Doom Schneider Lifts the Curtain on Drumming in Communist East Germany

Vistalite Black

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I love when my interests in heavy music and the GDR collide. Metal Hammer magazine recently spoke to Rammstein Drummer Christoph “Doom” Schneider about growing up in Pankow, East Germany, and playing in a band with two spies!

Too bad they didn’t ask him about
The Scorpions helping speed the dissolution of the USSR.

Metal Hammer: What was it like being a musician in East Berlin before the wall came down in 1989?
“In the East, we had professional bands which had all studied music and had official permission to play music. They were allowed to work as professionals and they had the right to charge money for their shows. If you were an amateur, you had to be classified at a certain level. There were three levels, and I reached the first one! I had a certificate which allowed me to charge four Deutschmarks (£1.30) per hour when I played a concert. Without this certificate it was illegal to play gigs, and you weren’t allowed to make contact with promoters without one. People accepted this because they had to. To get your certificate you had to play in front of a commission, like a jury, who decided if you had the right songs: you were only allowed to play 40 per cent cover versions in your set, the rest had to be your own music. Actually it wasn’t that bad an idea, because bands had to come up with their own stuff, and so there were a lot of interesting bands at that time.”

Metal Hammer: Your first proper band was Die Firma (The Firm). What were they like?
“Die Firma was like a new wave punk band. The style was a little dark, with gothic influences. We had lyrics that protested against the system. This was not permitted, of course – we were an underground band. All the other Rammstein guys were in underground bands too. We used to play in small clubs with all kinds of fans: freaks, goths, punks. The government had their people everywhere, though: Secret Service spies. What was funny was that I couldn’t imagine any harder band than mine at the time, and we had two people actually in the band who were spies – the singer and the keyboard player! Ha ha! Incredible. They weren’t professionals: they were hired spies who received a little payment and every once in a while had to report about the music scene.”
 

Stickclick

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I met a Russian woman once. She was a musician and singer. We asker her to sing at one of our gigs and the audience loved her. I asked her if she was performing in Russia. She replied "no, because she did not have the permit, did not go to the necessary music school". It is so different here in the USA. In the USA anyone can be in a band and gig for money.
 

Nacci

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Like just about every other narrative out there this one has a gaping hole.


Tell us about playing music in East Germany pre 1989


Bands had to go before a Jury of State officials to be judged worthy to play out and to ensure they were not subversive. If you did not pass this process, you were not allowed to play.

Tell us about your first band.

Oh we didn’t get the permit, we were underground, our music was subversive and critical of the government and we would play small clubs to all types of freak, goth, punks.

Apparently the Stasi was very forgiving of those who snubbed their nose at the State and it’s rules. Who knew.
 

Vistalite Black

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Nacci, I'm not sure it's as much of a matter of the book having a gaping hole as presenting information that doesn't conform to your limited knowledge.

To me, it's wholly consistent with other histories of the period, including the excellent "Burning Down the Haus: Punk Rock, Revolution, and the Fall of the Berlin Wall" (2018) by Tim Mohr.

Here's a summary from Amazon:

It began with a handful of East Berlin teens who heard the Sex Pistols on a British military radio broadcast to troops in West Berlin, and it ended with the collapse of the East German dictatorship. Punk rock was a life-changing discovery. The buzz-saw guitars, the messed-up clothing and hair, the rejection of society and the DIY approach to building a new one: in their gray surroundings, where everyone’s future was preordained by some communist apparatchik, punk represented a revolutionary philosophy—quite literally, as it turned out.

But as these young kids tried to form bands and became more visible, security forces—including the dreaded secret police, the Stasi—targeted them. They were spied on by friends and even members of their own families; they were expelled from schools and fired from jobs; they were beaten by police and imprisoned. Instead of conforming, the punks fought back, playing an indispensable role in the underground movements that helped bring down the Berlin Wall.

This secret history of East German punk rock is not just about the music; it is a story of extraordinary bravery in the face of one of the most oppressive regimes in history. Rollicking, cinematic, deeply researched, highly readable, and thrillingly topical, Burning Down the Haus brings to life the young men and women who successfully fought authoritarianism three chords at a time—and is a fiery testament to the irrepressible spirit of revolution.

“Original and inspiring . . . Mr. Mohr has written an important work of Cold War cultural history.”The Wall Street Journal

“A thrilling and essential social history that details the rebellious youth movement that helped change the world.” —
Rolling Stone

“Wildly entertaining . . . A thrilling tale . . . A joy in the way it brings back punk’s fury and high stakes.”Vogue


There's also an older book on the same subject I can recommend: https://www.amazon.com/Rock-Around-Bloc-History-1954-1988/dp/0195056337
 

Nacci

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Nacci, I'm not sure it's as much of a matter of the book having a gaping hole as presenting information that doesn't conform to your limited knowledge.

To me, it's wholly consistent with other histories of the period, including the excellent "Burning Down the Haus: Punk Rock, Revolution, and the Fall of the Berlin Wall" (2018) by Tim Mohr.

Here's a summary from Amazon:

It began with a handful of East Berlin teens who heard the Sex Pistols on a British military radio broadcast to troops in West Berlin, and it ended with the collapse of the East German dictatorship. Punk rock was a life-changing discovery. The buzz-saw guitars, the messed-up clothing and hair, the rejection of society and the DIY approach to building a new one: in their gray surroundings, where everyone’s future was preordained by some communist apparatchik, punk represented a revolutionary philosophy—quite literally, as it turned out.

But as these young kids tried to form bands and became more visible, security forces—including the dreaded secret police, the Stasi—targeted them. They were spied on by friends and even members of their own families; they were expelled from schools and fired from jobs; they were beaten by police and imprisoned. Instead of conforming, the punks fought back, playing an indispensable role in the underground movements that helped bring down the Berlin Wall.

This secret history of East German punk rock is not just about the music; it is a story of extraordinary bravery in the face of one of the most oppressive regimes in history. Rollicking, cinematic, deeply researched, highly readable, and thrillingly topical, Burning Down the Haus brings to life the young men and women who successfully fought authoritarianism three chords at a time—and is a fiery testament to the irrepressible spirit of revolution.

“Original and inspiring . . . Mr. Mohr has written an important work of Cold War cultural history.”The Wall Street Journal

“A thrilling and essential social history that details the rebellious youth movement that helped change the world.” —
Rolling Stone

“Wildly entertaining . . . A thrilling tale . . . A joy in the way it brings back punk’s fury and high stakes.”Vogue


There's also an older book on the same subject I can recommend: https://www.amazon.com/Rock-Around-Bloc-History-1954-1988/dp/0195056337
Vistalite. I will respond in short order but first, please explain to me how you are privy to my knowledge’s depth?
 

Vistalite Black

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Nacci; "This (narrative) has a gaping hole … Apparently the Stasi was very forgiving of those who snubbed their nose at the State and it’s rules. Who knew."

People who are informed know that some unsanctioned bands in East Germany played underground gigs when they could, despite the fact that getting caught could mean spending a very unpleasant time in an Stasi interrogation and/or be sent to prison.
 

Nacci

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Nacci; "This (narrative) has a gaping hole … Apparently the Stasi was very forgiving of those who snubbed their nose at the State and it’s rules. Who knew."

People who are informed know that some unsanctioned bands in East Germany played underground gigs when they could, despite the fact that getting caught could mean spending a very unpleasant time in an Stasi interrogation and/or be sent to prison.
What exactly do mean when you state; if they were caught playing these underground gigs? Schneider, himself admits right in his narrative that two members of his band, that were playing these so called “underground” gigs were spies for the Stasi. I’d say that is pretty caught.
 

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There was once a band in Russia named Pussy Riot. Band members spent some time in jail. I don't know what happened to them but I hope they are OK.

 

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What exactly do mean when you state; if they were caught playing these underground gigs? Schneider, himself admits right in his narrative that two members of his band, that were playing these so called “underground” gigs were spies for the Stasi. I’d say that is pretty caught.
It's possible the "spies" enjoyed the band and didn't rat them out ??
That info had me puzzled as ell..
 

Vistalite Black

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What exactly do mean when you state; if they were caught playing these underground gigs? Schneider, himself admits right in his narrative that two members of his band, that were playing these so called “underground” gigs were spies for the Stasi. I’d say that is pretty caught.
What exactly do mean when you state; if they were caught playing these underground gigs? Schneider, himself admits right in his narrative that two members of his band, that were playing these so called “underground” gigs were spies for the Stasi. I’d say that is pretty caught.
With an estimated 1% East Germans snitching on one another to the Stasi, it wasn't practical to follow up all the intel the huge domestic spy apparatus received. Even my beloved Katerina Witt, the two time Olympic Gold medalist in figure skating, was accused of betraying friends to the Stasi. (She denies it).

 

Nacci

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With an estimated 1% East Germans snitching on one another to the Stasi, it wasn't practical to follow up all the intel the huge domestic spy apparatus received. Even my beloved Katerina Witt, the two time Olympic Gold medalist in figure skating, was accused of betraying friends to the Stasi. (She denies it).

Again, your logic is flawed. It is not 1% of the population that is spying and snitching on each other, if that figure is even true, it is 1% off the population that is spying and snitching on everyone else.
 

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Tell us about your first band.
Oh we didn’t get the permit.
I didn´t read that into the original statement. It may well be possible that they had gotten their permit to perform but performed stuff that wasn´t permitted. You can play nursery rthymes in front of the commission and the subversive stuff on stage.

Also it makes perfect sense for the Stasi not to jail a band immediately if you want to infiltrate the whole scene. OTOH it was not unheard of Stasi IMs ("informal employees") to only pass on unsubstantial material and to keep quiet about the compromising stuff, especially when friends and relatives were involved.
 

Nacci

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I didn´t read that into the original statement.
Is it not directly implied when Schneider describes Die Firma as an “Underground” band?



6E20DBC4-4424-44EF-ABE4-B946A3E8F972.jpeg


I do agree with you that it would make perfect sense for the Stasi and it’s domestic spies to infiltrate the scene and not implode it immediately. That is the nature of undercover work; to observe, pass on pertinent information to your superiors all while watching multiply crimes being committed and sometimes committing them yourself. I thought that was evident.

It is also possible and probable that the Stasi created the scene itself for the same purposes.

Think about the improbability of keeping an illegal underground Metal/Punk scene unnoticed in Communist East Germany. Dragging equipment in and out of a venue, the noise from the music, freaks coming and going, parents concerned about their children’s whereabouts and how it would effect them. It would have been reported to the authorities in a thousand different ways....and, as I have already stated, none of that would be necessary because two of Schneider’s band mates, according to him, were already working for the Stasi.

For an Interesting take on the same topic listen to John Adams on the Tim Kelly show. The bulk of the American Punk scene coalesced in the Georgetown section of Washington DC by the children of Federal Government employees.

 
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Vistalite Black

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Nacci, apologies in advance that this doesn't conform to your preconceived notions, but what you may not know is East Germany's Protestant Church sheltered punks and other dissidents. There were actually punk rock festivals played within churches that were largely off-limits to police. Churches provided a place to play and, in some cases, the instruments to play.

There were also impromptu music shows in people's homes, out in the country and in dis-used buildings -- just as the rave scene in the U.S. and Europe managed and continues to hold shows involving huge groups of people out of the public eye.

The following is from Punks in the Church: The Relationship Between the Punk Subculture and Church in East Germany (University of Western Michigan, 2018):


The churches occupied a unique place within East German society because the government had granted the churches limited free space for religious purposes … After a government crackdown on the subculture began in 1983, punks became more politically active. The churches had provided shelter for other dissident groups, such as pacifists and environmentalists, and the punk subculture began to become involved with some of these groups. When a segment of the churches broke off to form a more politically activist church, the Kirche von Unten, the punk subculture gravitated towards this group. Because of the experiences the punk subculture had in the church, and because of the government crackdown, punks took a more active political role than before, and they contributed to the opposition movement that developed in East Germany.


P.S.: The idea that the "bulk of the American Punk scene coalesced in the Georgetown section of Washington DC" is absurd. My city 400 miles away from D.C. had a punk scene. The DC bands toured the country, as did bands representing the West Coast/LA Punk scene, the New York punk scene and bands from my small city.
 
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Nacci

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Nacci, apologies in advance that this doesn't conform to your preconceived notions, but what you may not know is East Germany's Protestant Church sheltered punks and other dissidents. There were actually punk rock festivals played within churches that were largely off-limits to police. Churches provided a place to play and, in some cases, the instruments to play.

There were also impromptu music shows in people's homes, out in the country and in dis-used buildings -- just as the rave scene in the U.S. and Europe managed and continues to hold shows involving huge groups of people out of the public eye.

The following is from Punks in the Church: The Relationship Between the Punk Subculture and Church in East Germany (University of Western Michigan, 2018):


The churches occupied a unique place within East German society because the government had granted the churches limited free space for religious purposes … After a government crackdown on the subculture began in 1983, punks became more politically active. The churches had provided shelter for other dissident groups, such as pacifists and environmentalists, and the punk subculture began to become involved with some of these groups. When a segment of the churches broke off to form a more politically activist church, the Kirche von Unten, the punk subculture gravitated towards this group. Because of the experiences the punk subculture had in the church, and because of the government crackdown, punks took a more active political role than before, and they contributed to the opposition movement that developed in East Germany.


P.S.: The idea that the "bulk of the American Punk scene coalesced in the Georgetown section of Washington DC" is absurd. My city 400 miles away from D.C. had a punk scene. The DC bands toured the country, as did bands representing the West Coast/LA Punk scene, the New York punk scene and bands from my small city.
Is it absurd? Bad Brains, Minor Threat, Fugazi, SOA, Iron Cross, The Teen Idels.

Out of curiosity and fully aware that this could blow up in my face but who did your Town 400 miles away produce?
B6475190-4651-4A44-BE71-D2394802E6F4.jpeg
 
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Vistalite Black

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Is it absurd? Bad Brains, Minor Threat, Fugazi, SOA, Iron Cross, The Teen Idels.

Out of curiosity and fully aware that this could blow up in my face but who did your Town 400 miles away produce? View attachment 448682
"One of the first" is more than a few degrees of difference short of "the bulk of the American Punk scene coalesced in the Georgetown section of Washington DC."

Raleigh had multiple punk bands in the late 70s/early 80s, the most successful of which is Corrosion of Conformity.
 

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