Perhaps in the East Berlin apartment that a twentysomething Angela Merkel occupied in the late seventies the song ‘Du hast den Farbfilm vergessen’ resounded, a pop hit sung by Nina Hagen. That song, which swept the lists of the German Democratic Republic (GDR), is one of the three that the still German Chancellor has chosen for her farewell party this Thursday, perhaps in a nod to her youthful memories.
Newspapers around the world have been quick to gloss Merkel’s ‘punk farewell’. Striking headlines because, a priori, their image does not agree too much with the transgressive vocation of punk. But in that assumption there are two errors.
One, ‘Du hast den Farbfilm vergessen’ is not a punk song (in fact, when Nina Hagen sang it, at age 19, she had not yet embraced the stylistic dogma that would make her the planetary ‘godmother of punk’ after emigrating to London).
The song of yore was one of the many great pop hits that lit up the GDR (and remained more than a year in the Top 40). More than one will be surprised, but it is enough to investigate a little to discover how varied, enthusiastic and dynamic the music scene was behind the Iron Curtain.
The subject in question has a somewhat pachanguero air, typical of a very German subgenre called ‘Schlager’, which comes to mean ‘hitter’ (something similar to the word ‘hit’, in English, to refer to songs that triumph on the charts. ).
It was composed by Michael Heubach, the keyboardist for the band Automobil, in which Hagen was active at the time. The lyrics, by the controversial Kurt Demmler, tell the story of an excursion to Hiddensee Island in the Baltic Sea. Basically it is a scolding from the girl of the couple, Nina, towards her boyfriend Micha (Michael), because he has forgotten to take a roll of color film to the excursion to record the holidays in Super 8.
The argument is not exactly punk … Although some see in it an underground criticism of the lack of supplies and consumer goods in communist economies. ‘You have forgotten the color film’ is the Spanish translation of the song’s title.
Merkel, who by the way is from the same fifth as Nina Hagen, was actually more subversive in her younger years than one might suppose.
The other two songs chosen by the Chancellor are ‘Großer Gott, wir loben Dich’ (‘Great God, we praise you’), which is a mass song, and ‘Für mich soll’s rote Rosen regnen’ (Red roses should rain for me ), by Hildegard Knef, a sort of jazzy ‘In my own way’ sung in the first person and which extends the gaze over a lifetime.
The second mistake in the little great story about the farewell of the chancellor concerns his own image. Merkel, who by the way is from the same fifth as Nina Hagen, was actually more subversive in her younger years than one might suppose. “She was a happy girl and she liked to dance,” Patricia Lessnerkrausen recounted on her day, in the book ‘Merkel. Power and politics’.
She occupied an apartment in East Berlin, was a nightclub waitress and went out partying like the most and divorced a first husband (whose last name she kept) at a time when divorce was not the most common either.
Possibly this Thursday, at the farewell party of the last great European leader, that happy girl with a desire to dance will shake her skeleton again, but this time in full color.