1968 in the East – why should we be concerned with the Federal Republic?

Lutz Kirchenwitz has a doctor’s degree in Cultural Sciences and is the head of the “Lied und soziale Bewegungen” (Song and Social Movements) society in Berlin. He is particularly dealing with the Singebewegung (Singing movement) in the GDR.
by Admin (13 Jan 2016)

Lutz Kirchenwitz: 1968 im Osten – was ging uns die Bundesrepublik an? in: APuZ 45/2003, (accessed on 04.01.16).

Lutz Kirchenwitz has a doctor’s degree in Cultural Sciences and is the head of the “Lied und soziale Bewegungen” (Song and Social Movements) society in Berlin. He is particularly dealing with the Singebewegung (Singing movement) in the GDR.

This is also why he is focusing on the musical movement during the sixties in the GDR. In the beginning of the article, the author is bringing up the argument that the youth cultures of the GDR and the German Federal Republic  were entirely different on the one hand, but, on the other, also had quite a few things in common. He states that there had not been THE one and only generation of 1968 which protested against its parents and the Nazi-history, which was kept in complete silence at the time. For the parallel generation in the GDR, socialism was a matter of course. Being committed to the leftist culture of civil protest, people were hoping for more cultural openness and diversity and were pursuing a change of the current circumstances.

The author is furthermore pointing to the fact that the differences between the youth in the GDR and the generation of 1968 have already been examined scientifically on a number of occasions. However, Kirchenwitz picks up an argument by Dietrich Mühlberg that the generation of the Hitlerjungen and Aufbau (Hitler boys and buildup) of the 1960s were very comparable to the hippie generation of the Western world. In the GDR, however, the movements were not necessarily about a cultural revolution but rather about the establishment of a new cultural milieu.

For the author, this cultural milieu is manifested in the Singebewegung of the GDR. Kirchewitz explains that there was not only a newly expressed attitude to life but also a newly developing musical culture of civil protest which was combining elements of popular music with those of traditional folk songs. This musical culture of civil protest found its way to Europe from the social rights movements of African-Americans, the student movement as well as the anti-Vietnam protests in the USA. US- American artists such as Joan Baez also performed in East-Berlin and were an inspiration for East-German musicians such as Wolf Biermann, who then wrote songs which imitated the American pop-folk songs. The song “Sag’ mir, wo du stehst” (Tell me where you’re standing) by Hartmut König, which became the best-known song of the former Hootenanny and then Oktoberklub, also derives from that time. The music publisher Eulenspiegel even released a record with “Songs of Protest” in 1968.

This was mainly possible because of a certain openness towards Western musical influences after the German Wall had been put up. The Western folk songs were considered a better alternative to the Western rock and pop songs by the GDR regime. The songs of the West-German Easter marches against nuclear arming were even picked up by the Hootenanny-Klub from East-Berlin at the May demonstrations. The Waldeck-Festivals in the Hunsrück mountain range in the state of Thuringia were furthermore an inspiration for the East-German ”Festival of the political Song”. The Hootenanny movement was therefore neither oppositional nor unofficial, but at the same time allowed a high amount of looseness and spontaneity.

In 1967, however, a stricter ideological route was taken. The Singebewegung was now taken over by the Free German Youth. According to the author, describing the Singebewegung as a “Staging of an artificial, socialist youth culture” (Dorothee Wierling: Geboren im 1. Jahrgang 1949 in der DDR. Versuch einer Kollektivbiographie, Berlin 2002, S. 331.), however, takes too narrow a view, since the monopolization was never reached entirely.

Among songwriters both in East as well as in West Germany, a division into fundamental opposition members and those taking on a “march through the institutions” took place. Every year, the Oktoberklub organized a “Socialist Folksong Festival” funded by the Free German Youth. The character of the festival, however, was influenced by the volunteers who were responsible for the organization. According to Kirchewitz, the festival had never been a sole instrument of politics but rather a “window to the world” with sincere solidarity with third-world-countries and sympathy for the Western protest movements.

Picture: By G. Bach (private archive)



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