Capturing A Slice of Cultural History | Culture| Arts, music and lifestyle reporting from Germany | DW | 08.06.2003
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Capturing A Slice of Cultural History

German rock legend Udo Lindenberg is back on the scene with an extravagant musical “Atlantic Affairs" -- a revival of songs by famous Germans who fled to America during the Nazi regime.


Trademark look --German rock phenomenon Udo Lindenberg.

A journey from New York to Bremerhaven aboard the last transatlantic liner "Queen Elizabeth II" is the scene of German rock icon Udo Lindenberg’s latest musical endeavor "Atlantic Affairs".

Lindenberg, who plays a burned-out rock star in the show, has just inherited 20 suitcases from an aunt in New York. Instead of the much-anticipated greenbacks, the bags are crammed with notes, song scripts and stories of famous German immigrants such as composers Kurt Weill and Friedrich Hollaender, writers Bertolt Brecht and Anna Seghers and actress and singer Marlene Dietrich, who crossed the Atlantic to America in the 1930s to escape the repressive Nazi rule.

The weary rocker, whose manager in Germany is expecting him to come up with a new idea for a show, befriends a couple of young singers aboard the liner. Together with them, Lindenberg opens up the suitcases and fashions a new show from the wealth of creative material at hand in the space of a single night.

Tribute to 1920s Berlin

What follows is a grandiose celebration of Berlin’s flourishing arts scene in the 1920s – from poems, essays, texts and songs by German artists, all banned by the Nazis as "degenerate."

Die Jonnygirls


Songs full of melancholy and longing take center stage. Accompanied by renowned singers Ellen ten Damme, Nathalie Dorra, Yvonne Catterfield, Tim Fischer, Lindenberg kicks open the nostalgia-filled evening with the melancholy song, "Stars that never fade." The ensemble croons the songs of the "Golden '20s" in contemporary groove with a dash of punk and electronic rock while Lindenberg’s famed band, the Panikorchester, rocks the stage with its thunderous music.

Highlights include the song "Ich habe noch einen Koffer in Berlin," (I've got another suitcase in Berlin) written by Friedrich Hollaender, popularized by German diva Marlene Dietrich and now reinterpreted by Lindenberg. A personal appearance by German rock diva Nena is another sensation. Images of Hitler and swastikas flicker on screens in the background.

Recapturing the fire of days long gone

"They (the artists) all had a dream of a colorful Federal Republic of Germany -- intercultural, inter-religious and colorful," Lindenberg told the German daily Taz Hamburg. "The Nazis mercilessly destroyed that spirit and with it simply wiped out an entire culture."

Lindenberg told the paper "Atlantic Affairs" is meant to get back "the fire of these artists" and provide new impulses for Germany’s "soulless cultural industry moving between boy bands and 'Deutschland sucht den Superstar' (the German version of the reality show "Pop Idol") . There’s hardly any courage for peace and resistance."

Lindenberg’s passion is hardly surprising considering the 57-year-old rocker has been committed to railing against fascism and racism since the late 1970s. "We musicians can't just stand aside and do nothing," he said in a newspaper interview in 2000 as he explained his dedication to countering racism.

His most recent initiative is a concert tour "Rock Against Right-Wing Violence", which has attracted the likes of Peter Maffay and Ben Becker. The proceeds are donated to help victims of racist violence.

Phenomenal Rise to Success

Born in Gronau in the western German state of North Rhine-Westphalia in 1946, Lindenberg played his first drums at the age of 11 and founded a school band soon thereafter. After playing gigs in local pubs in Düsseldorf and later a stint with a band at U.S. air bases in North Africa, he returned to Germany to study music.

Several performances with jazz and rock bands later, Lindenberg made his first eponymous album in 1971, which flopped badly. After that, he decided to sing only in German and acheived his first breakthrough in 1973 with "Alles klar auf der Andrea Doria."

That marked the beginning of Lindenberg’s dizzying career that saw him and his Panikorchester rise to cult status over the years. "Udo Lindenberg has succeeded in replacing inarticulate English with simple German texts, without them seeming cheap, tacky or embarrassing," the daily Welt am Sonntag wrote at the time.

Largely credited for pioneering German rock and revered for his percussionist skills, Lindenberg, clad in his trademark leather trousers and hat, became a familiar figure in the west German peace movement in the 1980s. In 1983, the rock star created a splash when he sang for 20 minutes in front of a handpicked audience during a concert in communist east Berlin. He allegedly insulted the Head of the Communist Party, Erich Honecker with his song "Sonderzug nach Pankow" (Special Train to Pankow), in which he called him an "Indian chieftain" and was forbidden from playing in the former east till the Berlin wall was torn down in 1989.

"Not afraid of growing old"

Over the past decade, Lindenberg has continued indefatigably with his concert routines and his spectacular stage shows amid rumors of drug and alcohol excesses and an affair with German queen of rock Nena (photo, left)

Nena und Udo Lindenberg

Nena and Udo Lindenberg

At 57, the man lauded for having a sound sense for musical trends and for reinterpreting tracks that are long considered musically dead, Lindenbergh shows no signs of slowing down.

"I’m not scared of growing old. I’m the endless adventurer. I’m a nomad and experimentator on the way to no-man’s land, which I don’t really know. The most important thing is that everywhere where I am, there’s Punk," he said in a recent interview.

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