14 august 2018

I've been listening to early Kraftwerk lately, particularly Radio-Activity (1975) and The Man-Machine (1978) and there's something bith profoundly satisfying and, given the temporal context, almost alarmingly precocious about the sound of these albums. The thought that a handful of people recorded tracks like "Radioland" in the mid-1970s on the ground floor of a small industrial buileing in Düsseldorf is actually kinda freaky and probably just about the wildest form of witchcraft to be found in our modern world.

And then there's this tangential thought I've been having, about life in East Germany…

When I was studying psychology in 2011, one of my professors showed us The Lives of Others (2006), a period film set primarily in East Berlin, and then invited a professor from the university's dance department, who had written about topics pertaining to dance and East German history, who had once needed to subtly decline the recruitment efforts of the Stasi without attracting suspicion. What he described of East Germany was a situation involving some amount of economic difficulty owing to the country's debts to the Soviet Union, of close-knit communities where everyday repair work was necessarily performed by friends & neighbors in exchange for good will & favors rather than direct monetary compensation, of a bureaucratic environment where, in a given year, only a handful of students from the entire country might be permitted to study dance…

But that wasn't a very long talk, and I find myself surprised, sometimes, at how challenging it can be to piece together a complete picture of life in the German Democratic Republic, a state of 16 million at its lowest population which existed in living memory, if your sources are primarily the English-speaking web. My sources other than the aforementioned are basically Wikipedia and Divided Heaven (Der geteilte Himmel; 1964), an East German (and therefore state-sponsored) film adapted from a novel about a train-factory worker and education atudent whose fiancé defects to West Berlin over the corruption he encounters in his work as a chemistry researcher.

Where this ties into Kraftwerk is, like… I've gathered that youth in East Berlin listened to pretty much whatever music they wanted to. But I can't say I know enough about the inter-German propogation of pop culture to tell you whether, say, some random resident of Leipzig would be likely to have The Man-Machine or Computer World on vinyl. Or on a bootleg tape. Or to have heard it in the first place.

It's like what the narrator talks about at the beginning of Thornton Wilder's Our Town, how so much of preserved history is the names of powerful people and the dates of battles, and how that tells us nothing about the broader, more consequential reality of how people lived.

I hear Good Bye, Lenin! is really good. It's on my to-watch list.