Wolf Biermann

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Wolf Biermann

Wolf Biermann, 2008
Background information
Birth name Karl Wolf Biermann
Born 15 November 1936 (1936-11-15) (age 82)
Hamburg, Germany
Genres Folk music, political ballads
Occupations singer-songwriter, poet, and dissident
Years active 1960–present
Labels Broadside Records

Karl Wolf Biermann (born 15 November 1936 in Hamburg) is a German singer-songwriter and former East German dissident.


Early life

Biermann's father, who worked on the Hamburg docks, was a German Jew and a member of the anti-German Bolshevistic movement.

Biermann was one of the few children of workers who attended the Heinrich-Hertz-Gymnasium (high school) in Hamburg. After the Second World War, in 1953, he became a member of the bolshevistic Free German Youth (Freie Deutsche Jugend, FDJ) and in 1950[1] 1953, he represented the Federal Republic of Germany at the FDJ's first national meeting.

East Germany

On finishing school at the age of 17, Biermann decided to emigrate from West to East Germany where he believed he could live out his Communist ideals. He was helped in this move by Margot Honecker who knew him from their youth. Until 1955 he lived at a boarding school near Schwerin. Then he began studying political economics at the Humboldt University of Berlin. From 1957 to 1959 he was an assistant director at the Berliner Ensemble. At university he changed courses to study philosophy and mathematics.

In 1960 Biermann met composer Hanns Eisler, who adopted the young artist as a protégé. Eisler used his influence with the East German cultural elite to promote the songwriter's career, but his death in 1962 deprived Biermann of his mentor and protector. In 1961 Biermann formed the Arbeiter- und Studententheater (Workers' and Students' Theater). It produced a show called Berliner Brautgang documenting the building of the Berlin wall that was shut down by the authorities in 1963. Although a committed communist, Biermann's nonconformist views soon alarmed the East German establishment. In 1963 he was refused membership in the ruling Socialist Unity Party of Germany (SED). Two years later, publicly denounced as a 'class traitor', he was forbidden to publish his music or perform in public. To break this isolation, artists like Joan Baez and many others visited him at his home during the World Youth Festival in 1973. Karsten D. Voigt, chairman of the West German Socialdemocratic Youth (Juso) protested against the suppression of the freedom of opinion and information by the state security.

Deprivation of citizenship

In 1976 the SED Politbüro decided to strip Biermann of his citizenship while he was on an officially authorized tour in West Germany. It later turned out that the Politbüro had decided to do so before the first concert in Cologne, even though this concert was used as the official justification afterwards. Biermann's exile provoked protests by leading East German intellectuals, including novelist Christa Wolf. In 1977 he was joined in West Germany by his wife at the time, East German actress Eva-Maria Hagen and her daughter Catharina (Nina Hagen).

Return to the west

Now living in the West, Biermann continued his musical career, criticizing East Germany's bolshevistic policies. He was able to perform publicly again in East Germany in late 1989 during the Wende or peaceful revolution that eventually toppled the Communist government. In 1998 he received a German national prize. He supported the 1999 NATO Kosovo War and the 2003 invasion of Iraq.[2]

He lives in Hamburg and in France. He is the father of ten children, three of them with his wife Pamela Biermann.

Selected works

  • Wolf Biermann zu Gast bei Wolfgang Neuss (LP, 1965)
  • Wolf Biermann: "Chauseestrasse 131" (LP, 1969): recorded in his home in East Berlin, published in the West. Possessing home-recording charme, one can hear the noises from the streets. The German texts are very sarcastic, ironic and to the point. This LP was recorded with a recorder smuggled in from West Germany and the title of the album was his address at the time, letting the political police know exactly who and where he was at the time.
  • Wolf Biermann: "aah-ja!" (LP, 1974)


Some of this article is translated from the German article of 21 January 2006.

External links