The well-known riff of Deep Purple’s “Smoke on the Water” opens Andreas Dresen’s movie Changing Skins (Raus aus der Haut, 1997). The film opens in a crowded music club where young people are dancing ecstatically, turned on by pulsing rock and roll. This could be a trite depiction of youth culture if it were not located in a country that suppressed this kind of music: the German Democratic Republic (GDR). It is therefore worth reflecting on the social and political controversy in the former East Germany that, finally in the 1970s, permitted the performance of rock music and even imports from the capitalist part of the world. By the late 1970s, different kinds of rock music were not only an integral part of Western youth culture but also commonly heard but not always accepted in the GDR and the Eastern Bloc.
In terms of youth culture and rock music in the East, Kaspar Maase summarizes the 1960s as a “hot phase of conflict-ridden enforcement” (15). In 1965, the SED’s Eleventh Party Plenum banned the “escalation of the beat rhythms” along with nearly an entire year’s film production. Erich Honecker, later party leader and head of state, pointed out that rock music and the “decadent” lifestyle of the beatniks was not in accordance with the goals of the socialist worldview. Adolescents would be hopped up by the music and driven to an excessive way of life. The possibility for bands to perform in public was drastically constrained; young beatniks were forced to cut their hair. The situation escalated when in October 1965 the so-called “beat riot” took place in Leipzig against the stage ban of amateur music groups. The participants were beaten by police and arrested.
In the same year on the other hand, the first Beatles-LP was released in the GDR by the state-owned label Amiga. Though the GDR authorities had tried to establish a counter program against the cultural “imperialism” of Western Europe and the U.S.A., the party could not suppress the possibility of listening to Feindsender (adversary stations) and watching West German TV. Beat and rock music spread all over the GDR and imported records circulated on the black market. The government finally had to accept the fact that rock and roll had become an integral part of youth culture even in the socialist bloc.
At the Eighth SED Congress in 1971, Honecker announced an about-face. The needs of young people – as they were an important part of socialist society – should no longer be ignored. Therefore, music from the West was allowed to be broadcast on radio stations (most popular was the youth station “DT64”), special editions of famous musicians like Jimi Hendrix, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and so on were released, and local bands were allowed again to perform in newly founded music clubs and discotheques.
In 1973, with the establishment of the Committee for Entertainment Music as part of the Culture Ministry and the arrangement of the International Youth Festival in East Berlin, beat...