Wolf Biermann is probably most known and still controversial in Germany. His outspokenness in the GDR already caused a lot of trouble leading to his forced expatriation, but a warm welcome in the FRG. Most people from the baby boom generations know some of his songs prominent in the peace movements of the 1970s. Much less know is his relentless fascination with poetry. The Staatsbibliothek Berlin devoted 2 readings to his translations of poetry of Shakespeare and his French preferred poets and song writers. The expert reading and intonation of the French originals and Biermann’s translations was presented with enthusiasm as part of “the poetic coffee break” in the modern Stabi West. Hinrich Schmidt-Henkel presented in a lively fashion some of the work of Biermann and his remarks on the idiosyncratic style of Wolf Biermann were very much to the point. The translations form a unique style of translations, where it is possible to identify Biermann as translator. Here we enter into the theory of translation, where we tend to view the personality of the translator secondary to the first author of a poem. In Biermann’s case he seems to deviate consciously from this path. Doing translations becomes a kind of exercise to work and improve your own poetic skills. Exercise in metrics, lyrics and melody appear like a meditation on classical texts. In the translations from French, more than the ones from English, there is at occasions an additional critical or “Verfremdungseffekt” present, which enhances the translations with respect to the original. What are those translations? Perhaps more intended as “Pastiche” as the translators version of “rendre hommage” to his idols. In any case a memorable series of events in the Stabi. The small exposition of mainly books is another highlight, which facilitates the glancing through and reading of more of the writings of Wolf Biermann. The DHM has additional material on life and career of Biermann in a current exhibition. The strength of cultural institutes is the cooperation on specific projects. All in all, this is a great and rewarding effort honoring a troubadour between and beyond frontiers just like Bob Dylan, the other now acclaimed hero of the peace movement.
Im Osten Deutschlands schwören viele Moped Enthusiasten auf ihre Schwalbe. Italienische Mopedliebhabende wollen immer nur Vespa fahren. In den 70er Jahren gab es bereits eine kleine platz- und energiesparende Alternative. Das war die Honda Dax. Als Moped zu haben mit 50cm³ Motor bis zum Motorrad mit 125cm³ bekannt als Monkey-bike. Der 4-Takt-Motor erlaubte geräuscharme, niedrige Drehzahlen. Dazu gab es eine Fliehkraftkupplung, besser bekannt als Halbautomatik mit Fußschaltung. Tanken mit Benzin ohne Ölbeimischung, was die Mobilität einfacher machte und mal vom Reservekanister getankt werden konnte. Reichweite ohne nachtanken, ça 70 km.
Im Juli 2023 habe ich noch einige Exemplare in einem autoberuhigten Ferienort an der Nordsee gespottet. Das Motorrad wird 2023 mit 1,5 Liter/100km ausgewiesen. Eher zeitgemäß ist die elektrische Variante, die sich sauber in der Garage oder direkt an der Solarzelle laden lässt. Das hat ungefähr ein halbes Jahrhundert gedauert. Umweltbewusstsein fällt nicht vom Himmel. Der Elektromotor bietet mit 800W. Das ist mehr Kraft als ein Pedelec. Da steht einem Ausflug zu zweit, nicht zu weit, nichts mehr entgegen. Bevor die Emotionen die Überhand nehmen, mache ich meinen täglichen Spaziergang.
The 20th century has told us many lessons. History does not repeat itself, but it appears that new variants of old themes keep coming back. Slowly passing the century like a movie in decades instead of episodes, we witness socio-emotional tides. The first decade, the 00s intensify the beginning of urban planning and social revolutions. The 10s show the arousal and subsequent extinction of masses of people in trenches. The 20s were described as the Carefree Twenties. In the 30s we observed the rising tides of fascist organisations followed shortly afterwards by the disastrous 40s. After the Shoah and the World War the 50s were fabulous viewed from the U.S. and Western Europe. The 60s propagated sex, drugs and rock n’ roll spreading across continents. The wild 70s became almost inescapable through the continued rise of mass media. The 80s were depicted as the colourful 80s as the 2 previous decades had set the scene for psychedelic colours. The 1990s have been coined as the gay 90s by some. Coming out as a gay person became easier and Western societies more sensitive and open to diversity. The back cover of the recent publication by Aurélien Bellanger “Le vingtième siècle” (The 20th century) speaks of the book as “roman polyphonique virtuose”. I look back on the 20th century as “polyphone” in many respects. It would be an illusion to believe we can only keep the nice sounding harmonies without the tensions or dissonances.
In autumn 2019 the Cosmopolitan featured a headline “Stop fighting it: the ´70s are back”. At least in fashion the 70s are still with us. Platform soles, moon boots, hot pants, all had their first appearance in the 70s. We keep seeing them in fashion shows even 50 years later. In politics, the retreat of the U.S. from Vietnam in 1972, with more than 50.000 killed soldiers from the U.S. and many more Vietnamese persons, is certainly a success of the sizable activists’ peace movement of the 60s. Willy Brandt’s kneeling in Warsaw in front of the heroes monument in honour of the Warsaw ghetto marked the beginning of a reconciliation with Eastern parts of Europe.
The oil crises 1973 and 1979 caused mass unemployment and from the beginning of the 70s “Greenpeace” started its on-site activist approach against nuclear weapons, killing of whales and dumping of toxic waste. The network of independent organisations is contemporaneous to the invention of e-mail between large so-called mainframe computers using the now common address format email@example.com. The feminist movement achieved major successes with a UN resolution to ban discrimination against women. The male dominated aggressive and excessive punk movement occurred almost in parallel. New products like the Polaroid camera for instant photos and prints, video cassette recorder, the chopper bike “Bonanza” as well as the collapsible Maclaren Buggy for children defined a lifestyle around a more mobile society. Plastic furniture, bright colours with uncommon combinations brought with it a more diverse culture. Societies exploded into different lifestyles. Some taking the new Concorde, so-called supersonic speed delta airplane between Paris and New York, whereas others walked around in “wooden clogs” as a kind of folk fashion, watched Kojak the bold police inspector, listened or sang to ABBA tunes, danced like in “Saturday night fever”. In December 1979 Pink Floyd released “The Wall” which became with 23 million sales the top seller of all 70s productions (Champ Hamish p.120). Some of these artists we can still enjoy jumping up and down on stages across the world or being honoured with a Nobel prize in literature like Bruce Springsteen.
The wild 70s are remembered for the sexual revolution, the philosophy of love and peace as well as the continued spirit of the civil rights movements (Particia Massó, 2010). The sexual revolution spurred women’s liberation just as additional exploitation by thriving borderless consumption industry. Sex sells and it sold well. The cinema and print industry cashed in on the new trends and the spreading the new trends. Social relationships became much more unstable, divorce rates increased sharply in the 70s. In response, “surviving the 70s” (DeMott, 1971) a kind of survival guide tried to give advice of how to stem the tide, largely unsuccess for some decades.
Societies continued to explore new forms of life, while some niches of conservative life styles started to shield themselves from these outrageous trends. Vasarely imitating tapestry and design invited new forms of facing your own walls. Where to go on from this liberalisation? More equal rights for all, was a claim, but it took several additional decades to achieve some of the claims. Intersectionality, viewing for example violence as an across gender, social class and ethnicity as an overall mankind issue, became a claim much later only. “All in all, it was just bricks in the wall”, a huge wall it still is. We haven’t climbed it yet.