The Destruction of Namenlos
Punks on Lenin Platz photographed by Ilse Rupert. Mita and Jana in a building's windows sourced from Dazeddigital.com who were provided the image courtesy of Christiane Eisler and the Transit Agency
Stasi mugshot of an East German punk youth
In order for an environment to provide fertile ground for a coherent punk scene, typically there must be factors at play politically, artistically, and socially which create a shared sense of purpose and help channel vague notions of rebellion and Antiestablishmentarianism into something concrete. No two sets of conditions are ever identical, and therefore it is only logical that punk, as a growing and changing artistic entity has never comfortably fit within the convenient labels ascribed to it. Much in this way, punk in the free world has the liberty of differentiating its various sub-movements by allowing their respective proponents to express individualized opinions and political stances or lack thereof. Off the top of your head you can likely envision many sub genre splits on account of a group splintering to pursue one pertinent issue or another; Artistically-motivated punk which sought to make more of an ideological statement as opposed to an overtly political one, afro-punk which sought to focus upon achieving basic human rights and recognition of what the black community has done for punk scenes, feminist riotgrrrl and lesbian queercore, streetpunk and that upheld working-class solidarity- and those aforementioned vague groupings form a glaringly incomplete list that only serves to gloss over a few common political denominations- the point being that bands throughout history have been capable of placing themselves on Jon Savage’s artistic anarchist vs social realism spectrum. Regardless of these groups' political identities, punk still faced opposition by the establishment in all of its manifestations. It was challenged, in some way or another, by mainstream media, policing tactics, the school system, and by our cultural obsession with cultivating certain conventionally desirable lifestyles and aesthetics- But yet, at the end of the day citizens of "democratic" nations such as England and The United States continue to be- at least occasionally- protected under the banner of free speech when they express dissenting views. They may have been bombarded with hatred for the manner in which they chose to express themselves, but dissent has always been an integral part of any self-identifying punk movement- And that legal freedom to be politically critical is sometimes extended both within art, and within life in many wealthy western imperialist nations. However, in a totalitarian world of tyranny that wasn’t remotely the case.
Our Story begins roughly forty years ago within East Germany’s police state. The self-described German Democratic Republic’s Ministry For State Security terrorized those considered unruly people from all walks of life into submission, educating them with military involvement in schools, and placing them on career paths based upon their efficiency and loyalty to the state. The DDR would be the first to tell you their unemployment rate was nearly zero, but this was due to the fact that anyone who dared not report to their state mandated jobs could be arrested for Asoziales Verhalten; Being a leech who made good citizens work harder to compensate for their laziness. Any given social circle that consisted of citizens who could be defined as marginally politically abnormal could be rife with Stasi informants, family and friends who could potentially report your illegal actions to the government in order to save their own skin. Perhaps as if you posed little threat to the government you could get by if you did as was asked of you- if you were not habitually criticizing your government, or if you were too fearful to do so, you would not be the subject of too much scrutiny. But as Abbie Hoffman once said: “You measure a democracy by the freedom it gives its dissidents, not the freedom it gives its assimilated conformists.” Erich Honecker’s government reacted in a cruel and often proactive manner towards young dissidents, punks, peaceniks, environmentalists, anarchists, and all persons perceived to be enemies of the state. They were to immediately cease and desist, lest they have their rebellious spirit broken and the proper state mandated spirit implemented. If you continued provoking, pushing, and placing pressure upon the societal breaking points that became increasingly evident in the years prior to the fall of the wall, you could be surveilled by listening devices and cameras which monitored your every move in an Orwellian fashion- and you would likely be spied upon by those whom you loved and trusted. If that didn't seem too much of a burden and you carried on you were to expect frequent police harassment, paired with possible beatings and jail time.
No one was prudent enough, no hiding spot for lyrics critical of the state was safe enough, no rehearsal place existed far away enough from the many glassy eyes of the state’s omnipresent surveillance devices and the fearful citizens they made into spies, whom they turned against those they were closest to. In this way every tiny subversive act was a political one. Subculture, being considered a highly subversive act, was one of the most political statements you could make. Subculture rests upon the notion that any of its proponents can participate in a community of others who feel disenfranchised from society. This environment fosters a sense of alternative community in which adherents are free from conventional societal expectations, and are therefore able to exert ultimate control over their own lives. Punk ideology preached responsible, socially progressive personal freedom, a concept which the state abhorred. Subcultural dress was also a thorn in the side of the governmental establishment since punk had first begun migrating over the wall. What was a means of maintaining control over your own expression of self under the iron thumb of parents, school dress codes, employers or societal judgement for teens in the UK or North America, was for East German punks a means of political dissidence in the face of punishment- it served to say “this is how I maintain control of my own life” and it served to say “I know you see me- I don’t care.”
Punk in East Germany was a commitment to a life of surveillance, and although subcultural devotees hid their illegal behaviour, they ensured that their presence was known, both to the government, and to the tourists that frequented East Berlin that the regime were so very frightened would perceive the country as slipping from their authoritarian grasp. In a world that so meticulously controlled any minute act of teenage disobedience- an environment that would show a child that had a bad day and decided to act out very little lenience- critical thinking and talkback often indicative of intelligence in a young person were viewed as telltale signs of deep character flaws and would be swiftly taken care of. Such prompt punishments and unaccommodating viewpoints certainly dissuaded many would-be rebels, but alternatively, they only served to fan the flames that burned within a certain type of young individual. In such a setting it was easy to provoke, and if one could hold their own- it was extremely easy to incite a reaction which validated your naughty work, even if said reaction was to your detriment.
If you chose not to attend Freie Deutsch Jungend (Free German Youth) meetings, that was not merely a personal choice, but rather a dangerous path which led away from the possibility of being labeled one of the 2 or 3 most academically promising and notably “politically mature'' students in your class who would be authorized to enter university. Consuming western media? You were considered an enemy of the state who sought to undermine their own country’s cultural prowess. Such basic acts of disobedience were considered as dangerous proxies for “immature” political expression… But what of that actual crime itself? Outright criticism of the state? Unfathomable. In the government’s opinion it didn’t happen, because any dissenting voice would be silenced. Although early East-German punks had to make do with what they could get away with; covering up their outright dissent to avoid the worst variety of potential repercussions- the punk movement eventually spun out of government control, and the overt criticism of the state grew until it was a feverish din of young voices that could no longer be hushed up under threat of sanctions- that could no longer be made out as if their words had never been spoken. Punk’s seed found fertile soil in an adolescent culture starved for a means of rebellion. Little did the state know that the onslaught of reverberations from punk’s inept power cords would tremble with a force so oppositional, so blatant, so in-your-face that it would rock the foundations of East Germany to their core. Eventually East-Germany’s youth could no longer be silenced, and when that forced acknowledgement of the increasingly fractured collective myths of order that held the republic together occurred, the authoritarian state crumbled in all but the bureaucratic sense.
Approximately a decade before that ultimate recognition, it was into a vastly different climate of fear and repression that punk first found its way over the wall. Amongst all the grey of the tower blocks that had been shabbily constructed around the crumbling centre of Ostberlin colour was stirring. Bright hair, bright young minds, sharp tongues and spikes. By all accounts the first punk group to be recognized in East Germany were the Sex Pistols. As they were blowing up in the rock music world, as if by some miracle of fate, a West German music magazine made its way into the hands of a 15 year old Berliner girl in 1978, and started a revolution that would be the ire of the dictatorship for many years to come. Try as the regime might, punks seemed to be as resilient as cockroaches, dispossessed youths so oversaturated with the lies of the dictatorship that punishment, prison sentences and expatriation were no longer obstacles enough to freedom of expression. Of course, as the initial punk explosion captured on Western airwaves progressed, other bands made their way into the GDR. Eater, the Boys, UK Subs, the Varukers- all the biggest names of first and second wave British punk that had let out the cry of “No Future” were being used to disassemble the preordained future the state envisioned for all its citizens.
As the scene in East Berlin developed its distinct characters and attracted Stasi attention, the scenes in other East German cities were also beginning to take shape. Leipzig’s Wutanfall, Schleimkleim from Erfurt- As punk began to take hold across the nation, the quintessential depiction of how the West viewed East Germany known as Halle would not be left out. Everywhere there were adults who had long since surrendered to the prospect of being ruled and young people who felt no such compulsion, but the city of Halle with its toxic environment and many mines seemed a uniquely bleak stronghold for resigned apathy.
For a 17-year-old worker at the Halle children’s Hospital called Jana it was those ever so tempting West German radio programmes that did it. Jana would listen to radio programmes her parents would have never approved of, underneath the covers late at night in her bedroom, like an illicit act of resistance. There was something very perverse, and yet so freeing about the disobedience. She soon developed an interest in Nina Hagen, the Eastern immigrant who had made it in the West. She read about punks in Plänterwald and sought out bands in Halle. She destroyed a pair of pants, chopped off and dyed her hair. This was very much the way that Ostpunk developed. You heard the Clash once and you cut off your hair just like that. It was a “They play terribly, I could do that” sentiment. Punks didn't need vast amounts of information about what they were devoting themselves to because it was a feeling. They could sense it in the raw aggression. In the waifish, delinquent power of Johnny Rotten’s voice warbling over the Western radio signals. Ultimately her parents had had enough. She had brought them shame, despite all of the chances they had given her she refused to dress like a normal person. Out of the house she went and into the squats located in the city’s bombed-out core in which she could live without the control of her overbearing parents.
Although Jana had existed in a somewhat artistic milieu for a few years, and as of late she’d become affiliated with the ten or so local punks in Halle, there evidently wasn’t all too much of a punk scene. Aside from the bohemian environmental activists who effectively had their work cut out for them residing in the region which had been rendered barren and smog-covered by large-scale continuous coal mining efforts, there wasn’t much of a scene to speak of. Jana still sought compatriots. She'd heard talk of Berlin's much larger scene and sensed a further investigation was necessary. Moritz, her boyfriend from the local punk band Grössenwahn had family in Berlin, he had relatives who lived there. He told Jana of his family's bohemian friends with whom Jana could possibly stay. Jana felt it necessary to scout out Berlin, so she caught a train and stationed herself where she thought she might find some punks. Ultimately, she made a few connections and made her way back to Halle, thoroughly proud of her scene-building endeavour. However when Jana returned to Halle she discovered that she had well and truly burned all her bridges. She was squatting a derelict house alone, working a normal job in her decidedly abnormal attire; trying desperately to maintain appearances for her safety. After coming to the unfortunate realization that she was far too conspicuous living in yet un-punked Halle, Jana snuck back into her old room, grabbed a few possessions and opted to leave for Berlin as soon as possible. Rapidly becoming accustomed to this whole notion of doing what she pleased, she cheated her way out of having to pay for a ticket by barricading herself in the train’s washroom.
Jana was greeted at the Schönfließer Straße house number given to her by a scruffy-looking teen girl. This was Jana’s first introduction to Mita. Mita was fairly lucky with regards to her personal freedom as she lived in a family of potters. Family trades were useful in a state that mandated work, because then your parents could be your employer as opposed to a less forgiving boss who might’ve been more inclined to snitch if you weren’t meeting your productivity quota. Before being welcomed into the family trade Mita insisted she live in Berlin with her aunt; who was also an artisan- for three weeks of each month. Mita’s Aunt’s apartment also had a basement space which would become a rehearsal space for her niece's future band. Incidentally, her aunt had recently become involved with a new boyfriend, a man by the name of Sascha Anderson. He was an artistic type- He wrote poetry and he ultimately spearheaded the release of perhaps the most influential punk record to come out from behind the iron curtain, DDR Von Unten. It featured recordings from Anderson’s band Zwitschermachine, and Schleimkleim; another highly influential group. Unbeknownst to the aforementioned bands and Mita, Anderson was a high-profile Stasi informant, who would later contribute to the arrests of many artistic dissidents- Including Mita and her future band.
To Jana, Mita’s childhood would likely have seemed a difficult to conceptualize slice of heaven. As subversive thinking was highly discouraged, artists and activists of all denominations functioned in very tight-knit networks. Mita had been raised amidst alternative culture and was therefore leaps and bounds ahead those whose family homes had not been so accommodating. Fortunately, Mita and Jana were in somewhat of the same boat in both being from elsewhere than Berlin. Mita had only recently begun to dip her toes in the fast moving currents of Ostberlin’s counterculture following her move to the city which stood in stark contrast to her former life in the countryside surrounding it. The girls quickly became close friends and bonded via their shared passion for the Berlin punk scene. Mita was quite a competent drummer as it would happen, and she’d first come across that passion as an indirect result of her friendship with Jana’s former lover Moritz. Mita had met him a few years prior at an arts camp for painting. Mita had struck up a friendship with Moritz and began taking the train to see him and his band. In so doing she got to know the group’s drummer who taught her some basics which she subsequently practiced on the pots, pans and other percussive implements available to her in her home. (The DIY drum kit was a staple of early East German punk,) but Mita was lucky enough to have a real kit. It had been purchased as a gift from her parents, much to her joy. Somehow Mita and Jana had managed to evade each-other so far, but it was as if their paths had been predestined to cross and now they finally had.
Jana and Mita began to integrate themselves into the Berlin scene with the help of their new associate Pankow of the band Planlos . Soon the pair familiarized themselves with the local crowd and set about expanding East Germany’s network of punks. For all East Germany's restrictions on personal freedom perhaps it should be noted that the regime enabled its residents to travel quite freely within the confines of the nation. Teens made their way around the country without chaperones and our protagonists are prime examples of how information was spread in that manner. Mita, Jana and Pankow set about connecting punks out in the sticks with the Berlin scene and spreading their ideals. However this unchecked fun could not last, as Jana was not registered to be a Berlin resident, and the Stasi were not exactly known for their rampant under scrutinization of punks. Jana began to be harassed by the authorities like the other Berlin punks. One of the downsides of the typically flamboyant mode of dress the punks chose to adopt was its easily identifiable nature. This was purposeful and had its advantages, however it made identification by the police very easy, particularly if one had already been hauled in on multiple occasions and was therefore a common target. Bearing that in mind, Jana reprised her old way of dressing to detract the authorities’ attention.
As Mita and Jana continued their scene building efforts they became friendly with one of the original Berlin punks, A-micha, who had known the first Ostpunk. By all accounts, the genesis of East-Berlin’s punk scene can be traced to a young girl called Major, who at age 15 was the first to begin spinning the web of connections to punks all around the country, a network that would help create anti-state resistance in all the towns that didn't have such access to western media. Before her 1981 arrest on trumped up charges of Asoziales Verhalten, Major strung together a scene with other individuals who had popped up in the Berlin neighbourhood of Planterwäld. Together these early punks began to congregate, creating a thriving scene she would cruelly never get to participate in following her incarceration, as succeeding her release she immediately got herself jailed again by defying the terms of her probation, which were Berlinverbot. After serving her second sentence she was expatriated as the regime thought her too dangerous of a “negativ decadent” cultural influence to be set free.
One of the first other punks Major met was Micha Horschig, a boy deeply into punk music, but perhaps even more so into Anarchist ideology. Micha was politically-minded and spoke eloquently. He could express his ideas in a clear and concise fashion- in other words he was a perfect gut punch to commonly held repressive ideas. Micha informed himself about anarchist movements and read all sorts of books that would not have been state approved. When he was young he was often upset by unjust authority and adult unfairness as any child is, but via suppression the state took a questioning child and rendered him into a full fledged and -much to their chagrin- well educated young anarchist. Micha began to be referred to as A-micha- The “A” being a truncated version of “Anarchy Micha.” That was to be his punk persona, his new radical identity.
Doctrinaire and introspective, A-Micha, despite being an aesthetically ordinary man with a downy moustache, had a sharp mind steeped in anarchist literature. He helped establish punk’s ideological foundations during the genesis of the Berlin scene through his involvement with the Platerwäld neighbourhood youth club. A-Micha was entirely uncompromising with his political theories, he took his punishments in his stride and willingly subjected himself to more misery. A-Micha was the Honecker regime’s worst nightmare- someone who was so disgusted by the system that he seemed to exist outside of it, unconstrained by any mental authority. He could be physically confined, but was never broken of spirit. For a regime that subsisted upon the ideas of conformity and gradual erosion of freewill, A-Micha’s political savviness and strong willpower must have seemed very frightening indeed. But yet, he was still going.
Through his involvement within the scene A-Micha had become one of the central Ostberlin punks and was part of a rather loose coalition of musicians that purported to be a band called Alternative 13. Enticed by Mita and Jana’s proposals of more committed and driven musicianship, he agreed that they would join forces. Jana and A-Micha began to become close following their first few meetings and would later become a couple- The trio subsequently approached Micha’s former bandmate Frank Masch so they were a complete group with a bassist. They called themselves Namenlos, or Nameless, which was a rather fitting name given the air of ambiguity any politically dissident art had to project- however Namenlos’s actions themselves certainly didn't track with the difficult-to-trace nature of East German punk. Now, Namenlos were not stupid, and A-Micha in particular was notably intelligent. They were not leaving paper lyric sheets lying around or parading in front of police stations- but Namenlos were unabashed. Namenlos had overtly political messages within their music, unlike the einstufung groups who followed in the wake of the early Ostpunk bands and opted to preach veiled political, or apolitical ideas to the masses by subjecting themselves to government censorship but yet having access to more regular civilians who might be radicalized. Namenlos may have been cutting-edge with regards to their subject matter, but that choice would ultimately facilitate their undoing.
Jana and A-Micha had both written poetry, so Namenlos’s lyrics came sharp and easily. Jana’s style was less overtly political, but it equally sought to attack the government from a humanitarian perspective. Both were the type to revel in the state’s unnecessarily harsh reaction towards a few young people writing down some derogatory words, they took great pleasure in clearly outlining the hypocrisy, criminal behaviour and injustice rampant within their government. Namenlos began to establish themselves, Mita acquired some better drums, and the group made some changes to their rehearsal space, adapting it to best conceal their sounds and activities from the prying eyes of nosy neighbours. They began to click creatively and became familiar with the process of songwriting. Together Namenlos staked political crimes through the heart and did so with a gusto that only disaffected young punks could muster. Their ferocity did not go unnoted, and some of Mita’s family friends and relatives began to advise the young woman to stop before things got out of hand. Many in the artistic community held views which would be deemed negative decadent, however the sorts of views Mita espoused had the capacity to drag anyone aware of her activities down with her. Perhaps one of Namenlos’ most hair raising activities was their direct likening of the Stasi to Hitler’s SS. The socialist regime which presided over the DDR sought to assert itself as a force blatantly opposed to Hitler’s reign of terror, but rather ironically in imposing their authoritarian control over free speech with an unjust secret police one could draw some awfully eerie parallels. When Namenlos chose to articulate those sentiments which certainly rang true, the Stasi would effectively carry out the song’s point.
Below are lyrics to the classic Namenlos anti-fascist song Nazis, which highlights notable similarities between Hitler’s SS (Schutzstaffel) and the DDR’s MFS (Ministerium für Staatsicherheit)
"Mein Volk ich frage euch: Wollt ihr den totalen Krieg?" Jaaaa! Judenverfolgung Massenabschlacht, über Deutschland finstere Macht, (2x) Nazis, Nazis, Nazis, Nazis, Nazis Nazischweine, Nazischweine, Nazischweine in Ostberlin, Große Worte, zuviel Macht haben doch, nur Scheiße gebracht, (2x) Nazis, Nazis, Nazisschweine in Ostberlin, Nazischweine, Nazischweine, Nazischweine in Ostberlin, Rote Parolen, Sowjetmacht, haben Deutschland kaputtgemacht, (2x) Nazis, Nazis, Nazisschweine in Ostberlin Nazischweine, Nazischweine, Nazis wieder in Ostberlin
"My people I ask you: Do you want outright war?"
Yeeees! Persecution of Jews, mass slaughter, dark power over Germany, (2x) Nazis, Nazis, Nazis, Nazis, Nazis, Nazi swines, Nazi swines, Nazi swines in East Berlin, Big words, too much power, they have only brought shit, (2x) Nazis, Nazis, Nazi swines in East Berlin, Nazi swines, Nazi swines, Nazi swines in East Berlin, Red slogans, Soviet power has destroyed Germany, (2x) Nazis, Nazis, Nazi swines in East Berlin Nazi swines, Nazi swines, Nazi swines again in East Berlin.
Now that Namenlos were a band they set about getting themselves a gig. Obviously, this couldn’t be any old gig- unlicensed bands were not authorized to play in public spaces, with one notable exception. The DDR’s religious freedom rights allowed churches a certain degree of freedom following many years of religious repression, and therefore churches became gathering places for political dissidents, much to the government's chagrin. Under Honecker’s government churches were granted more freedom in a move to co-opt religion so the population would be less inclined to go a against the state, but would have religious services held by ministers who in turn agreed to disallow any dissident activity. However, many church leaders were unwilling to fulfill their end of the bargain. Most ministers being people of god, many felt compelled to take a stand against behaviours they viewed as fundamentally opposed to the moral code their religion outlined. Back in Halle, the Christus Church had a dissident minister who seemed to have a bit of a soft spot for the punks. In recognition of this, our friend Moritz saw a glimmer of opportunity. He, who shared Jana’s love of punk rock networking, began to devise a festival which would host bands from all around the DDR, and Namenlos were to attend.
However the plan to put together a DDR punk festival with all the most exciting new Berlin bands certainly wasn’t able to evade undesired attention. Punks were conspicuous, the stream of hip Berlin punks rushing into Halle certainly didn't go unnoticed, and it certainly wasn’t well received. If punk was a negative decadent western cultural influence then Berlin typified the East German portion of the movement, and as far as local residents were concerned Halle wasn’t about to be next up on the squatter’s hit list. Unsurprisingly, the police matched and surpassed any public dissatisfaction with the rabble-rousers and set about intercepting the punks en route from Berlin to Halle- but for all their drunk and disorderly behaviour the punks were smarter than the authorities gave them credit for being. Jana suggested that the band and some friends leave a day in advance of the festival in order to enter the city Hassle free while Mita would be driven up to Halle by her parents the following day. Unfortunately, they were still unable to avoid detection, and hosting an enormous party in flamboyant punk dress likely didn't help matters terribly. The squat was raided and all its inhabitants rounded up and placed on trains returning to Berlin. However the sheer volume of punks headed to the festival was astounding, and many had managed to evade the police- the festival was still on, but Jana wasn’t going to be there. Jana couldn’t let that happen, so she made a brash decision. Without much foresight or any real idea of how it might play out, Jana simply got off the train, made her way to the other platform and jumped on the one headed in the opposite direction- back from where she’d come. When she rather miraculously arrived back in Halle there was a strong police presence, but the punks and soccer hooligans from a local sporting event greatly outnumbered the officers. Although people were being detained, many more were slipping through the cracks. Jana blended in with the crowds and made her way to Christus church where she met up with her bandmates.
It seemed as if every punk in the nation was in attendance- hundreds upon hundreds of disaffected youths that were all united in a shared cause. It was awe inspiring, and quite likely frightening to any sort of conventional onlooker, and there were, in fact, plenty of onlookers that Saturday evening- Die Firma had set up shop at the school across from the church to photograph the event and surveil its participants. By the time Jana hurriedly made herself over to the church Namenlos were in the midst of their set however Jana ran onstage and threw herself into the vocals which had previously been carried out by A-Micha. Jana screamed, thrashed, and expressed her rage to the best of her abilities. Notably she gave a rousing performance of “MFS” one of Namenlos’s songs which directly likened the SS to the Stasi within their lyric “MFS, MFS, SS!” The punks couldn’t get enough of Namenlos’ unashamed verbal weaponry. Following the event she truly felt that she’d found her people, for all her years feeling alone and repressed there were countless other young people who felt the same.
In 1983 things seemed to be looking up for Namenlos and the punk movement in the DDR as a whole. Now firmly settled in Berlin, Jana and Mita were squatting together in an abandoned apartment on Stargarder Straße with their new pet dog Wotan. Jana and A-Micha had opted to get engaged in order to circumvent charges of Asoziales Verhalten for Jana by legally decreeing A-Micha as the provider, however the pair were still living separately. Unfortunately by 1983 punk had become such a widespread phenomenon that it was becoming slightly less grating to ordinary citizens, and that simply would not do in the stasi’s view. If punk had managed to receive any leniency from that oppressive organization thus far, that was to be stopped henceforth. The Stasi had made punk an official enemy with their declaration that punk was to be opposed intensely. It had gotten out of hand as was to be cracked down upon. A new plan had been outlined in which the prosecution of punk songwriters and those who networked with them or facilitated their dissident activities was to be harshened. The government crackdown was to be swift and uncompromising- Not that Namenlos was initially perturbed. In the face of this the group were orchestrating another church performance at the Erlöser church, the new vital meeting space of the Berlin scene. They set about another raucous gig, but this time they played to a more hostile crowd composed of multiple subcultures, some of whom found the punk approach decidedly uncouth. Even still, A-Micha continued his political activism. The shows, A-micha’s peace marches- Namenlos almost seemed to be unconstrained as they continued to gain traction, but this myth of life outside society was soon to be dispelled.
One fateful day Jana and Mita were rudely awakened by incessant knocking on their door. No sooner had they opened it when they were informed that they needed to come down to the police station to clear up the details surrounding a criminal case. This did not bode well. Mita was authorised to bring Wotan to a place where he could be looked after. Meanwhile Jana was detained and brought to the fist detention centre of many. Unbeknownst to her, her life would be forever altered, when she left her home she would not return to her life as it was before. Nor would Mita, who was being similarly detained, except she was able to bring Wotan to A-Micha's place of employment, which was a church. She shouted that she and Jana had to go, and asked that someone mind the dog, hoping that one of the band’s close friends would catch on and cleanse the band’s rehearsal and living spaces of any potential evidence as police searches were sure to follow. A-Micha would not be so lucky as to evade capture, but due to police incompetence he was able to avoid detection long enough to stash some incriminating lyrics left in his group home. He then brought Wotan to work with him and tried to get on with his day hoping this wasn’t the retribution that he and his bandmates all feared, and tried to stow away in the backs of their minds. However they came for him, just as they had for his friends. They came for Frank Masch as well, and Planlos bassist Kaiser who the Stasi had received mistaken intelligence was a member of Namenlos. The detainees were photographed, fingerprinted made to rub scraps of cloth over their groins in order to provide scent samples for the dogs. Days upon days of interrogation would follow, during which each detainee was isolated from group members so they could not cross-check the information they had given the authorities, and therefore would be less capable of putting convincing lies together. A-Micha for instance insisted on claiming full responsibility for the group's viewpoints and lyrics, and he chose to tell the stasi exactly why he thought said viewpoints were justified. Following the signing of a legal warrant A-Micha was transferred to a pretrial prison where his interrogation continued for approximately half a year.
As for Mita she chose the right remain silent approach for the most part, commenting where she felt comfortable and refusing to budge on other matters. In but one day Mita was questioned on three separate occasions. The days wore on as they’d let her return to her cell and haul her out at inappropriate hours to keep her on her toes. As her interrogators received more information from her friends and revealed what they’d gleaned from their informants they began to mess with her head, to attempt to get her to question her own reality. Asking questions they knew the answers to, formulating them in a fashion which made use of detail only she and the band should know. In this way they made her worry as to what her friends were doing, they created an isolated environment in which mistrust was easily sewn to deliberately break down notions of solidarity and freedom. However, Mita was not fully isolated as she had multiple cellmates. Following endless interrogations and background checks on the teenage girl her investigators began to piece together a puzzle of what they deemed to be a morally bankrupt and neglectful upbringing on the part of her parents. Then much like some sort of curious specimen, Mita was evaluated through a series of cognitive tests conducted by a government sympathetic doctor and concluded not to be of sound mind due to the conditions which she was raised within that endowed her with the mistaken belief that individual freedom was a right and something to be expressed. Officially, the doctors concluded her mental capacity to be four years her junior. Mita would be the only member of Namenlos not to face legal punishment, as she was still a minor and considered a cognitively delayed one at that, and therefore not responsible for her actions. She was not a punk, but rather a so-called babypunk.
Jana approached her arduous interrogations much like her fiancé. She was aware that the Stasi knew enough to haul both her, and her bandmates in, and therefore she didn't stand much to gain by racking up additional charges for failing to divulge information. But, she could get away with lies regarding her intent and judge when she could supplement false information to fill the gaps in Die Firma’s knowledge. Perhaps her most bold lie was claiming full ownership of the group's lyrics. Much to her chagrin she later found out A-Micha had done he same, meaning the couple’s attempts to shield each-other and their bandmates had been fruitless. However unlike Mita, Jana was able to attain some minimal communication with her friends as by now they had all been transferred to the same detention centre following the assignment of warrants. Through the air ducts Jana sent and received quick verbal messages of Ich Liebe Dich and greetings when she could- but if she was caught there would be consequences for such behaviours, as she learned when she was placed in isolation within the centre’s dank basement. Jana was held for so long she almost seemed to develop Stockholm syndrome. She enjoyed the human interaction of interrogation and was interested in the new information the stasi would let on they’d acquired with their cyclical style of questioning. When Jana acted out it was back into isolation- her existence was a healthy mixture of terrible and potentially worse.
Following Mita’s acquittal she continued to suffer. She was well aware of the Stasi’s habit of turning friends and family against each other by lying about agreements to plea deals and informer bargains, and the fact that she wasn’t being tried beside her bandmates could be viewed as suspicious. She felt more alone than ever without interrogations as she languished waiting for their fates and hoping her friends hadn’t been turned against her. As for bassist Frank, he felt compelled to tell the truth as well and verified the intelligence already possessed by his interrogators. With respect to Wotan, he was used as a bargaining chip throughout the interrogation process to incentivize compliance, but was murdered by Die Firma before he was ever used as a means to extract information from his former owners. But eventually the harrowing interrogation phase came to an end as the Stasi had amassed sufficient evidence and information about the group to try the accused with the exception of Mita. However, Mita did attend the public trial in a show of solidarity. Unsurprisingly, the trial was a sham, the proceedings lasted but a day. Although it was unquestionably a fraught experience for Frank, Jana, and A-Micha, many of their friends and associates showed up to watch them be tried. The defensive strategy from their lawyer seemed to be that much like Mita, they were incapable of recognizing the criminal nature and moral failings of their actions. That seemed to be the most viable defence. The members of what had once been Namenlos were not able to speak for themselves as they would take pride in their crimes. Foreseeably, all three were deemed guilty. Frank received a reduced sentence as he hadn’t authored or sung the incendiary lyrical matter that was so reviled by the Stasi, so the band received sentences of one year, a year and a half and a year and a half respectively. Jana and A-Micha were split up and sent to different prisons to fund East-Germany’s regime with the fruits of their prison labour.
Although the members of Namenlos wouldn't be able to watch their own personal musical contributions to a revolution they had helped spearhead survive and prosper while they were incarcerated, punk had long since been set in motion and trying to extinguish fires of angry youth is about as foolhardy as pouring gasoline upon them. The anger, the resentment, the political dissidence. All were strong cultural elements and there would be more young people, more bands to continue fighting in Namenlos’ place. After a gruelling year and a half in prison A-Micha was released and authorised to leave East-Germany.
This was a last resort on the part of the government for troublemaking individuals. This tactic illustrated just how blind the government was to the true motivations of dissenters. Yes, there were many who sought to go to the West in hopes of a better life, who staged protests in which they pleaded to leave, who desperately wanted to be expatriated and see family on the other side- In fact throughout the history of the regime approximately 4 million East Germans fled to the west, with a meagre 600 thousand among that figure having fled following the construction of the wall in 1961 to stem the flow of people- But there were many political dissidents, A-Micha included, that wanted to remain in the country to improve the state of affairs as opposed to attaining privilege and jumping ship. The dictatorship presumed that all activists were simply motivated by their own futures and disregarded the basic empathy that served as a core principle for so many freedom fighters. Following her release Jana was provided the same offer, and strategically suggested that she had been reformed and could be a good and valuable wife and mother to the DDR in order to stay and improve quality of life for the regime’s citizens. She and A-Micha moved back in together, and reformed the band with Mita sans Frank Masch who had accepted the offer to leave for the West. In the following years leading up to the fall of the wall A-Micha continued to organize more overt political demonstrations. He orchestrated climate actions, and furthered his anarchist political agenda whilst combatting the rapidly growing alt right skinhead groups that were plaguing the East Berlin scene. The three friends and new bassist Kaiser now found themselves amidst the swelling tides of impregnable political and subcultural movements. The initial proponents of the East German punk movement had been harshly punished, and they had endured. Now the sheer number of punks made it difficult to kettle in their spikes and power chords. The government continued to push back, but dissenting was increasingly normalized and punks began to network with other nations behind the iron curtain and exchange information about collapsing governments. The rebellion extended well-beyond Namenlos, but it had never been about just Namenlos. They just knew something had to be done and thus they did what was within their power. They hadn’t been complacent, they spoke up and promoted existentialism within their own lives.
History does not exist in a vacuum- past stories have modern cultural implications and we must do our best to educate ourselves about them. Although our modern global political state must certainly not be provided false equivalence with the authoritarian regimes of the past, trends towards authoritarianism and the dismantling of anti heirrchal systems and safety nets can be far more subtle than one would anticipate. In examining the past one can often approach things with an air of superiority, as you have modern historical context and can therefore manifest retrospective contempt for those who did not have the foresight to put a stop to things when that was still possible. But it is that very same failure to understand the banality of evil, that blind faith in the illigitemate institutions of liberal democracy that allow them to be quietly disassembled; to have something even worse put in their place- as their right wing detractors employ the tools of political illiteracy, mistrust of the media and complacency of citizens who are wrapped up in their own lives due to the difficult conditions which leave many working people struggling to keep themselves afloat, and therefore distracted. If there is a lesson to be learned from the bravery of young people combatting an unjust government it is that the weight of true insurrectionary dissent is massive.
Systems are employed as they maintain order and facilitate daily life, however they are ultimately practically fictitious, mere widely-upheld cultural notions. Mass public outcry and radical, novel forms of protest effectuate change, alter ideas, spread awareness and dispel the perception of systems as solid unchanging entities. This is not to say that intangible ideas do not serve as constraints- people have been suffering under systemic discrimination and suppression of speech since cave people realized that a feasible path to success is trampling others along your way, however it does mean that when a tipping point is reached the lack of palpable barriers to justice become glaringly evident. Without fear of retribution every capable and responsible human being must express their dissent to disavow neoliberal capitalism, worker society and cooption of identity by the ruling class in the form of liberal identity politics while opposing bigotry of all denominations, with intersectional inclusivity in mind. In particular ahead of this November’s US election the seat of global power is at stake, and with it lies the future of every non-ruling-class American and political structures the world over. The power of the many is significantly greater than the small minority of enforcers who maintain malignant systemic myths. Namenlos knew this, and they knew what they stood to loose within their personal lives was high, but minimal relative to the impact they could achieve within the larger world. Empathy, solidarity and a revolutionary zeal within youth culture. Those principles which Namenlos promoted could serve us well today, and their steadfast resilience can serve as a reminder to continue acting out and opposing authority.
I sourced the vast majority of the information included in this essay from the fabulous book “Burning Down the Haus" by Tim Mohr, a book I'd implore anyone reading this to give a read .
Other Works Cited:
Burkhardt, Heiko. “History of the Berlin Wall: Why the Wall Was Built Up.” Dailysoft.Com, 2002, www.dailysoft.com/berlinwall/history/why-the-berlinwall-was-built.htm.
Dazed. “The East German Punks Who Helped Bring down the Berlin Wall.” Dazed, www.dazeddigital.com/music/gallery/28173/10/the-east-german-punks-who-helped-bring-down-the-berlin-wall. Accessed 13 Sept. 2020.
“Mita Schamal.” Discogs, www.discogs.com/artist/2795004-Mita-Schamal. Accessed 13 Sept. 2020.
Onechord. “ONECHORD: Zwitschermaschine.” ONECHORD, 9 May 2010, onechordisenough.blogspot.com/2010/05/zwitschermaschine.html. Accessed 13 Sept. 2020.
Wikipedia Contributors. “Escape Attempts and Victims of the Inner German Border.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 11 Nov. 2019, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Escape_attempts_and_victims_of_the_inner_German_border.