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Contre-cultures : théorie & scènes

Auditory Traces of Subcultural Practices in 1960s Berlin.

A Border-Crossing Soundscape of Pop
Espace sonore et pratiques subculturelles à Berlin pendant la Guerre froide
Heiner Stahl


Appliquer le concept de « paysage sonore » de Murray Schafer à la ville de Berlin pendant la Guerre froide permet de renforcer une perspective auditive sur les processus historiques. En se concentrant sur l’expérience auditive des lieux de nuit (clubs, salles de concert) de Berlin Est et Ouest dans les années 1960, je relie les sons des rues, des clubs et salles de concert, ainsi que les émissions de radio dédiées à la pop, à un schéma de révinvention acoustique de l’espace public et de mise à nu du bruit de la répression. Les transferts culturels sont ainsi conçus comme un processus multiple dans lequel les signes, symboles et sons qui sont dans l’air sont réarrangés dans des environnements sociaux et médiatiques. Ces signifiants sont investis de significations additionnelles et mis en scène dans les lieux publics. La pop est l’une de ces pratiques performatives. Dans le cas de Berlin, après la division de 1961, la pop ouvrit un champ auditif – frais, bruyant et pourtant inconnu – qui déclencha des paniques morales transfrontalières.

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Notes de la rédaction

This text was originally published in Countercultures & Popular Music (Farnham, Ashgate, 2014).

Texte intégral

1In 1960s Berlin young adolescents were not supposed be bored and annoyed, because this would have cast a damning light on the achievement potential of the opposing post-war German societies. Social institutions and youth associations providing options for (self-)entertainment and study were seen as key features of youth policies in East and West Berlin. But restricted access to cultural participation and distraction gave young adolescents a reason to hang about in parks or on street corners. These practices produced discontinuities in the state’s institutional efforts to integrate, include and involve people by all means available. Experiencing entertainment in urban Berlin was thus an important aspect of a cultural sphere tightly linked to competing images of Cold War Berlin.

2Cultural transfer is a multi-channelled process in which the signs, symbols and sounds floating around are rearranged in peer-group and media environments. These signifiers are filled with additional meanings and staged in public spaces. Pop is one such performative practice (Klein 2004: 48). Furthermore, public space is itself a fluid concept, in which social environments, discourses and narratives, infinite struggles to claim possession of space and the means to police crowds are enclosed (Lash and Urry 1994; Lefebvre 1996; Lindenberger 1995).

Sound and City: The Auditory Experience of Urban Clubbing in 1960s Berlin

3Sensing past cityscapes, as Mark M. Smith has suggested, might well be a promising standpoint from which to detect traces of subcultural auditory experiences and to frame negotiating differences within constellations of cultural transfers (Smith 2008). Therefore, visibility and audibility may be understood as two main features of self-empowerment in public space. To be heard in public is a mode of generating attention. To be seen by others and to perform in front of others is a social practice that draws lines of aesthetic demarcation. Pop, in this respect, is a cultural technique bound to rituals (Hall and Jefferson 1976; Hebdige 1988; Bennett 2000), or to rather abstract cultural signs that are inscribed in acquirable cultural products. In the processes of transmission the past and contemporary usages of such signs are blended with additional content and meaning at a local level (Hannerz 1996: 67). Testing various cultural options, then, is an important feature of pop (Holl 1996: 59). A wider interpretation argues that pop, understood as a setting of multiple dispositions, reflects the notions of cultural boundaries and dominance by producing and enforcing counter-narratives and encouraging deviant behaviour (Barthes 1964: 85). Thus, public rejection of cultural dissidence is a mainspring of pop as a practice of self-empowerment (Thornton 1996; Middleton 2000; Svede 2000). In this respect, three modes of pop can be described:

  1. official pop, which concerns the means and strategies of public institutions and private agents to transform popular music and the materiality of signs;

  2. media pop, which refers to the policies of the printing press as well as public and private broadcasting stations in terms of coring the acoustic and aesthetic material to form a neat and clean version of pop;

  3. subcultural pop, which comprehends the various modes of reclaiming streets.

4Looking into the uses of signs and sounds in and off the streets, I intend to map public space by identifying the strategies of youths to become visible and audible. Giving public space an acoustic spin, I postulate that deviant behaviour and self-empowerment goes along with specific, temporarily stable mixtures of sounds. Despite this, the oral and mediated framing of sound, and of noise, stores information about practices of good taste, of engineering proper democratic or socialist citizens and of defending cultural territory. Auditory space is such a territory, in which the reformulated registers of senses and a different perception of the cityscape can be explored off the beaten tracks of conservative, middle- and working-class milieus. Consequently, traces of hearing and listening within processes of cultural transfers need to be identified in order to track down transitions from subcultural practices to countercultural social and cultural action becoming a signifier for change. Such an approach even fits the examination of non-liberal and democratic, authoritarian and repressive political systems such as socialist East Germany and the Eastern Bloc countries.

5Taking inspiration from Raymond Murray Schafer’s dazzling definition of ‘soundscape(Schafer 1973: 24) reveals that the acoustic dimension of everyday life conceals hidden layers of social, cultural and political power relations (see Corbin 1994; Smith 2001; Picker 2003; Thompson 2002; Rifkin 1993; Schweighauser 2006; Smith 2008; Müller 2011; Morat, Bartlitz and Kirsch 2011). Thus the sensory experience of audible cultural material leads to appropriation through communicative acts, selective insertion and intentional exclusion. Sound and noise, therefore, express notions of cultural diversity and dissidence, echoing previous strategies and codifications (Hannerz 1996: 60) While the aesthetic of noise could be read as an effect of technical and social progress, especially in a post-war socialist context (Guentcheva 2004), controlling auditory space is a powerful tool in consolidating communities (Attali 1977: 16). Creating noise is thus an aesthetic procedure that has the potential to subversively mirror existing cultural frames by accentuating anomalies and marginalities.

6By focusing on auditory experience in the landscape of clubbing in 1960s East and West Berlin, I am connecting the sounds on the streets, in clubs and venues, as well as on pop music radio broadcasts, to a pattern of reinventing public space acoustically and of demasking the noises of repression. Writing about clubs, bands, broadcasting and pop music in Cold War Berlin needs an entangled perspective to rip through the media images and narratives of Berlin, that are consolidated as a multi-layered myth of the Cold War conflict in Europe. Although the acoustic space of broadcasting is limitless, such an approach proves valuable in providing flexibility to an analysis of the shifting constellations of politicised cultural codes and aesthetic practices across geographic boundaries. Referring to the claim that club cultures are taste cultures (Thornton 1996: 3) I want to compile an auditory map of venues and places in the sonic environment of 1960s Berlin’s music subculture.

Framing the Auditory Field: The Beat and Skiffle Music Scenes in East Berlin

  • 1 The band members were pupils of a secondary school named after the German philosopher Immanuel Kant (...)
  • 2 Landesarchiv Berlin (LAB), C Rep. 121, Nr. 235 unpag. Magistrat von Groß-Berlin, Abteilung Kultur, (...)

7East Berlin’s local heroes were the Telstars (who later became the notorious rock band, Phudys), Sputniks, Franke-Echo-Quintett and Diana Show-Band. The Beatlers, the Bottles, echo-team, the Brittles and Arkadia-Combo were from Berlin-Mitte, the Jokers, the Brightles, the Big Beats, the Five Stones, the Shouters and the Hot Five from Prenzlauer Berg, and the Cants,1 Team 4, Atlantics and the Greenhorns played in the Köpenick and Treptow area.2 These bands preferred rough music created with self-made distortion and delay effects or with smuggled devices bought on the black market. Listening to live broadcasts on the German programme of the private station, Radio Luxemburg, or the allied military stations, American Forces Network and British Forces Network, the musicians in these bands transferred what they heard into unique cover versions. Having poor English language skills, the young amateur artists adapted the lyrics while reproducing a similar auditory space with their instruments. As a consequence, pop music heard at live concerts in 1960s East Berlin was a brilliant mixture of excellent musical talent, misunderstanding the original lyrics and inventing words that sounded very British or American without making any actual sense.

8After the Berlin Wall was erected in August 1961 the somewhat uncontrolled growth of youth clubs escalated in East Berlin. This was well in line with the Socialist Party decree on youth policy published in January 1961. The borough councils and socialist civil society institutions allocated spaces to create a sort of educational arena where youths could benefit from self-learning in their leisure time. However, this did not work out at all as planned. The clubs were run by kids from the neighbourhood who started to organise concerts, inviting different bands, and basically having alcohol-fuelled parties on the weekends. Youngsters had previously formed skiffle and guitar bands, and played wherever possible. East Berlin’s pop-cultural sphere was thus a vibrating, noisy landscape of clubs where a distinct lack of repressive state control was evident.

9The youth club, Freundschaft [Friendship], in Fredersdorferstrasse was located between East Berlin’s main station and the tube station Marchelewskistrasse3 on Karl-Marx-Allee. It was one of a number of underground pop hotspots in socialist East Berlin. Another, named Twistkeller, could be found in the basement of the Treptow council culture centre in Puschkinallee (Rauhut 1993: 104). This venue provided space for amateur bands, concerts and parties, and was located just a few footsteps away from the Berlin Wall.4

  • 5 Stiftung Archiv der Partei- und Massenorganisationen der DDR im Bundesarchiv Berlin (SAPMO-BArch), (...)
  • 6 Ibid.: 3.

10The kids running youth clubs like Ernst Knaack in Greifswalderstrasse, Kuba-Klub in Bötzowstrasse or Kosmos in the Helmholtzplatz park area were proficient when it came to increasing attendance at the clubs by organising music events and making additional money by selling beer, wine and schnapps. As a consequence the cultural branch of the Prenzlauer Berg borough became rather dissatisfied with the situation at the clubs. As five out of seven venues were managed by youths without any kind of control or regulation, in May 1965, the functionaries argued that the borough was displaying an example of best practice regarding integrating urban teenagers, and showing confidence both in their capacity to self-organise and in their willingness to be responsible in their leisure time activities.5 However, administrative bodies were not convinced because the youths did not spend their time voluntarily educating themselves and instead were simply organising and promoting guitar-band shows so that they could meet, chat, dance and drink large quantities of beer. Moreover the youths cared nothing for the laws aimed at protecting minors. Consequently, over the years, these venues and sub-cultural places earned a bad reputation. Many of the young men, when very drunk, would soon start to throw chairs and tables around the rooms, urinate against the walls of neighbouring buildings, or steal bicycles. From an administrative point of view, mouldy walls, stale smoke from too many cigarettes, glue-repaired windows, broken chairs and mismatched tables, pop music from Western broadcasting stations and excessive noise did not contribute to creating the kind of environment needed to foster socialist morality and decency.6

  • 7 SAPMO-BArch, DY 30 J IV 2/3/1.129 foliert, Protokoll der Sitzung des Sekretariats des ZK Nr. 89 vom (...)

11Taking an ideological stance on pop music and its sounds as cultural and political issues, the secretary of the Central Committee’s office, Erich Honecker, cleverly positioned his argument. The capitalist evil of beat music and an insufficient focus on education provided by the Free German Youth, the Ministry of Culture and socialist media had opened the gates to ideological diversion from the West. The claim was supported by representatives of the regional Party bodies who could tell their own stories about juvenile deviance linked with concerts and venues.7 Honecker thus successfully slowed down the somewhat progressive spin put on the current youth policy by Kurt Turba, a journalist who had been installed by the first secretary of the Socialist Party, Walter Ulbricht, in June 1963 (Schuster 1994; Kaiser 1997).

  • 8 SAPMO-BArch DY 30 / IV A 2/9.06/4 unpag. Abteilung Kultur, Peter Czerny, Wie konnten sich dekadente (...)
  • 9 Ibid.: 3.

12In this respect, socialist media – in particular Berlin Radio and its youth programme – was heavily criticised. Jugendstudio DT 64 reportedly played too many dance and pop titles from the West and showed a rather uncritical, and therefore ‘decadent’, approach towards the issue. In a briefing to Honecker, the music expert in the cultural branch of the Central Committee confronted the Deputy Director of the State Broadcasting Committee and the propaganda branch of the Central Committee regarding not making significant efforts to influence their subordinates to change the sound of the youth broadcast.8 The ideological dimensions of beat and pop music had been underestimated and what were considered the ‘false’ practices of DT 649 had encouraged amateur bands to follow suit.

Moral Panic Across Town: The Rolling Stones Play West Berlin’s Waldbühne, 1965

  • 10 SAPMO-BArch, DY 30 IV A 2/9.01/21 unpag. Ideologische Kommission beim Politbüro, Kurt Hager, Protok (...)
  • 11 LAB, C Rep. 902, Nr. 2118 unpag. Leiter der Jugendkommission der SED BL-Berlin, Harry Smettan, Betr (...)

13High-ranking Party officials adjusted quickly. As long as new rhythms were staged in a calm and cultivated atmosphere, as head of the cultural branch of the Central Committee and chair of the ideological commission of the Politbüro, Kurt Hager, argued, the groups assured decent dancing. Although he stated that the Socialist Party should not ban beat music completely, Hager suggested that such music could unleash the beast of the masses, and would inevitably lead to hysteria and the breaking into pieces of stages and venues.10 In referring to the Rolling Stones concert at the West Berlin outdoor venue, Waldbühne, on 15 September 1965, Hager reproduced the populist media image fostered by the conservative West Berlin press. He then gave the story another spin: the young adolescents drawn to this music might, when they become adults, or even earlier, be capable of destroying the new socialist society if the autocratic system proves to be immobile in tackling the challenge. Waldbühne thus became a code and signifier for Party officials and bureaucrats’ general paranoia towards youths and their cultural practices. It also yielded an argument that flattened internal disputes on badly governed youth and the cultural field.11

14Linking the Waldbühne event to a manifestation of juvenile discontent in the city of Leipzig on 31 October 196512 regarding the official banning of well-known guitar bands like the Butlers,13 Hager expressed his thankfulness to the police forces and the supplementary activists of the youth association for instinctively taking strong measures to disperse the crowd.14 Beat music fans had gathered at Leipzig’s Hans-Leuschner-Platz, reclaiming the city centre, wearing olive-coloured US-army anoraks and parkas, and singing deviant chants. Between 800 and 1,000 youngsters strolled about the inner city, expressing their annoyance regarding the decision made by the cultural branch of the local Socialist Party (SED) to ban beat bands like the Butlers. Records reveal that the police and the Ministry of State Security noted that about 2,000 people attended the demonstration and threatened socialist order.15

15What had actually happened at Waldbühne when the Rolling Stones and several support acts performed? On 15 September 1965, a journalist from the conservative populist yellow press paper BILD reported that she found herself in a hell where 21,000 concert-goers had gone mad, dancing aggressively and smashing wooden seats.16 The conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) faction of the West Berlin assembly questioned the governing Social Democratic Party/Liberal Party (SPD/FDP) coalition on how the mass riot at the show actually happened. The delegates stated that only a few youths had been responsible for the scenes of riot and the destruction that followed. Due to the hard and monotonous rhythm of the music, a number of kids had run wild, while the majority reached a state of mere ecstasy. Pictures taken at the event were published on the front page of BILD the next day. The Free Berlin Station broadcast and televised reports and held furious discussions on this display of juvenile deviance, which, as the CDU faction claimed, every Berlin citizen had come to learn about.17 Moving forward, the conservative delegate, Siegmund, attacked the liberal and more open-minded youth policy of Senator Ella Kay, noting that listening to beat music and playing in guitar groups was gaining ground in youth clubs and other public premises financed by the Senate’s administration of youth. A number of delegates were heard to express their indignation, shouting ‘unbelievable’.18

  • 19 Ibid.

16Siegmund claimed that staff at these facilities were unable to cope with the problems and obviously did not have the required means to assert control. The CDU politician added that his party would not dictate what kinds of music should be listened to, or what kinds of clothes should be worn, because West Berlin lived in the free and liberal West, and he knew that these kinds of things were happening in the Soviet zone. Nevertheless, the Senate and social workers in the youth clubs had to deal strictly, albeit carefully, with the new trends to keep them on a reasonable and publicly acceptable track.19

‘Then We Take Berlin’: Clubbing and Pop in 1960s West Berlin

  • 20 LAB, B Rep. 013, Nr. 434 unpag., Berliner Jugendclub e.V., Antrag Einrichtung von Jugendtanzstätten (...)

17In West Berlin, from time to time, Cold War conservatives across party lines attacked the Senate’s youth policies – the notorious Waldbühne incident was one such occasion. In response, Senator Ella Kay and the Head of Youth Services, Ilse Reichel, outlined the comprehensive success of their strategies to positively integrate youths. Finally, implementing the concept of youth clubs in 1961, Kay and Reichel looked to offer respectable, modern and accessible spaces in venues like the Jazz Saloon (Steglitz), Dachluke (Kreuzberg) and Haus Metzler (Spandau).20 Obviously, the intention behind this effort was to offer decent and morally harmless distractions in direct opposition to pubs, gaming halls and basement clubs.

18The Jazz Saloon opened on 30 April 1960 after only a few months of preparation and planning (Müller 1961: 164). Although the idea was copied from a youth service initiative in the West German city of Mannheim, the Berlin launch was expedited when the West Berlin branch of the Socialist Party announced that it would buy the whole Haus Breitenfeld property to build a cultural centre on the site (ibid.: 165; Poiger 2000: 210). British beat music, however, did not reach Berlin via the Jazz Saloon, but via the Hermsdorf Star-Club located in the northern outskirts of West Berlin, named in homage to Hamburg’s notorious Star-Club (Klitsch 2001: 133–78). In the suburban venues, the mod style ruled in opposition to the physical violence of rockers.

19In the emerging landscape of clubbing, restaurants and pubs like Seeschloß Hermsdorf – also known as the Hermsdorf Star-ClubFestsäle and Dorfkrug Lübars or the Sport-Kasino Spandau – a pub linked to a local rowing club – gained importance (Nimmermann 1966: 496). Decorated in a petit bourgeois late-1930s and 1940s style, the infernal noise of the beat bands produced an acoustic space opposed to the aesthetics of sound created in previous venues. Compared to the Jazz Saloon or Dachluke, these suburban pubs offered relatively unrestricted and uncontrolled spaces. Young women wore short skirts combined with tight-fitting jumpers and haircuts seen in women’s magazines (ibid.) or polyester blousons tagged with beat group names. Some wore dirty fur coats and pelt boots, wide slop trousers and lumberjack shirts. Wooden chains, wrist bands and fake silver rings were the accessories to this new kind of body politics, while green military jackets and anoraks protected the clothes.

Pop Takes to the Air: Youth Radio Programmes in West Berlin

  • 21 Deutsches Rundfunkarchiv (DRA) Potsdam-Babelsberg, Schriftgut Hörfunk, Bestand Sender Freies Berlin (...)

20Alongside this, two youth-orientated radio broadcasts – Wir-um zwanzig in October 1965 and S-f-beat in March 1967 – were launched by the Free Berlin Station. Reading news that concerned teenagers, presenting music, and talking about various issues between tracks built up an acoustic and auditory texture that contested the well-balanced sound identity of the whole station. Citations, references, comments and acoustic flashes were mixed in sequence to create a somewhat chaotic flow. The sounds, the musical styles and the hosts’ voices, audiotakes and self-made jingles – for example screaming ‘Oh no!’, beating drums or playing recorded canned laughter – were so far from the regular radio soundscape that adults, school headmasters and social workers became alarmed and put off. Adults did not get the joke of hearing a howling siren jingle21 on the radio – probably because it recalled a certain sonic experience from Second World War bombings and subsequent shelter-seeking efforts.

  • 22 DRA, P.-Bblg., Schriftgut Hörfunk, Bestand Sender Freies Berlin, Nr. 3686/20, s-f-beat- Sendung Nr. (...)

21The soundscape of S-f-beat mixed up the auditory identifiers of the white, US middle class (Beach Boys, the Mamas and the Papas, Bob Dylan etc.) and the Afro-American counterculture (the Raelettes, Martha and the Vandellas, Sly and the Family Stone etc.) with English beat, psychedelic and hard rock music. S-f-beat’s music programming was tied to underground music, and step by step it started to neglect releases that proposed nice melodies and catchy tunes. Songs were meant to have something special – original and stand-alone features – not just powerful guitar riffs and loud drums.22 Journalists admitted that Pink Floyd’s The Piper at the Gates of Dawn (1967) and A Saucerful of Secrets (1968), the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper (1967) or Frank Zappa’s productions with the Mothers of Invention had stunning musical arrangements and smart melodies fitted into three-minute tracks, but entertaining listeners meant playing ‘easy listening’ pop music like El Condor Pasa and Bridge over Troubled Water (Simon and Garfunkel 1970) or Mungo Jerry’s In the Summertime (1970), and not torturing listeners with pure noise.

  • 23 DRA, P.-Bblg., Schriftgut Hörfunk, Bestand Sender Freies Berlin, Nr. 2668, Abteilung Familienprogra (...)
  • 24 DRA, P.-Bblg., Schriftgut Hörfunk, Bestand Sender Freies Berlin, Nr. 3686/11, s-f-beat, 8 October 1 (...)

22Focusing on contemporary and trendy pop music,23 S-f-beat’s programming was distinct from the mainstream music played on air. Indeed, it traced out the high-cultural auditory framing of German broadcasting from the late 1960s to the early 1980s. Besides playing music from the extreme border areas of conventional popular music, S-f-beat also illuminated the boundaries of reporting. In the wake of the late 1960s, a younger generation of broadcast journalists understood themselves as embedded commentators on youth culture, student protests and issues of higher education or squatting in inner city areas. They communicated these minority positions with rhetoric fervour, and as such questioned authority and order. The new investigative approach to journalism produced long-lasting conflicts with the decision-makers in broadcasting stations and the (pre-)political establishment of Cold War West Berlin. By reporting from investigation panels on repressive policing in West Berlin, or reporting live on the conditions of youths in prisons and approved schools, S-f-beat was fostering a bold auditory presence24 and challenging the harmonic orchestration of images, narratives and success stories of proper, clean and liberal West Berlin that the Free Berlin Station was so keen to present.

  • 25 DRA, P.-Bblg., Schriftgut Hörfunk, Bestand Sender Freies Berlin, Nr. 6041/10, s-f-beat, 20 Septembe (...)
  • 26 DRA, P.-Bblg., Schriftgut Hörfunk, Bestand Sender Freies Berlin, Nr. 6041, s-f-beat, 4 April 1967. (...)
  • 27 DRA, P.-Bblg., Schriftgut Hörfunk, Bestand Sender Freies Berlin, Nr. 3686/30, s-f-beat, 10 Septembe (...)
  • 28 DRA, P.-Bblg., Schriftgut Hörfunk, Bestand Sender Freies Berlin, Nr. 3686/5, s-f-beat, 17 July 1968 (...)
  • 29 DRA, P.-Bblg., Schriftgut Hörfunk, Bestand Sender Freies Berlin, Nr. 3686/7, s-f-beat, Freitag, 9 F (...)
  • 30 DRA, P.-Bblg., Schriftgut Hörfunk, Bestand Sender Freies Berlin, Nr. 3686/6, s-f-beat, 22 January 1 (...)
  • 31 DRA, P.-Bblg., Schriftgut Hörfunk, Bestand Sender Freies Berlin, Nr.6041/9, s-f -beat, 15 September (...)

23By announcing music events at Deutschlandhalle, Waldbühne, or in venues like Neue Welt, Dachluke, Pop-Inn, Star-Club Hermsdorf,25 Tuesday Club26 in the borough of Schöneberg, or the notorious jazz club Quasimodo in Charlottenburg,27 youth club parties or book readings and discussion sessions, the youth programme S-f-beat acted as a broker of subcultural news. Local Berlin bands and domestic groups from West Germany like the Petards,28 Cologne-based krautrock pioneers Can (1970) or the more advanced West Berlin bands the Gloomys29 or the Lords (1970)30 rarely got airplay, though others, like the local the Safebreakers, the Outs or the Bus Stop Four received some radio promotion, when information was provided on upcoming gigs in youth clubs across the West Berlin boroughs.31

  • 32 DRA, P.-Bblg., Schriftgut Hörfunk, Bestand Sender Freies Berlin, Nr. 3686/17, s-f-beat, 16 Septembe (...)
  • 33 DRA, P.-Bblg., Schriftgut Hörfunk, Bestand Sender Freies Berlin, Nr. 3686/16, s-f-beat, 25 Septembe (...)

24The pop news on S-f-beat promoted a completely different lifestyle: talking about record stores with posters and underground music in Charlottenburg, or a local branch in the district of Steglitz furnished with cushy armchairs, Lenco Stereo Systems record players and light displays,32 or giving notice of an independent swinging London-style fashion shop named Market opening at Uhlandstrasse, cornering Kurfürstendamm, offering barrels of free beer before noon and with the progressive rock band Murphy Blend performing live.33


  • 34 Bundesbeauftragter für die Unterlagen des Staatssicherheitsdienstes der ehemaligen Deutschen Demokr (...)

25Performing acoustic deviance in public spaces and especially listening to Western pop music on Radio Luxembourg’s German service, Radio (East) Berlin’s Jugendstudio DT 64 (June 1964), the S-f-beat broadcast Station of Free (West) Berlin (March 1967) or on Radio in the American Sector’s RIAS-Treffpunkt (October 1968) with the volume turned right up were the preferred cultural practices of 1960s East Berlin youth who cared little for the extensive administrative measures.34 The entrance to the SKALA cinema (Prenzlauer Berg) was one such public meeting place, as was the Helmholtz park area where some 30 adolescents hung about every evening, brawling. Similar situations and practices could be seen at Kollwitzplatz, or at the crossing of Hufeland and Esmarchstrasse in the Bötzowstrasse neighbourhood. The youth did not invent these meeting places, but they did reclaim them (Lindenberger, 2003: 423–32). Leaving acoustic traces in this urban soundscape was an important thing to achieve, with noisy pop music being a distinctive feature of this act of self-empowerment. The border-crossing community of listeners in East and West Berlin correctly guessed and understood the references, but the representatives of the Free Berlin Station’s broadcasting commission were repeatedly appalled when they, by chance, tuned into this constantly changing auditory map and West Berlin’s pop soundscape. On the other side of the wall, the same procedure emerged. The auditory presence of Jugendstudio DT 64 constantly conflicted with an idealised approach to socialist cultural politics.

26Popular dance music, the so-called Unterhaltungsmusik, played by dance orchestras, constituted the soundscape of 1960s broadcasting on East as well as West Berlin stations. Indeed, all across Europe, this aesthetic was favoured by those people who compiled music for entertainment broadcasts. American and British pop music was the outright opposite, an alien and unfamiliar auditory experience. However, the emerging sounds of beat, soul and rock music were gradually inserted into the acoustic space of radio, first by being actively refused and disapproved of, and secondly by the creation of slots to accommodate the sounds within the programme flow. This integrative approach was more targeted towards reaching younger prospective audiences in a competitive mediascape (Appadurai 2000: 33), rather than aimed at being in accordance with the politicised framing of cultural transfer in Cold War Berlin. By introducing American and British pop music into the local constellations of divided Berlin, original content, references and meanings were transformed into hybrid cultural forms. These hybrids stored the tensions concomitant with renegotiating cultural identities. New auditory experiences became possible through multiple channels – attending live concerts, forming a band, listening to broadcasts via mobile transistor radios, recording those broadcasts or listening to records in shops or on personal record players.

27Pop culture as a specific cultural and social practice evolved into a constellation that might be labelled ‘triadic’ (Giesecke 2006: 284–9). As highlighted in this text, subcultural pop is generated at the level of users, customers and cultural pioneers combining different visual, acoustic and aesthetic materials to infuse additional social and cultural meaning opposing mainstream society. In East Berlin, youths switching between different acoustic spheres were testing options that the Socialist Party’s cultural policies did not fully provide. Opting to not take part in the socialist acoustic space – in the youth organisations or the Party – was read by functionaries as a form of deviance that would lead to opposition of the regime. In West Berlin, accessing pop culture was far easier, but the cultural connotations were also in opposition to middle-class ideas of aesthetic superiority. By actively grabbing ‘foreign’ acoustic and aesthetic influences, West Berlin youths contested liberal rhetorics of Cold War democracy, and mirrored the mainstream strategies of cultural and social exclusion by challenging the tales of cultural openness. Basement clubs, untenanted flats, street corners and suburban beer halls were an integral part of the 1960s subcultural sphere. Official pop was the practice of youth service representatives and political functionaries being concerned with protecting minors and providing opportunities for teenagers to come to terms with adult society. The notions of pop created by journalists and by radio DJs, on the other hand, could be considered media pop because it mediated cultural styles by adding them to a given framework. Media pop also contested the acoustic space of broadcasting itself and challenged the sound identities of the stations as internal contenders. Therefore, making audible processes of cultural transfers means broadening the perspective on how media shapes cultural codes at a local level. Subcultural pop and its practices left auditory traces in the public space, mirroring and opposing what mainstream society had agreed on as a cultural code and a proper mode of public behaviour.

CDU: Christian Democratic Union
DT 64: Deutschlandtreffen 1964
FDJ: Free German Youth
GDR: German Democratic Republic =
FDP: Liberal Party
RIAS: Radio in the American Sector
SPD: Social Democratic Party
SFB: Station of Free Berlin

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1 The band members were pupils of a secondary school named after the German philosopher Immanuel Kant. It is possible that the band intentionally made a reference to a vulgar swear word out of the name’s sounding.

2 Landesarchiv Berlin (LAB), C Rep. 121, Nr. 235 unpag. Magistrat von Groß-Berlin, Abteilung Kultur, Auszug aus Berichten der FDJ-Kreisleitungen über festgestellte Gitarrengruppen in den 8 Stadtbezirken, Berlin 29 October 1965, 1.

3 [Online] Available at: [accessed: 21 March 2012].

4 [Online] Available at: [accessed: 21 March 2012].

5 Stiftung Archiv der Partei- und Massenorganisationen der DDR im Bundesarchiv Berlin (SAPMO-BArch), DY 30 IV A 2/16/123 unpag., Rat des Stadtbezirkes, Prenzlauer Berg, Abt. Kultur, Analyse Jugendklubs, Berlin 12 May 1965, 1–5, 1.

6 Ibid.: 3.

7 SAPMO-BArch, DY 30 J IV 2/3/1.129 foliert, Protokoll der Sitzung des Sekretariats des ZK Nr. 89 vom 24 November 1965 – Auswertung des Beschlusses des Politbüros vom 23 November 1965 zu ideologischen Fragen auf dem Gebiet der Kultur. SAPMO-BArch, DY 30 J IV 2/3A/1.243 foliert, Sekretariat des ZK, Arbeitsprotokoll Nr. 89 vom 24 November 1965, Bl. 1. 6. Tagesordnungspunkt 2: Auswertung des Beschlusses des Politbüros vom 23 November 1965 über ideologische Fragen auf dem Gebiet der Kultur, Bl. 2–3. SAPMO-BArch DY 30 / IV A 2/9.06/4 unpag. [ZK Kultur] Entwurf für den Abschnitt, Probleme der ideologischen Arbeit der Partei im kulturellen Bereich, Berlin, o.D., 1–12. [an Gen. Honecker und Gen. Hager gegeben, 2 December 1965].

8 SAPMO-BArch DY 30 / IV A 2/9.06/4 unpag. Abteilung Kultur, Peter Czerny, Wie konnten sich dekadente Tendenzen im Big Beat ausbreiten? (o.D.), 1–3, 2.

9 Ibid.: 3.

10 SAPMO-BArch, DY 30 IV A 2/9.01/21 unpag. Ideologische Kommission beim Politbüro, Kurt Hager, Protokoll über ein Seminar der Ideologischen Kommission mit den Sekretären für Agitation und Propaganda der Bezirksleitungen und den Leitern der Abteilung Kultur der Bezirksleitungen zu ideologischen Fragen auf dem Gebiet der Kultur 7 December 1965, 1–176, 56.

11 LAB, C Rep. 902, Nr. 2118 unpag. Leiter der Jugendkommission der SED BL-Berlin, Harry Smettan, Betr.: Information über eine Aussprache beim Genossen Kurt Turba 5 October 1965, Berlin 6 October 1965, 1–3.

12 See the original leaflets [Online] Available at: [accessed: 21 March 2012].

13 [Online] Available at: [accessed: 21 March 2012].

14 SAPMO-BArch, DY 30 IV A 2/9.01/21 unpag. Ideologische Kommission beim Politbüro, Kurt Hager, Protokoll, 7 December 1965, 47. Concerning policing thugs in the GDR see Lindenberger (2003: 397–448) and Korzilius (2005).

15 SAPMO-BArch, DY 30 / IV A 2/16/171 unpag. Abteilung Sicherheitsfragen, Borning, an Abteilung Jugend ZK, Dr. Naumann, Betr.: Information über das Auftreten von kriminellen und gefährdeten Gruppierungen Jugendlicher in der DDR, Berlin 5 July 1966, 1–12, 2. For more details see Rauhut (1993), Ohse (2003), Liebing (2005), Fenemore (2007) and Wierling (2008).

16 Rauhut (2008: 30). [Online] Available at: [accessed: 21 March 2012].

17 Abgeordnetenhaus von Berlin, IV. Wahlperiode, Band 4, Stenographischer Bericht, 46. Sitzung, 23 September 1965, 367–411, Große Dringlichkeitsanfrage der Abgeordneten Amrehn, Dr. Riesebrodt, Dach, Wolff, Siegmund und der übrigen Mitglieder der Fraktion der CDU über Verhinderung von Rowdyszenen und Zerstörungswut in Berlin, 404–11, 404.

18 Ibid.: 404.

19 Ibid.

20 LAB, B Rep. 013, Nr. 434 unpag., Berliner Jugendclub e.V., Antrag Einrichtung von Jugendtanzstätten, 1.

21 Deutsches Rundfunkarchiv (DRA) Potsdam-Babelsberg, Schriftgut Hörfunk, Bestand Sender Freies Berlin, Nr. 3712/47, s-f-beat am Dienstag 10 October 1972, 1404. Sendung. [1. SCHREI, Oh, no!, 3s; 2. Trommel 5s].

22 DRA, P.-Bblg., Schriftgut Hörfunk, Bestand Sender Freies Berlin, Nr. 3686/20, s-f-beat- Sendung Nr. 917 vom Mittwoch 4 November 1970, 18.30–19.30 Uhr, Ulrich Herzog: Live-Sprecher, Musikauswahl. Hans-Rainer Lange: Aufnahmeleitung, Selbstbeschreibung von s-f-beat, o.D. (Nov. 1970), o.A., 1–2, 1.

23 DRA, P.-Bblg., Schriftgut Hörfunk, Bestand Sender Freies Berlin, Nr. 2668, Abteilung Familienprogramm, Susanne Fijal an Programmdirektion, Herr Döring, Betr.: Musiktitel in ‘s-f-beat’, Berlin 27 November 1970, 1–3, 1.

24 DRA, P.-Bblg., Schriftgut Hörfunk, Bestand Sender Freies Berlin, Nr. 3686/11, s-f-beat, 8 October 1968, 398. Sendung, Hans-Rainer Lange: Live-Sprecher; Wolfgang Kraesze: Musik & Aufnahmeleitung. s-f-beat-Meldung.

25 DRA, P.-Bblg., Schriftgut Hörfunk, Bestand Sender Freies Berlin, Nr. 6041/10, s-f-beat, 20 September 1967, Mittwoch 18.30–19.30 Uhr, 133. Sendung, Hans-Dieter Frankenberg: Live-Sprecher & Musikauswahl. Hans-Rainer Lange: Aufnahmeleitung.

26 DRA, P.-Bblg., Schriftgut Hörfunk, Bestand Sender Freies Berlin, Nr. 6041, s-f-beat, 4 April 1967. 20. Sendung, 18.30–19.30 Uhr. Tipps für 4 April 1967.

27 DRA, P.-Bblg., Schriftgut Hörfunk, Bestand Sender Freies Berlin, Nr. 3686/30, s-f-beat, 10 September 1970, 878. Sendung, Hans Dieter Frankenberg: Live-Sprecher & Musikauswahl. Ulrich Herzog: Aufnahmeleitung. Tipps für heute: Im Quartier von Quasimodo, Kantstr. 12a, 22.00 Uhr, ‘The Peter Brötzmann-Group’ (FREE JAZZ).

28 DRA, P.-Bblg., Schriftgut Hörfunk, Bestand Sender Freies Berlin, Nr. 3686/5, s-f-beat, 17 July 1968, 18.30–19.30 Uhr, 340. Sendung Joachim Pukass: Live Sprecher & Musikauswahl. Hans Dieter Frankenberg: Aufnahmeleitung. The Petards, Pretty Miss, Horst Ebert, A-Side: Baby, run, run, run, 7'', CCA 5021, 1966. [Online] Available at:, [accessed 21 March 2012].

29 DRA, P.-Bblg., Schriftgut Hörfunk, Bestand Sender Freies Berlin, Nr. 3686/7, s-f-beat, Freitag, 9 February 1968, 232. Sendung, Hans-Rainer Lange: Sprecher. Wolfgang, Kraesze: Musikauswahl & Aufnahmeleitung. The Gloomys, Calling Mayfair, Ralf Siegel/Michael Kunze, A-Side: Daybreak, 7'', Capitol C 23694, [Online] Available at: [accessed: 21 March 2012].

30 DRA, P.-Bblg., Schriftgut Hörfunk, Bestand Sender Freies Berlin, Nr. 3686/6, s-f-beat, 22 January 1968, 218. Sendung, 18.30–19.30 Uhr, Ulrich Herzog: Livesprecher & Musikauswahl. Hans-Rainer Lange: Aufnahmeleitung. The Lords, John Brown’s Body, Claudio Szenkar, B-Side: Cut my hair, 7'', Col. C. 23549, 1967, 2’30. [Online] Available at: [accessed: 21 March 2012].

31 DRA, P.-Bblg., Schriftgut Hörfunk, Bestand Sender Freies Berlin, Nr.6041/9, s-f -beat, 15 September 1967, 18.30–19.30 Uhr, 130. Sendung, Gesine Frohner Live-Sprecher & Musikauswahl. Wolfgang Kraesze: Aufnahmeleitung.

32 DRA, P.-Bblg., Schriftgut Hörfunk, Bestand Sender Freies Berlin, Nr. 3686/17, s-f-beat, 16 September 1970, 882. Sendung, 18.30–19.30 Uhr, s-f-beat Meldung: 16 September 1970. Zu Lenco Plattenspieler: [Online] Available at: [accessed: 21 March 2012].

33 DRA, P.-Bblg., Schriftgut Hörfunk, Bestand Sender Freies Berlin, Nr. 3686/16, s-f-beat, 25 September 1970, 889. Sendung, 18.30–19.30 Uhr, Hans-Rainer Lange: Live-Sprecher & Musikauswahl, Rolf Seiler: Aufnahmeleitung. See [Online] Available at: [accessed: 21 March 2012]. Please listen to Murphy Blend [Online] Available at: [accessed: 18 June 2012].

34 Bundesbeauftragter für die Unterlagen des Staatssicherheitsdienstes der ehemaligen Deutschen Demokratischen Republik (BStU), MfS, HA XX, Nr. 11635 foliert, Präsidium der Volkspolizei Berlin, Präsident, an Verwaltung für Staatssicherheit Groß-Berlin, Leiter, Dokumentation über Tendenzen der Fehlentwicklung jugendlicher und jungerwachsener Bürger der Hauptstadt der DDR–Berlin, 10 June 1969, Bl. 1–96, 12.

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Heiner Stahl, « Auditory Traces of Subcultural Practices in 1960s Berlin.  »Volume ! [En ligne], 9 : 1 | 2012, mis en ligne le 01 septembre 2016, consulté le 21 juillet 2024. URL : ; DOI :

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Heiner Stahl

Since October 2009 Heiner Stahl is a post-doctoral researcher in the Department of Communication Studies at the University of Erfurt (Germany). He wrote his PhD on the broadcasting history in West and East Berlin in the 1960s, supervised by Prof. Dr. Thomas Lindenberger and Prof. Dr. Konrad H. Jarausch. Youth Radio Programmes in Cold War Berlin. Berlin as a soundscape of Pop (1962-1973) is published by Landbeck, Berlin. Heiner Stahl is lecturing various subjects in the field of history of media and communication, media theory, comparative literary studies as for example mediascapes, theory of pop culture in literature, sound, silence and noise or the history of media in the GDR. Currently, he is examining the relational space concerning Sound, Noise and Environment in public, political and academic discourses in the 20th century.

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