An Introduction to German Music

Last week, my ramblings about Polish music consisted of pretty much everything I had come to know and like over the last few years. With German music, it’s much harder to condense everything into a handy guide. Music has always been a big part of my life, and although I came to love Britpop and all things English-speaking, there is no denying that German music formed my understanding of different times and genres. This can never be a complete guide because there are millions of songs I know, so let’s talk about a few highlights.

1. As soon as you go abroad and admit you’re German, someone will ask you if you like Rammstein. I don’t. But hey, they are one of our biggest exports.

The further east your conversation partner comes from, the more popular this kind of thing was in their country:

Noooooo. Just noooo.

2. There’s not much to say about classical music, because the Germans did have a monopoly on that, and everybody knows. For every dull Wagner, though, there is a slightly lesser known Brahms or a Schumann. This is lovely and set to poems from one of our greatest writers, Heinrich Heine:

3. Between the wars, when Germany was still not all that unpopular, its singers were proper stars. Lale Andersen and Marlene Dietrich are the two most famous female singers of that time. Here’s Dietrich singing Andersen’s most famous song:

This is still immensely popular in Germany: The Comedian Harmonists, an all-male harmony ensemble with cute, witty songs. This one is about a cactus, and yes, we learned and sang it in high school music lessons.

4. In the GDR, many songwriters dared to criticize the political system, and many were exiled. Wolf Biermann is the most famous of those, although the quieter Gerhard Schöne has had a more profound impact on the life of the younger generation. His songs for children are still popular in East Germany today. His other work was no less important in the struggle for freedom in the GDR. Here’s a lovely one, entitled “The Shop”: The narrator dreams of a shop that promises to sell anything he wishes for, but the shopkeeper reacts to requests for peace and fairness by saying, “I don’t sell fruit, just the seed.”

The Puhdys became the most popular East German band when they released this song as the title track to the very popular movie “The Legend of Paul and Paula”:

5. Then, the 80s. Germany had its very own, peculiar movement called “Neue Deutsche Welle,” which featured songs like this:

Does. Not. Compute.

Also, we gave this to you, world!

You’re welcome. No, seriously, keep it. By all means.

6. In the 90s, when I got bored with my Beatles albums and consciously started listening to modern music, German-speaking bands had a hard time between all the amazing stuff that came from elsewhere, but a few young bands managed to become big stars. Die Fantastischen Vier made clever Hip Hop and are still around, as are Die Ärzte, Die Prinzen, and Sportfreunde Stiller. My favourite song of the lot is this one by the fabulous Fettes Brot. That album was called “Dumb in one eye,” which still makes me giggle.

7. More recently, although there is no quota for German-speaking music on the radio, things haven’t been looking so bad for home-grown music. There are a whole lot of new bands, as well as a few veterans like Die Toten Hosen. I was never really interested in them and know next to nothing about current German music, but I actually quite like this:

Check out the lyrics here.

It’s hard to keep up with the culture of a country you no longer live in, so I have to rely on word of mouth or snippets heard in supermarkets to find out about the German music scene. Is there anything German that you have come to like? Anything that surprised you? Let me know in the comments!

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