By 1981, a nascent punk scene began forming in church basements and town squares. But the consequences of looking like a punk or forming a band were dangerous. Getting hauled in by the Stasi—the East German secret police—for brutal interrogations became a daily or weekly occurrence for punks ... By 1983—the 'Summer of Punk'—many of the original punks were serving prison sentences. But the flame was lit, and the torch was carried on by hundreds of kids who formed bands, squatted buildings and spoke out against the state ... Compulsively readable and beautifully researched, Burning Down the Haus records the critical role that punks played in the German resistance movements of the 1980s, up to and beyond the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.
This account of the rise of punk in East Germany is openly the work of a devoted fan of that scene. Tim Mohr is upfront about his emotional investment in the topic. The book he has created is fervent and personal. Its language is impassioned, to the extent that the narrative is broken by inserted slogans and chants, and apparently calm accounts suddenly explode in exclamation points and ecstatic profanity ... Mohr sets up overt parallels between East Germany and modern America. He compares East German people’s tacit collaboration with an oppressive state to 'white America’s collective shrug at the militarization of its police forces and the ongoing flood of evidence of horrific police brutality: They’re not coming for me.' Even more pointedly, in his preface, Mohr remarks that 'East German police—unlike our own—could not murder people in the street with impunity.' ... Mohr’s version of punk is deeply personal and stands in opposition to nearly all kinds of authority, including the authority of the disinterested historian
The improbable story of how East German punk grew from its tentative and belated beginnings to become one of the key forces in the opposition movement that toppled the DDR regime is the subject of Burning Down the Haus. ... The remarkable history of their struggles offers a rich and often surprising angle on youth culture and opposition movements in the DDR ... The book offers a captivating punk’s-eye view of everyday life as the DDR unravelled in its final years ... Both a moving story of indefatigable defiance in the face of oppression and a complex portrait of everyday life in the DDR in the 1980s, Burning Down the Haus honours the punk spirit with its history from below.
As Tim Mohr’s original and inspiring Burning Down the Haus shows, music could make all the difference in the world ... Yet Burning Down the Haus is more than an exciting yarn. Mr. Mohr has written an important work of Cold War cultural history, and his first-hand interviews are invaluable evidence.
His passion for both punk music and the city of Berlin comes through in each of Burning Down the Haus's many episodes, some of which have been researched down to the minute. Mohr interviewed more than 50 people, and at times, the book reads like a writer trying to whip together hours of transcribed interviews into a narrative, stuffing in everything he could get ... there's almost a nostalgia in Mohr's book for simpler times, when tyranny was orderly and bureaucratic and when antagonists (the Stasi) and their tools of oppression (stifling free expression to preserve a socialist dictatorship) were clearly defined. A time when it felt like a few contraband tapes passed between friends had the power to overthrow governments.
Burning Down the Haus is frustrating in that its story is fractured and disjointed as it follows the paths of more than two dozen central characters, jumping back and forth between their stories in a series of short chapters. It is sometimes difficult for the reader to follow so many threads ... ultimately it is a rewarding read that documents the courage of a small group of like-minded people to change an oppressive government.
...By embracing punk, young East Germans rejected the obsessively and oppressively planned life the government mandated. In fact, to be punk there was to be an enemy of the state subject to interrogation, loss of income, searches, and imprisonment. Translator, editor, and former Berlin DJ Mohr...details the origins of East German punks down to the first female teen punk, nicknamed Major for all the safety pins she wore on her jacket. As other nicknamed punks encountered each other, they formed a movement aided, curiously enough, by church organizations, which were left alone by the state ... Mohr tells a frantic and exciting true story of music versus dictatorship, and the infamous wall it helped bring down.
...Mohr carefully documents a rousing, little-known Cold War story, showing how alternative culture developed in the Eastern Bloc in a similarly grass-roots fashion as elsewhere but for greater stakes ... Based in part on interviews with survivors, Mohr ably documents how regional small-scale punk scenes grew and connected nonetheless. From the start, he notes, 'groups of punks started to attract attention from security forces everywhere they went.' East Germany provides a vivid backdrop to the narrative. Conformity to state-supervised existence was enforced by surveillance and informants, so punks’ embrace of abrasive music and fashion was inherently political ... Despite the state’s hostility, the punk movement was thus well-positioned to contribute to the civil unrest that fueled the Eastern Bloc’s unexpected collapse ... An appealing, lively cultural history worth reading in an era of corporate punk nostalgia.
In this lively narrative, music journalist and former Berlin DJ Mohr takes readers on a profanity-laden, up-close-and-personal tour of the punk rock scene of 1980s East Germany ... He chronicles the ongoing clashes between the East German authorities and several microgenerations of punks, describing a compelling war of subversion, persistence, attrition, and defiance, where every act meant to crush spirits and enforce conformity only helped to fan the rebellious flames. The short chapters and punchy prose, coupled with thorough research, give the reader a front-row seat to the events of the ’80s. This take on punk evolution is engaging, enlightening, and well worth checking out.