Academic journal article German Quarterly

Protest Song in East and West Germany since the 1960s

Academic journal article German Quarterly

Protest Song in East and West Germany since the 1960s

Article excerpt

Robb, David, ed. Protest Song in East and West Germany since the 1960s. Rochester: Camden House, 2007. 256 pp. $75.00 hardcover.

In matters of political culture, East and West Germany are generally considered two separate worlds. Politically engaged art from the Federal Republic is rarely discussed in tandem with its counterpart from the communist GDR. David Robb's volume demonstrates persuasively that a comprehensive study can offer truly surprising and illuminating insights. While acknowledging the obvious differences between political protest songs in East and West, the nine chronologically arranged essays bring to light above all unexpected simultaneities, interconnections, and collaborations. Herein lies the merit of this collection.

The two opening chapters by David Robb provide a historical contextualization of contemporary political song. The contemporary tradition is linked to two pivotal antecedents: the revolutionary songs of the Vormärz years and 1848, and the 1920s tradition of Brecht, Eisler, and Erich Mühsam. Both the 1848 and the Weimar Republic songs provided a crucial point of reference for younger singers during the 1960s, '70s and '80s and were cited and appropriated extensively. Subsequent chapters trace the contemporary trajectory of German protest song through exemplary artists and events, including Wolf Biermann, Franz Josef Degenhardt, Peter Rohland, Dieter Süverkrüp, Konstantin Wecker, the Burg Waldeck festivals, the folk and Liedermacher scenes, Singebewegung, and Liedertheater.

Wolf Biermann is perhaps the best-known and most thoroughly studied political singer of the last half-century. Peter Thompson discusses his songs against the backdrop of his lifelong quest for Heimat. He gives considerable room to Biermann's oeuvre in recent decades, thus adding interesting facets to the better-known earlier Biermann of the '60s and 70s. Thompson stresses a gradual transition in Biermann's songs horn Heimat defined in terms of grand political narratives to Heimat as a place of familial origin. While many of the early songs express Biermann's longing for a utopian socialist community, his later songs-especially since the 1990s-increasingly explore his own, partly Jewish family history. …

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