recording studios. Although it achieved critical acclaim in both Germanies they did not achieve the rare distinction of touring in the West.
I remember a poetic moment when visiting East Berlin back in 1973. At a news stand I picked up a copy of Neues Deutschland, which like Pravda was the official newspaper of the ruling party, the Socialist Unity Party (SED). I was awed to see the daunting customs gauntlet at Friedrichstrasse and the Berlin Wall, which included mine fields and a free fire zone. When looking at the weather report, it occurred to me that the report was also good for West Berlin as well. The other odd sight was rabbits munching on grass in the free fire zone.
There is a certain level of existence at which walls are not an obstacle. There is a manner of living in which fortified boundaries and political divisions have no reality.
" Casablanca" is a song by "City" which is about the movie of the same name which starred Humphrey Bogart back in the 1940's. The movie includes some English words as well as a sound track taken from the original movie. The dream like mix between English and German as well as the mix of the 1940's with 1980's classic rock reminds me of the common weather reports on both sides of the wall, as well as the birds flying over it. The common elements in music are another more human dimension of transcending boundaries. They are a reminder that not all can be predicted by market research. Not all human yearnings can be shoehorned into a five year plan. Most interesting in art from East Germany is the tightrope walk between staying on the right side of the regime and maintaining one's own integrity.
Not surprisingly, there has been for some time a cultural trend known as "Ostalgie", or nostalgia for the east. At the core of this cultural trend is the realisation that some good came of the forty year disaster of communist rule. The rock bands of East Germany have earned the respect of music critics all across the now united Germany as well as Europe. Both students of German and those not fazed by language bariers would do well to give this genre of German rock their attention.
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Please click above to listen to "Casablanca" by "City"
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