An Oral History of Electronic Music in East Germany

2 posts


Reinhard Lakomy: Like everyone else, I used to secretly watch West German TV, and one day in the mid-’70s I saw Tangerine Dream in a TV show, playing in a castle in England. I’d never heard sounds or rhythms or sequences like that before. I was totally speechless! In 1980, Tangerine Dream then paved the way for electronic music in East Germany with their concert at the Palast der Republik . They even put on a laser show, an absolute novelty here. And no one here had ever experienced anything like their sound system before either. But that wasn’t just new here but in the West, too. Overnight, that kind of music became incredibly popular.

Paule Fuchs (Pond): Well, Tangerine Dream didn’t have any lyrics, so the officials reckoned their music was unpolitical. I think that was one of the reasons why they were allowed to perform in East Germany. None of the officials felt there was any danger, which was also an advantage for me personally because I never had to make any statements or justify myself. Other bands had to put up with lots of official lecturing and change loads of their lyrics, but as an electronic band you were spared because there were no lyrics. Before that, we as Pond had played so-called bombastic rock: Emerson, Lake and Palmer; King Crimson; Yes; and so on. But everyone got tired of it after a couple of years. I once saw a picture of Klaus Schulze somewhere, of him sitting on the ground in his spacesuit with a helmet on, surrounded by masses of keyboards. I thought, “Wow, that’s what we’re gonna do!”

Frank Fehse (Key): I wanted to make music without the need for a drummer, vocalist or guitarist. But not necessarily something like Pond or Lakomy. I guess you could call what we did with these electronic instruments “pop music.” Outside the rehearsal room, live, we saw the audience really enjoyed it too, because it was very rhythmical and had phrases you could relate to, not just this dreamy, ambient, losing-yourself-in-sound sort of thing.


Jan Bilk (Servi): Back then we were a church band. We always performed at church congregations at the weekend where we played meditative electronic music, and we also accompanied the service on Sunday mornings. So we had to play very quietly, without a drummer. Well, we didn’t want little old grannies keeling over. For that reason, and also because at some point we lacked the energy to bother about lyrics, as of 1982 we started playing purely instrumental electronic music. At Christmas in 1984, I remember it well, we went to an Intershop and bought ourselves the Amiga version of [Jean Michel] Jarre’s Equinoxe from the money we got out of the collection after the service.

Hans-Hasso-Stamer: What impressed me most was the technical side of the equipment. Fellow musicians I mentioned this to said: “Are you nuts? You need tons of equipment to make electronic music!” But I thought: In that case, start small. It doesn’t have to sound like Equinoxe from day one. So I began with pop songs, but without any vocals.

Jan Bilk (Servi): All the state combines in East Germany had to contribute to the production of consumer goods. Some pretty strange concoctions came out of that: for example, the mechanical engineers and machinery builders in Cottbus produced a synthesizer, the Tiracon V6 . The only problem was that they always lacked various components, so they didn’t have any chips for the synthesizer. But somehow they got hold of some from Robotron, who normally produced computers and portable radios, and had them sent to Cottbus.

Rainer Oleak: There wasn’t really any equipment that was produced in East Germany and you could actually use. Sure, we had our own synthesizers, but it was pretty tedious working with them. Well, for live gigs you had to cart them from A to B, and they didn’t like that at all. Something would invariably break. So you had to smuggle equipment into the country or get someone to smuggle it in for you. Everyone knew that, and everyone did it.


Paule Fuchs (Pond): Getting hold of equipment was quite an ordeal. For a start, you had to earn loads of money to be able to afford stuff from the West. Then this money had to be “planed,” exchanged into West German marks. That was prohibited, and if you got caught you ended up in prison. The exchange rate on the black market was usually 1:6 or 1:7, but sometimes you only got 1:10. On top of that, you also needed someone to bring the gear across the border. Most people charged a hell of a lot for that, so you’d end up paying up to 40,000 East German marks for a synthesizer. Just to put that into perspective: my mother earned 400 marks a month. It was totally out of proportion. But I made other sacrifices: I only had a single pair of jeans, the rest of my money all went into buying equipment.

Julius Krebs: Every East German musician was chasing after West German marks like the devil after souls. Not with the intention of buying a pair of jeans but to get hold of new gear. The next problem was getting it into the country. A member of one of my former bands was married to a Chinese woman. Her passport allowed her to travel to West Berlin whenever she wanted, and as a foreigner different customs regulations applied to her. Between the two of them, they imported masses of equipment into East Germany. He probably became a millionaire just from doing that.

Hans-Hasso Stamer: I once gave this guy – you’d probably call someone like that a dealer today – 13,000 East German marks and then didn’t hear from him again for ages. Of course I was really worried the money was gone. In winter I was told to come to a certain place and he appeared with a Yamaha keyboard under his arm. It was hair-raising!

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