(14 MP3s and 3 videos below the fold)
Before I start with the real post, let me first say that I wish that Dance Dance Revolution and Double Density RAM had never existed.
It is a well-known but yet unexplained fact that all important events in history happen in the fall. Case in point is the German Democratic Republic (GDR), founded in October 1949 (a few days after the People's Republic of China), and dissolved in October 1990, right before its 41st anniversary. It was a short-lived experiment in mixing socialism, funny dialects, and a special German brand of anal retentiveness. Looking at the cultural and artistic output, I can only say that it was very successful. Put down your coffee and enjoy some of the aural and visual marvels of East Germany.
It all started out swimmingly (thanks Andy Breckman, I love that word) in 1949 with the hymn "Stalin, Freund, Genosse" (MP3, "Stalin, Friend, Comrade") to an obscure mustachioed fellow from Georgia, Russia. This version is sung by workers from Berlin who were lead to happiness and freedom by Stalin, the friend of humankind.
Just one year later Ernst Busch wrote one of the greatest political songs of all time, "Die Partei hat immer recht" (MP3, "The party is always right"). East Germans were excited that they were finally ruled by a party which was always right, not one which was always wrong. And even better, this perfect party was really the only one that mattered, so there was no unproductive partisan bickering. After all, if you are always right, opposition becomes obsolete.
On August 13, 1961, the GDR started building the antifascist protective barrier, otherwise known as the Berlin Wall. It was a time of celebration, singing, and dancing. To give you just one example, here is an exuberant waltz by Günther Haack and the Kurt Beyer Orchestra called "Die 13" (MP3, "The 13").
During the 60s, beat music gained popularity in East Germany, and soon young people started playing it themselves. Fortunately, the party in its infinite wisdom saw the decadence and dangers of western musical influences and put a stop to it in 1965. The famous quote of head of state Walter Ulbricht about the "monotony of the yeah yeah yeah" can be heard in the intro of an IFA Wartburg song (MP3) from this older post of mine. As a counter-movement the government launched the "Singebewegung" (singing movement), and the most popular band formed as part of this was the Oktoberklub. Here is a recording of their song "Überlegung" (MP3, "Reasoning") with singer Elke Bitterhof. The music is swinging, and the lyrics are very inspirational, encouraging people to view things in the bigger picture, and to report political dissidents to the authorities. Even if they are your best friends. It is for a greater good after all.
Subversive elements of society continued playing funk, soul, beat, and rock'n'roll, and sometimes they were even successful in releasing recordings on Amiga, the East German record label. Here are two funky instrumentals: The Orchestra W. Kubiczek with "Tentakel" (MP3), and the Orchestra Günter Gollasch with a cover version of "House of the Rising Sun" (MP3). If you want more of this, hunt down the "Amiga A Go-Go" compilations.
We should not forget that Nina Hagen started her musical career in the GDR. While better known for the music she recorded after moving to West Berlin, she had already been touring and recording in East Germany for a while before. Her charming song "Du hast den Farbfilm vergessen" (MP3, "You forgot the color film"), recorded with the band "Automobil", should be part of every Nina Hagen collection.
Since nearly all companies in the GDR were state-owned, it is not quite clear why they bothered producing commercials at all. But we should all be thankful that they did. Here is one commercial for the legendary Trabant car (WMV video, 1.8 MB), in which you can see that it fits 4 space aliens with helmets. The other car brand, Wartburg, was much better, but it was harder to get and more expensive. Here (WMV video, 1.9 MB) you can see that it had room for 57 soccer balls in the trunk. Want more? Take this 38 minute compilation (WMV video, 45 MB) of East German commercials from the 60s, called "Flotter Osten". It is more fun if you know German, but I am sure that you will enjoy it even if you don't understand the language. The fashion, music, and general visuals are priceless.
East Germany also produced its very own Western and Sci-Fi movies, and the German Allscore label recently issued some great soundtrack compilations. Here are a few samples from the Kosmos release, which contains songs and spoken word snippets from East German space operas, mostly compositions by Karl-Ernst Sasse and Günther Fischer: "Kosmos" (MP3), "Wir rufen Luna 3" (MP3, "Hailing Luna 3"), "Raum Orgel" (MP3, "Space Organ"), and Sounds and Dialogues (MP3). I only wish that Sasse would get the recognition he deserves, his tracks are weird and inventive, excellent film music.
There is one point where East Germany beat West Germany without doubt. (No, I don't mean sports. Yes, they always got more olympic medals, but who gives a fuck? I am talking about things that matter.) They both had the "Sandmännchen", a bedtime TV program for children, and the socialist version was just much better. So why not throw in the theme music for this show, a good way to end this post: Here you have it, both the intro (MP3) and the outro (MP3). Good night, folks!