Wolf Biermann
Karl Wolf Biermann is a German singer-songwriter
Singer-songwriters are musicians who write, compose and sing their own musical material including lyrics and melodies. As opposed to contemporary popular music singers who write their own songs, the term singer-songwriter describes a distinct form of artistry, closely associated with the...

 and former East German dissident.

Early life

Biermann's father
Dagobert Biermann
Dagobert Biermann was a Communist and German resistance fighter against National Socialism. His son is German singer and former East German dissident Wolf Biermann.- Background :...

, who worked on the Hamburg docks, was a German Jew and a member of the German Resistance
German Resistance
The German resistance was the opposition by individuals and groups in Germany to Adolf Hitler or the National Socialist regime between 1933 and 1945. Some of these engaged in active plans to remove Adolf Hitler from power and overthrow his regime...


Biermann was one of the few children of workers who attended the Heinrich-Hertz-Gymnasium (high school) in Hamburg
-History:The first historic name for the city was, according to Claudius Ptolemy's reports, Treva.But the city takes its modern name, Hamburg, from the first permanent building on the site, a castle whose construction was ordered by the Emperor Charlemagne in AD 808...

. After the Second World War, in 1953, he became a member of the Free German Youth
Free German Youth
The Free German Youth, also known as the FDJ , was the official socialist youth movement of the German Democratic Republic and the Socialist Unity Party of Germany....

 (Freie Deutsche Jugend, FDJ) and in 1950 1953, he represented the Federal Republic of Germany
Germany , officially the Federal Republic of Germany , is a federal parliamentary republic in Europe. The country consists of 16 states while the capital and largest city is Berlin. Germany covers an area of 357,021 km2 and has a largely temperate seasonal climate...

 at the FDJ's first national meeting.

East Germany

On finishing school at the age of 17, Biermann decided to emigrate from West
West Germany
West Germany is the common English, but not official, name for the Federal Republic of Germany or FRG in the period between its creation in May 1949 to German reunification on 3 October 1990....

 to East Germany where he believed he could live out his Communist ideals. He was helped in this move by Margot Honecker
Margot Honecker
Margot Honecker née Feist is a former Communist politician, who was a prominent member of the political elite in East Germany...

 who knew him from their youth. Until 1955 he lived at a boarding school
Boarding school
A boarding school is a school where some or all pupils study and live during the school year with their fellow students and possibly teachers and/or administrators. The word 'boarding' is used in the sense of "bed and board," i.e., lodging and meals...

 near Schwerin
Schwerin is the capital and second-largest city of the northern German state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. The population, as of end of 2009, was 95,041.-History:...

. Then he began studying political economics at the Humboldt University of Berlin
Humboldt University of Berlin
The Humboldt University of Berlin is Berlin's oldest university, founded in 1810 as the University of Berlin by the liberal Prussian educational reformer and linguist Wilhelm von Humboldt, whose university model has strongly influenced other European and Western universities...

. From 1957 to 1959 he was an assistant director
Artistic director
An artistic director is the executive of an arts organization, particularly in a theatre company, that handles the organization's artistic direction. He or she is generally a producer and director, but not in the sense of a mogul, since the organization is generally a non-profit organization...

 at the Berliner Ensemble
Berliner Ensemble
The Berliner Ensemble is a German theatre company established by playwright Bertolt Brecht and his wife, Helene Weigel in January 1949 in East Berlin...

. At university he changed courses to study philosophy
Philosophy is the study of general and fundamental problems, such as those connected with existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language. Philosophy is distinguished from other ways of addressing such problems by its critical, generally systematic approach and its reliance on rational...

 and mathematics
Mathematics is the study of quantity, space, structure, and change. Mathematicians seek out patterns and formulate new conjectures. Mathematicians resolve the truth or falsity of conjectures by mathematical proofs, which are arguments sufficient to convince other mathematicians of their validity...


In 1960 Biermann met composer Hanns Eisler
Hanns Eisler
Hanns Eisler was an Austrian composer.-Family background:Eisler was born in Leipzig where his Jewish father, Rudolf Eisler, was a professor of philosophy...

, who adopted the young artist as a protégé. Eisler used his influence with the East German cultural elite to promote the songwriter's career, but his death in 1962 deprived Biermann of his mentor and protector. In 1961 Biermann formed the Arbeiter- und Studententheater (Workers' and Students' Theater). It produced a show called Berliner Brautgang documenting the building of the Berlin wall
Berlin Wall
The Berlin Wall was a barrier constructed by the German Democratic Republic starting on 13 August 1961, that completely cut off West Berlin from surrounding East Germany and from East Berlin...

 that was shut down by the authorities in 1963. Although a committed communist, Biermann's nonconformist views soon alarmed the East German establishment. In 1963 he was refused membership in the ruling Socialist Unity Party of Germany
Socialist Unity Party of Germany
The Socialist Unity Party of Germany was the governing party of the German Democratic Republic from its formation on 7 October 1949 until the elections of March 1990. The SED was a communist political party with a Marxist-Leninist ideology...

 (SED). Two years later, publicly denounced as a 'class traitor
Class traitor
Class traitor is a term used by many Socialist organizations to refer to a member of the proletariat class who works directly or indirectly against their class interest, or what is against their economic benefit as opposed to that of the bourgeoisie...

', he was forbidden to publish his music or perform in public. To break this isolation, artists like Joan Baez
Joan Baez
Joan Chandos Baez is an American folk singer, songwriter, musician and a prominent activist in the fields of human rights, peace and environmental justice....

 and many others visited him at his home during the World Youth Festival in 1973. Karsten D. Voigt, chairman of the West German Socialdemocratic Youth (Juso) protested against the suppression of the freedom of opinion and information by the state security.

Deprivation of citizenship

In 1976 the SED Politbüro
Politburo , literally "Political Bureau [of the Central Committee]," is the executive committee for a number of communist political parties.-Marxist-Leninist states:...

 decided to strip Biermann of his citizenship while he was on an officially authorized tour in West Germany. It later turned out that the Politbüro had decided to do so before the first concert in Cologne
Cologne is Germany's fourth-largest city , and is the largest city both in the Germany Federal State of North Rhine-Westphalia and within the Rhine-Ruhr Metropolitan Area, one of the major European metropolitan areas with more than ten million inhabitants.Cologne is located on both sides of the...

, even though this concert was used as the official justification afterwards. Biermann's exile provoked protests by leading East German intellectuals, including novelist Christa Wolf
Christa Wolf
Christa Wolf was a German literary critic, novelist, and essayist. She is one of the best-known writers to have emerged from the former East Germany.-Biography:...

. In 1977 he was joined in West Germany by his wife at the time, East German actress Eva-Maria Hagen and her daughter Catharina (Nina Hagen
Nina Hagen
Nina Hagen is a German singer and actress.-Early years:Hagen was born as Catharina Hagen in the former East Berlin, East Germany, the daughter of Hans Hagen , a scriptwriter, and Eva-Maria Hagen, an actress and singer...


Return to the west

Now living in the West, Biermann continued his musical career, criticizing East Germany's Stalinist
Stalinism refers to the ideology that Joseph Stalin conceived and implemented in the Soviet Union, and is generally considered a branch of Marxist–Leninist ideology but considered by some historians to be a significant deviation from this philosophy...

 policies. He was able to perform publicly again in East Germany in late 1989 during the Wende
German reunification
German reunification was the process in 1990 in which the German Democratic Republic joined the Federal Republic of Germany , and when Berlin reunited into a single city, as provided by its then Grundgesetz constitution Article 23. The start of this process is commonly referred by Germans as die...

 or peaceful revolution that eventually toppled the Communist government. In 1998 he received a German national prize. He supported the 1999 NATO Kosovo War
Kosovo War
The term Kosovo War or Kosovo conflict was two sequential, and at times parallel, armed conflicts in Kosovo province, then part of FR Yugoslav Republic of Serbia; from early 1998 to 1999, there was an armed conflict initiated by the ethnic Albanian "Kosovo Liberation Army" , who sought independence...

 and the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

He lives in Hamburg
-History:The first historic name for the city was, according to Claudius Ptolemy's reports, Treva.But the city takes its modern name, Hamburg, from the first permanent building on the site, a castle whose construction was ordered by the Emperor Charlemagne in AD 808...

 and in France. He is the father of ten children, three of them with his wife Pamela Biermann.

Selected works

  • Wolf Biermann zu Gast bei Wolfgang Neuss (LP, 1965)
  • Wolf Biermann: "Chauseestrasse 131" (LP, 1969): recorded in his home in East Berlin, published in the West. Possessing home-recording charme, one can hear the noises from the streets. The German texts are very sarcastic, ironic and to the point. This LP was recorded with a recorder smuggled in from West Germany and the title of the album was his address at the time, letting the political police know exactly who and where he was at the time.
  • Wolf Biermann: "aah-ja!" (LP, 1974)

External links

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