The ultimate child of Berlin in our opinion is the East Berlin singer songwriter Wolf Biermann. You might never have heard of him, but he has played a big role in East Berlin and GDR history. Like so many singer songwriters in Berlin the Stasi spied on Biermann a lot. But in his case, the Stasi was very persistent. When Wolf Biermann wanted to make a theatre play on the erection of the Berlin Wall they started a extremely large file on him that changed his life and GDR history.
Wolf Biermann was no longer allowed to perform legally, but he kept on singing. He recorded songs at his home at the Chausseestrasse in Mitte and performed at churches. Some people didn’t notice being spied on, but Biermann was not ignorant about it. It even inspired him to write songs about it, like the Stasi ballade:
Menschlich fühl ich mich verbunden
mit den armen Stasi-Hunden
die bei Schnee und Regengüssen
mühsam auf mich achten müssen
die ein Mikrophon einbauten
um zu hören all die lauten
Lieder, Witze, leisen Flüche
auf dem Clo und in der Küche
-Brüder von der Sicherheit
ihr allein kennt all mein Leid
I feel connected/to those poor Stasi lads (literallly: dogs)/who have to watch me/ in the rain and when it snows/ who build in microphones/to hear all the sounds I make/songs, jokes and soft sounds/on the toilet and the kitchen/brothers of security/only you really know me
Banishment Wolf Biermann
But he also sings about how beautiful and raw Berlin is in a lot of songs. Every time Biermann performs, the Stasi is getting more and more agitated about him and they are conspiring at the Stasi headquarters how to get rid of him. Several ideas end up in the bin but in 1976 they found the solution. They give Biermann a visa for West Germany so he can perform in the part of Germany he was born in. His big show is in Cologne and Biermann has quite a bit of success. He is really happy about it. But than the Stasi pull their magic trick out of their secret spy hats. Wolf Biermann is not allowed to go back to the GDR. They banned him from East Berlin and the GDR. He has become ‘ausgeburgert’ as Germans say.
It was the first time the East German government banned someone from their country. And his forced exile put something in motion. A lot of East German writers and intellectuals, like Christa Wolf and Stefan Heym protested against Biermanns banishment from the GDR. When Erich Honecker came into power in 1971 a lot of East Germans thought their country would loosen up a bit, but those high hopes were smashed to pieces when the government banished Biermann. They wrote a letter of protest to the East German government. Some of them got house arrest. And not only writers protested, but ‘normal’ citizens as well. Some wrote ‘Biermann’ on the road for several kilometers long. It was a brave thing to do, because who protested in public got arrested or spied on. A lot of people were either put in prison, or forced out of the country. In that way the GDR lost a lot of talented creative writers and people. Like writer Jurgen Fuchs and actress and former lover of Biermann, Eva Maria Hagen. She and her daughter, the soon to be famous singer Nina Hagen left the GDR as well. The people who stayed and had protested were often no longer able to perform, write, act or sing.
The ausburgerung of Wolf Biermann for a lot of people the GDR showing its grim face. Wolf Biermann showed this by what happened to him, but of course, he had rather not. He managed to build a new life in West Germany by singing about life, but he always longed for East Berlin. But he already knew that if he were ever able to get back, things would never be the same: in his song ‘A Paris’ he sings:
Mit Pariser Luft im Koffer/ Werde ich dann nach Hause fahren/Rüber! In die DDR/An der Grenze-pas de probleme-/Durch! Klar, ohne Passkontrolle!/Und ich werde wie besoffen/Durch vertraute Strassen rennen/Aber keiner wird mich kennen/Und kein Schwanz kann mich noch brauchen/Und dann bin ich ganz am Ziel/Dann beginnt erst mein Exil
It’s about the borders opening up, and him joyfully running through the GDR streets. But than he realizes nobody knows him on his beloved streets, and nobody needs him. Only than, he is exile is complete.
If you cross the Chaussee Strasse 131, think of Biermann. This is were he recorded his famous album with the same name that set all this in motion. His songs and forced exile sparked the resistance of East Germans who longed for a better life without being spied on.