Rocking the Stasi

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Die Toten Hosen in 1989

When music captures the spirit of freedom it can cross any border. In 1961, Communist East Germany built a wall across Berlin, and tried to seal itself off from the West. But new research shows how concrete, barbed wire and a huge effort by the secret police, the Stasi, failed to silence the seductive beat of rock and roll and punk.

The rise of Beatlemania in the 1960s brought a scathing response from Walter Ulbricht, the leader of the German Democratic Republic (GDR).

“Do we really have to copy all the rubbish that comes from the West… with all the monotony of their ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah,’” he sneered during one of his turgid speeches to the Communist Party faithful.

He was 70 years old and in some ways his comments weren’t so different from those of many Western politicians, says Dagmar Hovestaedt, a senior figure at the BStU, the organisation investigating the archives of the East German secret police, the Stasi.

“The older generation, the war generation, was aghast at what youth was doing,” she says.

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