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Art Review: “East End: Punk In Der DDR
(Fotografien 1982-1984)” at Staatsgalerie Prenzlauer Berg

Enter the past with art: get a rare glimpse into punk life behind the Berlin Wall with DDR photographs at the Staatsgalerie. Time for life, love and leather jackets!

Exhibitions of DDR photographs seem to be all the rage these days, including a recent exhibition at the Berlinische Galerie. You might wonder if the current exhibition at Staatsgalerie Prenzlauer Berg is any different from the others. I can assure you, it is. Head over to the "East End: Punk In Der DDR" for a rare insider look into punk life of Berlin in the early 1980s.

At first glance, the punk kids pouting out of the photographs at “East End: Punk In Der DDR (Fotografien 1982-1984)" look like punk kids anywhere – young, angry and achingly cool. But look closer and you'll notice something awry about the punks on the walls of Staatsgalerie Prenzlauer Berg – their clothes are a little more DIY than usual, their environment a little more decayed and their sneers a little more contemptuous. These are the punks of East Germany: cut adrift and forced to improvise rebellion, their studded necklaces, spiked hair and slashed jeans creating a stark contrast to the tedium and coerced conformity of the communist state.

Anarchy in the DDR

Contrast, according to co-curator Henryk Gericke, is the central theme of the exhibition. Rudolf Schaefer's photographs in particular stand out, alternating four images in a series, showing members of the punk scene in East Berlin followed by members of the Freie Deutsche Jugend, the Communist Party youth movement. Others place the ramshackle, scruffy kids within the context of their environment – sometimes with gleaming statues of Lenin, others atop piles of rubble. These contrasts are what the scene held up as gospel – like punks everywhere, those in East Germany sought something different to their parents and predecessors, something they could make themselves and call their own.

“Too Much Future”

The Ostpunk scene, however, was not derivative, says Gericke. Each scene stood seperate, connected but unique. He is quick to emphasise that the central ethos of punk in East Germany was quite the opposite to that in London, New York and on the other side of the wall. Whilst the Sex Pistols sang of “no future,” their Ossie counterparts saw themselves as having too much future – their lives planned out by the state from cradle to grave, a whole life in the same factory.

The faces that look out the photographs show a different side to that usually associated with East Germany; these are not the old denizens of the party, but rather kids with ideas and a need for something better than what they already have – a youthfulness and fervour the equal of any upstart from the other side of the wall. This exhibition is essential viewing for punks old and new, and for those who seek an alternative narrative of life in East Germany.

Staatsgalerie Prenzlauer Berg “East End – Punk In Der DDR (Fotografien 1982-1984), November 9 2012 – November 29 2012. Tues – Fri 2 - 7, Sat 1 - 6 [Photographs range from €240 - €580]

Article by Michael Wood

verschoben auf März / April 2021