Punks in Prenzlauer Berg
East Berlin was grey, battered, people living there were sad, depressed and wore depressing clothes. Those are the cliches you always here about the GDR if people who grew up in Western Europe or the United States. And although a lot of cliches might hide some truth in them, we would also like to show you a different part of East Berlin that was not grey, desperate, colorless or boring: the Punks in Prenzlauer Berg.
East Berlin punks
Being Punk was not easy in East Germany in the late seventies and eighties, but being a Punk in East Berlin might have even been harder. Berlin was the main city of East Germany and all eyes were on the capital. Punks were considered one of the main enemies of the state, simply because of their favorite motto: no future. The East German government did everything in their power to make the best future for its people. And suddenly a group of young people with their weird hair straight up like a rooster in all the colors of the rainbow, there clothes torn and full of anarchistic signs scream they don’t believe in that future.
Small minded society
In other countries being punk and the motto ‘no future’ referred to not having a job, little money and being against the way small minded society wanted you to behave. Punks in Berlin did have a job, but still, they had no future. They could not be who they wanted to be. Being a punk in East Germany was more a political statement. Even if the East German punks didn’t mean it that way, society did.
Punks mostly just wanted to break out of society and be treated as an individual. They wanted to stand out in the crowd by dressing up differently. In East Berlin there were simply no stores where they could buy punk clothes, so the punks tried to copy the clothing style they saw other punks wear in Western magazines. They bought jeans, tore them up and sprayed or painted their leather jackets with the anarchistic A. And if they couldn’t find clothes in a store or didn’t have any money, they robbed their fellow punks who came to sightsee in Berlin.
Punks at Alex
Like all Berliners punks had the typical Berliner Schnauze and attitude, but they learned to be fast and furious because people liked beating them up for the way they looked. They were constantly watched, had their ID’s checked or were arrested. At Alexanderplatz, one of their favorite hang out spots, camera’s were placed so the Stasi could watch them all the time. But still they went to their local bar there, called Tute.
Although punks liked to be treated as individuals, the only way they could be punk is if they were together. Aggressive Berliners didn’t dare beating them up if they were with a bunch of punks. They had fun at Kulturpark Planterwald and performed at churches, such as the Zionskirche. They made tapes of their music. Their bands were called Planlos, Bandsalat, Betonromantik and Rosa Extra, to name a few. The songs were not very happy, of course. They sang and screamed about the way they were treated and about society forcing them to be someone they didn’t want to be. Some lines: “Smog und Ruß, wohin ich komm, Langeweile gebaut aus Beton“ and “Wenn ich laut denke, dann bist du da, wo ist der Monitor hinter der Kamera?” It is about being bored and about being watched by camera’s.
They were not the best playing musicians in the world. Some of them had never ever touched an instrument before they sang in a punk band. But none of that really mattered. At those informal party’s they could sing, pogo and dance wildly. And if they needed new inspiration, they send their West German grannies to the record store in West Berlin to buy records for them.
Squatted punk houses
Most punks lived in Prenzlauer Berg. They even squatted houses over there. The first punk in East Berlin was called ‘major’ and she was a girl. Other punks hang out at her flat and she got arrested soon after that because the neighbors didn’t like it. One of these squatted houses was at Lychenerstrasse 5. Other squatted houses were at the Raumerstrasse.
The GDR government wanted to solve the ‘punk problem’. They arrested more and more punks and let spies infiltrate the groups. A lot of punks eventually went to West Berlin, because life became to tough in East Germany. But they always stayed punks and true individuals, always criticizing small minded society. So if you walk along the streets of Prenzlauer Berg and sit in a cafe at the Lychener and Raumerstrasse, remember the punks that fought for a better future on these streets