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10.23.2023: German Peer Tutor Dani Writes About The East German Punk Scene

German tutor Dani Writes about the East German Punk Scene. Pictured are several photographs of punks and their activity from the 1970s to the 1980s

The East German punk scene is like no other, and their revolution keeps me awake at night, just wondering where their bravery and strength came from, how that raw force turned into the fall of the Berlin Wall; longing for more of their music to be released, knowing that most of it was lost to time, but I’m getting ahead of myself. First, it is important to understand the setting of the East German punk scene. After the second world war, Germany was split up between the allied powers, with the Soviet Union getting control of the eastern block of Germany and Berlin. The Western European punk scene began to boom in the 1970’s, and, with difficulties accessing western media, the east German punk scene really took off in the late 1970’s and hit their peak years in the 1980’s, which is what I will be exploring. We should start our story with the birth of punk rock, if that is even possible.

The true beginning of punk is difficult to narrow down and highly debated, so, for the sake of this examination, we will go with Sex Pistols (UK) as being the most well known punk band in the UK. I chose Sex Pistols because they are mentioned in almost every interview or article written about the East German punks– it’s where most of the DDR punks got their inspiration from, as American music was likely hard to come by. It was hard enough for punks in the DDR to get music from Western Europe– most punks asked their grannies to bring records from West Berlin over the border or smuggled their records in from Bulgaria between the train doors. With their smuggled music, East Germans were able to hear this music and became enamored with it. They wanted their own music; inspired by the rebellion and freedom the music gave them, as that’s what punk was: freedom (Wünsch).

East German punks were in a peculiar position when compared to western punks. East Germans, you see, “had their futures mapped out for them” and wanted nothing more than to choose their own path in life (Wünsch). They could not understand the western punks’ complaints of no future, because East Germans saw democracy as freedom– considering they were living under a fascist state– whereas western punks saw anarchy as freedom. Thus, the East German punk scene grew DIY bands that sparked their own resistance.

Being a punk in East Germany was, in a sense, terrifying; while also being exciting and compelling– it was a completely encompassing way of life. East German punks fought against their planned-out life; much like their western/UK counterparts, they cut their hair, dyed it with ink, and stuck it up with soap. They pierced themselves with safety pins and ripped up their imported jeans or leather jackets. Their band names often reflect their rejection of Soviet society: Namenlos (nameless), Planlos (aimless), and Wutanfall (tantrum) being great examples of their straightforward take (Wünsch). This all sounds exciting, right? Going to shows, dyeing your hair, getting safety pin piercings, wearing ripped clothes– honestly, most of these things describe me and all of my friend’s weekend activities– but there was a real danger to being an East German punk in the early 1980’s.

The Stasi, the secret police force of the DDR, hated the punks. They considered punks enemy number one, in some ways, and– if we’re being honest– there was some good reason for the Stasi to fear the punks. The punk movement spread radical ideas of freedom and tearing down the system. Punks did not strive for reform, but complete liberation from the DDR, as shown by one of my favorite band’s name– DDR Terrorstaat (DDR terror state). In 1988, to harold the validity of the punks’ social activism, the Stasi called an anarcho-punk band The Church from Below as “the most threatening activist group in the country” (Welsh). Their threat was so intense that the Stasi persecuted the punks, “subjecting them to harassment, imprisonment, and forced military service to quash dissent” (Wyatt). Not only that, but the Stasi also teamed up with the K1– the criminal police’s political unit– to infiltrate and destroy the punk scene. They implemented “a blanket ban on punks in bars, cafes, restaurants, and youth clubs” and intensely interrogated or jailed anyone who even looked like a punk (The Guardian). This ban led punks to team up with an unusual ally– Protestant churches. The Protestant churches allowed punks to play gigs in their community rooms because the Stasi would not raid these shows, and the churches were not fans of the Soviet Union’s negative view of religion. Moreover, “these churches believed that by providing a platform for punk bands to perform, they could help to foster meaningful dialogue about the state’s oppressive regime,” and they were correct (Wyatt).

Punk gigs allowed for free discourse of new social ideas and the radicalization of this generation away from the Soviet Union’s teachings, strengthening their goal to tear down the DDR, and, in a sense, they completed their goal with the fall of the Berlin Wall. Of course, the punks were just one group of the many political activist groups in East Germany that fought against the Soviet Union; as tons of people came together to fight. However, that does not change the fact that the Stasi saw “punk as the single-biggest youth problem” in 1989, and they were absolutely correct (Welsh).

Most of the East German punk bands stopped making music when the Berlin Wall fell, as they saw their goal was achieved. Other bands broke up due to the Stasi infiltration of the scene and the rampant paranoia. Many punks, unfortunately, killed themselves due to the harsh positions they lived in. But, without this fierce movement, the Berlin Wall might not have been torn down when it was. The youth needed an outlet to express themselves and fight the system, an outlet to feel free, and that was accomplished through punk. While Berlin might now be seen as the techno center; the punk spirit continues to be embedded within the city’s DNA– all of Germany’s DNA. The punk spirit that possessed these East Germans still exists within the punk scene, and the fight for ultimate freedom still continues for punks globally. If you read something that resonates with you, or if you just want to check out some wild music, the compilation album “Too Much Future: Punkrock GDR 1980-1989” is a great place to start.

Wünsch, Silke. “What It Meant to Be Punk in the GDR.” Dw.Com, Deutsche Welle, 8 Nov. 2019,

Image source: Catherine Phelan,

Image source: Clare Welsh,

Welsh, Clare. “The East German Punks who helped bring down the Berlin Wall.”, Dazed, 7 Nov. 2019,

Wyatt, Callum. “The Unlikely Alliance: GDR Punks and Churches.”, Punktation, 29 April, 2023,

No listed author. “Punk persecution: How East Germany cracked down on alternative lifestyles – in pictures.”, The Guardian, 5 Nov. 2019,

Erik Christopher,

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