ABSTRACT

From the 1960s the German Democratic Republic and the Federal Republic of Germany enjoyed thriving cultures in political song, mostly inspired by the ideological conflict of the Cold War. Despite the vastly contrasting natures of the political systems, many of the most prominent singers of East and West Germany during the 1960s and early 1970s were—with admittedly different agendas and to varying extents—preoccupied with the notion of the communist utopia. In West Germany this began with the young singers of the early 1960s who reacted to the entrenched conservatism of the ‘Economic Miracle’ by reinvigorating the lost tradition of socially critical German songs banned under the Nazis. By the student movement of the late 1960s, singers such as Franz Josef Degenhardt were embracing a militant Marxist stance against capitalism. In the GDR, where subversive song was outlawed, Wolf Biermann incurred an eleven-year ban from 1965 to 1976 for singing about how the Stalinist practices of the state fell far short of the utopian ideal. On the other hand, the ideologically infiltrated singing group, Oktoberklub, extolled the virtues of the GDR as if this contradiction between ideal and reality did not exist. By the 1980s, however, political song in both states reflected the fracturing of the belief in a communist utopia, and by the time of unification it had become marginalised in German culture. It is from this post-utopian perspective that we reassess the significance of the genre during the Cold War.