The guitarist and singer for the punk band Die Ärtze celebrated a special birthday on October 27th. Farin Urlaub has developed over the decades into a musician of strong character who is known to be uncompromising.
The young-at-heart guitarist of Germany's commercially successful punks, Die Ärtze (The Doctors), is known professionally as Farin Urlaub. But off stage, he's Jan Vetter and just celebrated his 50th birthday.
Vetter's pseudonym, which he adopted at the beginning of his career, is a bit of a play on words in German. It's based on the phrase "Fahr in Urlaub" (Go on vacation), and then shortened to "Farin Urlaub." Traveling is one of the musician's favorite things to do. Having now visited 100 different countries, he views it as a kind of sport, and says he's a big believer in seeing the world with one's own two eyes.
Being able to travel so much is a luxury, he admits, while also being aware that his "CO2 footprint will send [him] to hell." But he says that people can write "Curiosity sent me around the world" on his gravestone. It's his travels and his love of photography that also motivated him to create two high-end travel books, both a mix between documentary and private photo albums.
But Farin Urlaub the musician got his first taste of punk music as a 16-year-old, when he went to London on a school trip. It changed his life. Ever since then, he's wanted to play punk, and he's kept his hair dyed blond.
All a marketing gimmick?
Farin Urlaub maintains to this day that his songs are autobiographical. But it's hard to find proof of that. And, it's often been said that his band Die Ärtze are above all clever marketers. Some accuse them of deliberately writing songs that will land the index maintained by the Federal Department for Media Harmful to Young People. The index lists media that young people should not be exposed to due to foul or racist language, or explicit content. Of course, getting indexed is the best endorsement of all for at least some young fans.
But many years after their original release, some of Die Ärtze's songs were reviewed again and are now allowed to be sold in stores and played on the radio.
Die Ärtze split up for a while in 1988 - due to interpersonal problems and a creative block, they say. Five years later, they joined up again, in a slightly different constellation. And with a new direction for the trio. While they had been apolitical with their song lyrics in the past, as of 1993, they began pursuing an agenda with their music.
That included speaking out against racism and neo-Nazis in their hit song "Schrei nach Liebe" (Crying Out for Love) - the first single they released after their reunion, against the expectations and warnings of their record label at the time. It's been one of their most successful songs ever.
Everything under control
Jan Vetter has always tried to keep his private life completely separate from his professional life as Farin Urlaub. He may be a star, he admits, but also asks on his homepage: "Is that really anything special?"
He and the other members of Die Ärtze also watch very closely who plays their songs when and where, and when they don't like it, they take action - even if it's painful. They also have a long-standing refusal to give interviews to the youth magazine "Bravo," whose former editor-in-chief started a slander campaign against Urlaub in 1998.
Farin Urlaub has also become more socially conscious with age, and is politically active in his spare time. He is a member of Greenpeace and supports various charity organizations, but he refrains from sending out press releases about those activities. Fans take that as a sign of him being more authentic and contemplative - as a multi-talented, curious person who can speak five languages. And one who reflects on his success as a musician - either with "Die Ärtze" or in his solo project "Farin Urlaub Racing Team."