Godmother of punk: Nina Hagen turns 65
Singer-songwriter, mother, activist, punk — Nina Hagen has many facets. Even at 65, the unique artist with the unconventional outfits continues to strut the very fine line between madness and genius.
Catharina "Nina" Hagen was born in East Berlin in March 11, 1955. Her mother, Eva Maria Hagen (pictured here with two-year old Nina), was a superstar in East Germany. "With her, the aura of the stage and nightly festivities swept through our little apartment," wrote Nina in her autobiography "Confessions." Her father, the writer Hans Oliva-Hagen, divorced Eva when Nina was four years old.
White (and black) anger
Nina wanted to be an actress, but was denied by the communist state. She managed to get a year of vocal training, which was enough, as her four-octave range hardly needed elaborating. At 19, she joined the band Automobil, which enjoyed just one hit: "Farbfilm" (Color Film). In the song she sings with rage of being on holiday with her boyfriend, who forgot to bring color film for their camera.
An undesirable family
Nina's mother started a relationship with the dissident Wolf Biermann. Nina loved him like a father and, when he was expatriated from East Germany in 1976, she followed him soon after to the West. She spent time in London, where she fell in love with ska and punk, and returned to Germany overflowing with new ideas. Little could she know how pivotal those ideas would prove for the German scene.
Rock and crazed songs in German
She founded the Nina Hagen Band with four others and the first LP was unleashed in 1978, setting a new musical template. Nina's lyrics were nasty, honest and oblique. She relentlessly sang, shouted, shrieked and purred about death, STDs and sex in a train station restroom. After the second record, the band split. The other members enjoyed notable success as a band called Spliff. Nina went solo.
In 1979 Nina Hagen caused a scandal on Austrian television by giving instructions on masturbation on a talk show. The presenter of the show was so overwhelmed he grinned sheepishly and didn't intervene. After the broadcast, he was fired — while fans of the punk singer applauded her historic TV appearance.
Friends for life
Nina and Udo Lindenberg became friends and often joined one another on stage over the decades, such as in 1983 at Berlin's Waldbühne — where they performed alongside other great stars of the 1980s. Udo also regularly invited Nina to concerts and band anniversaries. Here, the two inspect an instrument — a gift from East German leader Erich Honecker to Lindenberg.
Nina and the men
Many men have crossed Nina's path (above: her second husband "Rocco" Breinholm). The relationships only last a few years. She formed musical partnerships with Herman Brood, as well as Udo Lindenberg, Wolfgang Niedecken, Thomas D. and the bands Oomph! and Apocalyptica. Fashion designer Jean-Paul Gaultier contributed to her style, and inspired her to create her own fashion label: Mother of Punk.
Like mother, like daughter
Nina's first child, Cosma Shiva, was born in 1981. She inherited Nina's artistic gene and has become a successful actress. Children's names are regulated in Germany and Nina had to go to court to get permission to use the unusual one. "Cosma" stands for Nina's alleged UFO sighting, and "Shiva" is a tribute to a Hindi goddess. Her son Otis followed in 1990.
Nina and the world
Quirky Nina soon became known around the world. She lived in Rio, Paris and New York, recording one album after the next. Her music and her performances were avant-garde with a touch of madness and a huge portion of talent. She sang everything from pop and jazz to punk and opera — and regularly stirred up scandals. A UFO sighting and a seven-day punk marriage were among the highlights.
At the frontlines of protest
Nina Hagen's stepfather, Wolf Biermann, and her youth in East Germany impacted her political consciousness. She's pictured here at a demonstration in Vienna in 1979. She also stormed Parisian fur coat fashion shows with animal rights activists and spoke up for peace and human rights. "My heart beats for the torture victims of this world, for all people who have to flee," she once told DW.
With love, karma and faith
Nina Hagen has always had a heart for the disadvantaged and has also fought forced psychiatric treatment and gotten involved in hospice work. Her own belief in divine karma has helped her regularly look death in the eye. But her religious views are multi-faceted: In 2009, she was baptized as a Protestant Christian.
65? So what?
Nina Hagen often turns up in the least expected places. She has been in the jury of a TV casting show, celebrated Christmas with homeless people, and belittled hosts on live television shows. Having released 16 studio albums and some 500 songs, the singer says she also aims to focus on other ways of improving the world, beyond her music. But no matter what she does, she just keeps on rockin'.