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Wolf Biermann, 2008
|Birth name||Karl Wolf Biermann|
15 November 1936 |
|Genres||Folk music, political ballads|
|Occupations||singer-songwriter, poet, and dissident|
Karl Wolf Biermann (born 15 November 1936) is a German singer-songwriter and former East German dissident. He is perhaps best known for the 1968 song Ermutigung and his expatriation from East Germany in 1976.
Biermann was born in Hamburg, Germany. His mother, Emma (née Dietrich), was a Communist Party activist, and his father, Dagobert Biermann, worked on the Hamburg docks. Biermann's father was Jewish and a member of the German Resistance and was sentenced to six years in prison for sabotaging Nazi ships. In 1942, the Nazis decided to "eliminate" their Jewish political prisoners and Biermann's father was deported to Auschwitz concentration camp, where he was murdered on 22 February 1943.
Biermann was one of the few children of workers who attended the Heinrich-Hertz-Gymnasium (high school) in Hamburg. After the Second World War, he became a member of the Free German Youth (Freie Deutsche Jugend, FDJ) and in 1950, he represented the Federal Republic of Germany at the FDJ's first national meeting.
On finishing school at the age of 17, Biermann decided to emigrate from West to East Germany where he believed he could live out his Communist ideals. He lived at a boarding school near Schwerin until 1955, and then began studying political economics at the Humboldt University of Berlin. From 1957 to 1959, he was an assistant director at the Berliner Ensemble. At university he changed courses to study philosophy and mathematics under Wolfgang Heise (de) until 1963, when he completed his thesis. Despite his successful defense of his thesis, he did not receive his diploma until 2008 when he was also awarded an honorary doctorate degree.
In 1960, Biermann met composer Hanns Eisler, who adopted the young artist as a protégé. Biermann began writing poetry and songs. Eisler used his influence with the East German cultural elite to promote the songwriter's career, but his death in 1962 deprived Biermann of his mentor and protector. In 1961 Biermann formed the Berliner Arbeiter-Theater ("Berlin Workers' Theater"), which was closed in 1963 before the production of Biermann's show Berliner Brautgang, which documented the building of the Berlin wall. The play was officially banned and Biermann was forbidden to perform for six months. Although a committed communist, Biermann's nonconformist views soon alarmed the East German establishment. In 1963, he was refused membership in the ruling Socialist Unity Party of Germany (SED), although no reason was given at the time for his rejection. After the Wende, documents available from Biermann's file at the Stasi Archives revealed that the reviewers were under the impression that he was a regular user of stimulants, leading to the rejection of his application.
In 1964, Biermann performed for the first time in West Germany. A performance in April 1965 in Frankfurt am Main on Wolfgang Neuss' cabaret program was recorded and released as an LP titled Wolf Biermann (Ost) zu Gast bei Wolfgang Neuss (West). Later that year, Biermann published a book of poetry, Die Drahtharfe, through the West German publisher Klaus Wagenbach. In December 1965, the Central Committee of the Socialist Unity Party of Germany denounced him as a 'class traitor' and placed him onto the performance and publication blacklist. At this time, the Stasi developed a 20-point plan to "degrade" or discredit his person.
While blacklisted, Biermann continued to write and compose, culminating in his 1968 album Chausseestraße 131, recorded on equipment smuggled from the west in his apartment at Chausseestraße 131 in Mitte, the central borough of Berlin.
To break this isolation, artists like Joan Baez and many others visited him at his home during the World Youth Festival in 1973. Karsten D. Voigt, chairman of the West German Socialdemocratic Youth (Juso) protested against the suppression of the freedom of opinion and information by the state security.
Deprivation of citizenship
In 1976, the SED Politbüro decided to strip Biermann of his citizenship while he was on an officially authorized tour in West Germany. It turned out that the Politbüro had decided to do so before the first concert in Cologne, even though this concert was used as the official justification afterwards. Biermann's exile provoked protests by leading East German intellectuals, including actor Armin Mueller-Stahl and novelist Christa Wolf. In 1977, he was joined in West Germany by his wife at the time, actress Eva-Maria Hagen and her daughter Catharina (Nina Hagen).
Return to the west
Now living in the West, Biermann continued his musical career, criticizing East Germany's Stalinist policies. He was able to perform publicly again in East Germany in late 1989 during the Wende that eventually toppled the Communist government. In 1998, he received a German national prize. He supported the 1999 NATO Kosovo War and the 2003 invasion of Iraq. He lives in Hamburg and in France. He is the father of ten children, three of them with his wife Pamela Biermann.
- Wolf Biermann zu Gast bei Wolfgang Neuss (LP, 1965)
- Wolf Biermann: "Chausseestraße 131" (LP, 1969): recorded in his home in East Berlin, published in the West. Possessing home-recording charm, one can hear the noises from the streets. The German texts are very sarcastic, ironic, and to the point. This LP was recorded with a recorder smuggled in from West Germany and the title of the album was his address at the time, letting the political police know exactly who and where he was at the time.
- Wolf Biermann: "aah-ja!" (LP, 1974)
- Gedenkbuch Opfer der Verfolgung der Juden unter der nationalsozialistischen Gewaltherrschaft in Deutschland 1933–1945. ("Victims of Jewish Persecution under Nazi Dictatorship in Germany, 1933–1945") National German Archive, Koblenz (1986) ISBN 3-89192-003-2 (German)
- Liste der Opfer aus Auschwitz. Auschwitz-Todesregister, Staatliches Museum Auschwitz-Birkenau, (List of the Victims of Auschwitz, Auschwitz Death Register, State Museum, Auschwitz-Birkenau) p. 9847/1943 (German)
- Photo of Wolf Biermann, with description. Retrieved 26 March 2010
- Rodden, John (2002). Repainting the Little red Schoolhouse: A History of Eastern German Education, 1945–1995. Oxford University Press. p. 150. ISBN 978-0-19-511244-3.
- Wolf Biermann erhält den Ehrendoktor der Humboldt-Universität – und endlich auch sein Diplom. Berliner Zeitung, 8 November 2008
- Das Schlimmste war die Entmündigung. Der Spiegel, 13 November 2006.
- Wolf Biermann, Eva-Maria Hagen, Nina Hagen, Oliver Schwarzkopf (ed.): Ausgebürgert. Schwarzkopf & Schwarzkopf Verlag, Berlin 1996, ISBN 3-89602-060-9, p. 82.
- Dirk von Nayhauss: Heimatkunde. Cicero, November 2006.
- Article in "Der Spiegel": Brachiale Friedensliebe
- Some of this article is translated from the German article of 21 January 2006.
- Official Website
- Wolf Biermann: Bio, excerpts, interviews and articles in the archives of the Prague Writers' Festival
- Biermann Interview
- Biography in German
- Wolf Biermann singing Hasta Siempre
- The ghosts are leaving the shadows on "The Life of the others", a film about the Stasi, the East German Secret Police. Biermann comments on its closeness to reality.