GDR Rock goes West: Finding a Voice in the West German Market

in German Politics and Society

Culture in the German Democratic Republic (GDR) is often characterized as isolated from that of the West, with artists locked behind the Iron Curtain, having no opportunities to interact directly with global trends. While this may be true to a great extent for the general population, we should not close our eyes to the actual cross-border movements of artists and art forms that did take place in that regime. Many producers of artistic texts interacted with the West—not just well-known writers and theater directors like Christa Wolf or Bruno Besson, but also rock bands. Indeed, a few privileged GDR bands, belonging to the group of Reisekader (travel functionaries) were granted permission to travel to the West. An analysis of their interactions with their domestic audiences and with audiences in the West gives a more nuanced view regarding the nature of cultural globalization that continues into the 21st century, and provides insights into the role of cultural industries in cultural and political change today. The story of these bands contributes to our knowledge on how GDR authorities were unable to perceive and manage cultural creativity in an era of networked, flexible, and relatively autonomous creators.

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