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From the February 2002 issue of World Press Review (VOL. 49, No. 2)

Berlin's Bad Boy

Wolf Biermann


Andrew Yurkovsky
Senior Editor

In the early 1970s, East and West Germany achieved a wary truce, all but recognizing each other’s legitimacy. Wolf Biermann was among the victims of the backlash that followed in the East.

The singer-songwriter was already under scrutiny because of his noncomformist politics. While on a tour of West Germany in 1976, he was stripped of his East German citizenship. His banishment launched an exodus of East German intellectuals, who bridled at the constraints imposed by the policy of ideological “delimitation.”

Biermann’s fall was especially dramatic because of his leftist pedigree. The son of a communist killed by the Nazis, he moved from Hamburg to East Germany in 1953, enjoying a privileged place from which to express himself.

In one song, he inveighed his communist critics: “You want me to sing about the happiness of the new era, but you have become deaf / Create more happiness in reality, then you won’t need the substitute of my songs.”

Already in the 1960s, authorities were considering how to silence Biermann. According to Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ), a communist party report recommended that he be banned from Berlin or given a job.

Erich Honecker, then in charge of security, scrawled on the document: “Not possible. Not expedient! EH.” Some 10 years passed before authorities deemed Biermann’s exile expedient. Yet they underestimated his popularity. Jochen Staadt, writing in FAZ, noted that many ordinary citizens, risking imprisonment, protested the singer’s banishment. Their display of courage was a “wonderful event in the land of poets and thinkers.”

In November 2001, Biermann marked the 25th anniversary of his excommunication with a concert at the Berliner Ensemble theater—a venue founded by his mentor, Bertolt Brecht.


 
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