With song and sound to the downfall

Musical exploration of a "vanished country": Next week’s program at "Mensch, Puppe!" includes a revival of Jeannette Luft’s and Ella Winkelmann’s revue of the GDR.

Everything used to be bluer Photo: Iris Wolf

It was 28 liters of schnapps per year per capita, children included: The GDR was the alcohol world champion. What else it was for its inhabitants – home, everyday life and harsh dictatorship – can be experienced as sensually as reflected in the revue "Verschwundenes Land" by "Mensch, Puppe!". Jeannette Luft, the puppeteer, leaves all her puppets in the closet and instead relies entirely on biographical experiences – her own and those of her ex-citizen Ella Winkelmann. From the perspective of a childhood in Zwickau and a Weimar youth, the two sing their way through the stages of their GDR history. Starting with the famous Sandmann melody on DDR 1, whose harmless peacefulness is immediately countered with the song "When I grow up, I’ll join the People’s Army": "I’m driving a tank, rattata, rattata".

The revue’s concept of telling private and monstrous GDR story(s) through songs of both a state-supporting and oppositional nature works brilliantly, especially since it leaves ample room for intermediate tones and narrative levels. It is remarkable how confidently Jeannette Luft hits the pitches of such diverse genres as the Sandmann sound, "Auferstanden aus Ruinen" or Nina Hagen’s pouty punk polka "Du hast den Farbfilm vergessen, mein Michael". Incidentally, this was by no means underground, but in the mid-1970s was represented at the top of the "GDR annual hit parade". More suspected of opposition was "Wer die Rose ehrt" (Who Honors the Rose) by the Klaus Renft Combo, who were played on state radio but had to disband in 1975. Here Ella Winkelmann has an intense moment that also impresses as a pianist: fruit of her strict GDR education, which began at the age of five – and ended abruptly after her refusal to incriminate fellow students to the Stasi.

But the real strength of the evening lies in the authenticity of the individual memories. This by no means results in arbitrariness – because the structural corset of life in the GDR, reflected in the mixture "of songs we liked and songs we were supposed to like," as Luft says, forced more common ground than was available in the West. Some even say: made more togetherness possible.

Ostalgie is not that, there are already the interspersed statistical data before: Not only in terms of schnapps, but also in terms of prisoner numbers, mistreatment and deaths at the Wall. Is the GDR really a "vanished country," as the title claims? After all, its contours reliably emerge whenever socioeconomic inequalities are visualized in map form, such as child poverty, low wages, wealth distribution, AfD successes. What has disappeared in any case is the (forced) framework of manageable living conditions, in which more diversity and realization were nevertheless possible than is often perceived from a Western perspective. Listening here is an important opportunity not only for school classes.

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