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Rammstein singer surprises with poetry performance in Russia

Aaron Tilton
November 18, 2016

Till Lindemann is best known as the frontman of Rammstein. But the singer has also published several poetry collections. Now his Russian fans even got to see his poems performed - in a chic Moscow theater.

Russian poetry book by Rammstein-Frontman Till Lindemann
Image: DW/A. Tilton


The Gogol Center is not where one would expect to see an event featuring the works of Rammstein singer Till Lindemann.

The stylish theater in downtown Moscow typically hosts contemporary plays and modern ballet - and not shock-rockers renowned for abrasive music, pyrotechnic displays and simulated sex acts on stage. But it was actually happening: The Gogol center prepared an event to mark the first publication of Till Lindemann's poetry collection "In stillen Nächten" in Russian ("в тихой ночи" - In Silent Nights).

Without revealing much, the invitation promised a poetry performance with fitting musical accompaniment. It was still hard to imagine how the actors could pay homage to Till Lindemann's body of work - one that revels in debauchery and in exploring all things taboo - while not running foul of Russian artistic sensibilities.

Waiting for Lindemann at the Gogol Center: Not the typical Rammstein crowd
Waiting for Lindemann at the Gogol Center: Not the typical Rammstein crowdImage: DW/A. Tilton

The prospect became all the more baffling in the Gogol Center's foyer. The tastefully designed hall was decked out in all the trappings of a Moscow media event. Well-dressed visitors sipped wine and mingled while a musician in the corner improvised an electro-infused acoustic guitar set and a couple dozen photographers preserved the event for posterity.

Rammstein, unconventional 'ambassadors of German culture'

The scene was a far cry from when I first saw Till Lindemann on stage, in 2001. He was touring the US with Rammstein and, as a young German student and self-avowed metal head, one of my German teachers encouraged me to go.

Rammstein's brand of metal can hardly be described as family-friendly, but as my teacher at the time put it, "just think of them as ambassadors of German culture."  

The concert took place in a converted sports arena in the American heartland. Rammstein wasn't headlining the show, but the rows and rows of fans wearing black T-shirts showed they had a clear favorite. This was also clearly demonstrated by the screams that went up from the mosh pit when Till took the stage in a flaming steal trench coat and the first meaty cords of their set blasted our ears.

To my surprise, I wasn't the only guy in the pit screaming along as Rammstein played. Throughout the arena, the other fans were doing their best to belt out the German lyrics. American metal heads aren't typically the most linguistically savvy group, and I wasn't the only one surprised to realize that others had taken the time to learn the words, judging by the astonishment on band members' faces when they realized Americans were singing in German.

'Definitely interesting' performance

Waiting in the Gogol Center's hall, one woman remarked, "I don't know Rammstein's music. But I've heard about it. So tonight will definitely be interesting." As the organisers ushered us into the theater, we were treated to the first glimpse of the night's event.

A simple white table was standing in the center of a packed black box theater. Just before the the doors closed, a round of applause broke out as Lindemann himself took his place in the first row.

But the question remained, would Till Lindemann's poetry be enacted on stage? How could the actors handle the poems' "adult themes"?

Answers came as soon as the lights focused on the stage. Seven actors clad in evening wear gathered around the table and transformed "In stillen Nächten" into a story of intrigue and desire at a well-healed dinner party.

The Gogol Center in Moscow
The Gogol Center in MoscowImage: DW/A. Tilton

As they took turns trading the lines of Mr. Lindemann's poems, the three couples took the audience on a tour of their most base appetites and fears, culminating - in typical Rammstein fashion - with a healthy dose of murder and an impalement.

As reverently as in a Bertolt Brecht play

Most of Till Lindemann's lyrics can't be reprinted here and they might not be everyone's cup of tea, yet both the audience in Moscow and the Gogol Center's actors approached the text with the same reverence reserved for a Bertolt Brecht play.

While Till Lindemann's counterpart on stage was impaled by his fellow actors, the author, with a little encouragement from the audience and actors, concluded with his own commentary in Russian: "It's a great, great felling when your art is understood."  And after a quick bow, he left the Gogol Center without a comment for the news crews waiting for an interview.

Russian media had attempted to portray Rammstein's frontman as a supporter of Russian President Putin this year. There was even a faked photo of the singer wearing a Putin T-shirt circulating - causing Lindemann to describe himself as a victim of Russian propaganda. 

As I was leaving the theater, I wondered if Till Lindemann was still an "Ambassador of German culture" as he had once been described to me. That's when I heard a young woman mention, "I've been listening to his music since the age of 11. That was totally Till… Yeah, you could say it helped me learn German." That night in Moscow, he apparently still was one.