DDR 40 – 7 October 1989

… 30 Years Revolution, part II

30 years ago today, the German Democratic Republic was meant to celebrate her 40th anniversary. There was little to celebrate, though. Thousands had fled the country in previous months, and illegal demonstrations happened in every major town, notably on Mondays. This though was a Saturday afternoon, and Sandow were playing in Magdeburg, by the banks of the river Elbe. Heavy rains delayed the soundcheck, and in the meantime lots of police trucks had pulled up and the police surrounded. Men that were much too old for punk music in groups of two or three infiltrated the crowd.

Concert with Sandow

The soundcheck started with a provocation. They chose a slogan from a West-German tv commercial, known to every German: Ich will so bleiben, wie ich bin – Du darfst. Literally: “I want to stay the way I am”, which we picked up immediately with the response “you may!” – the name of the brand advertised.

(Here’s a slightly later version of the ad:)

The atmosphere was electric what with all the police around us, their dogs barking and us joining in this funniest of provocations.

Police cracks down on concert

Then the concert kicked off, loud, rough. Two tracks into the gig, someone collapsed jumping around. The band stopped, and singer Kai-Uwe Kohlschmidt called for an ambulance through his mic. Obviously, there was enough police in the area! Two of them walked through the crowd, then hurried back, and rumours were spreading that they alleged people had tried to steal their guns or some such nonsense. That was the signal for the police to crack down on the crowd. People were beaten down, pulled up by their hair onto trucks that stood ready and taken out of town into prefabricated camps. While there had been clashes in the weeks before, this had a new quality, and the rest of the evening would prove that the heat was truly on.

I am happy to have a couple of photographs of the event, taken from a bridge overlooking the area by a classmate of mine from inside his coat. When a hand tapped on his shoulder he simply ran without even looking.

Police cracks down on concert

7 October 1989 left me, 17 at the time, shocked by the police violence exercised against us by “our own” government. While I got away, unlike many others, we started a big demonstrations in the central market, which was also knocked down by police and paramilitary troops. Eventually we made it into a hiding place, some basement rooms, in a house owned by the local church, to discuss what happened, and drink away the frustration and anxiety. This and the following demonstrations on 9 October were the definitive beginnings of the end of the G.D.R.

Here is Sandow’s highly ironic “Born in the G.D.R.”, an allusion to the Bruce Springsteen concert a year before, when an audience of 160,000 East Germans, locked up in their own country, were singing “Born in the U.S.A.” The East German government tried to soothe their people with “games”, as in bread and games, but not for much longer.

Born in the G.D.R.

Jetzt, jetzt lebe ich und 
Jetzt, jetzt lebe ich und 
Jetzt, jetzt trinke ich und 
Jetzt, jetzt stinke ich und 
Jetzt, jetzt rauche ich und 
Jetzt, jetzt brauch ich dich 
Wir bauen auf und tapezieren nicht mit 

Wir sind sehr stolz auf Katarina Witt 

Katarina! Katarina! Was born, 
Born in the G.D.R.! (4x) 

Wir können bis an unsere Grenzen gehen 
Hast du schon mal drüber hinweggesehen? 
Ich hab 160.000 Menschen gesehen, die sangen so schön 
Die sangen so schön! Die sangen so schön! 
I was
Born in the G.D.R.
Rough translation: 

Now, now I am alive

in need of you

We're building up and won't wallplaster along [i.e. covering up like everyone else, a reference to a remark by a politician]
We're very proud of Katarina Witt [highly ironic - she was considered a sell-out who for her international career had sided with the regime. She was said, wrongly, to have opened the Bruce Springsteen concert]
Katarina, Katarina was born ... in the G.D.R.

We may go as far as our borders allow [also: we may go to our limits]
Have you looked beyond?
I saw 160,000 people, singing so beautifully ... [an allusion to the audience of the Bruce Springsteen concert in 1988] 
Police cracks down on concert

On the occasion of their 30th anniversary, the band actually adopted one of the pics I had sent to them earlier since pictures of such clashes outside of the major centres such as Leipzig and Berlin were few and far between.

Here’s the West German news coverage for that day:

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