There are many songs titled Berlin, but in the early 80´s the most famous and successful ones were by the British band Fischer Z (1981) and by the local Berlin band Ideal (1980). Ideal´s cheerful yet ironic ode to West-Berlin was first released in May 1980 on their privately pressed debut single and later featured on their first LP in November of the same year. By the summer of 1981 the album had reached number 3 on the German Pop charts. I didn`t know anyone who didn`t like Ideal in 1981.
The song Berlin by Firma 33 didn´t get the same treatment for some obvious reasons: the song is not as catchy, it´s not Punk and not really New Wave (well almost) and most importantly it paints quite a different picture of Berlin in the 70´s and 80´s: a grim one. Though privately pressed in late 1979, the record even had the help of a cover shot by Jim Rakete ( sort of our German Annie Leibovitz). But the record didn´t go nowhere. It´s not even listed in the wikipedia list of songs about Berlin.
In the 80´s West-Berlin was in large parts a grey and run-down city, surrounded by a wall in the middle of communist East-Germany. Many young people that moved here were either trying to escape the draft, moving into squats or simply living the bohemian lifestyle. I know that a few people that I went to school with in a small town in Northern Germany moved to Berlin to take part in the squatters movement. However some people didn´t adjust too well to their new metropolitan surroundings. That´s what this song is about:
Berlin, everyday I eat your plastic muck/ Berlin, your fragrance is the smell of exhaust/ Berlin, you make me vomit/ I don´t know how I can live in this dump/ Berlin, at night you are stinkin´drunk and high on smack/ Berlin, how many children are you sending out to play in the shit/ Berlin, you make me vomit…
And so on and so forth… The song ends forgiving (Berlin, I can´t imagine to live without you) but by then the damage has already been done. It remains an angry and aggressive song. The majority of Berlin songs (including Fischer Z and Ideal) either celebrate the city completely or mildly romanticize the kind of decay that attracted David Bowie and Iggy Pop to live here. This Berlin song is much more critical but maybe a little more accurate in describing the atmosphere of West-Berlin before the wall came down…
I don`t know anything about Kutte nor when this was recorded. I was told he was from Gropiusstadt, a big satellite city in the south of Berlin, made famous because Christiane F. was from Gropiusstadt too. Christiane F. was Germany`s famous teenage junkie who´s life was depicted in 1979 in the book “Wir Kinder vom Bahnhof Zoo”. The movie starred David Bowie. Kutte has got that same ragged, junkie, hobo, 70s vibe to him. One song (“Du stehst an einer Straße”) is about the troubles of hitchhiking and the other ( “Du kannst inne Nacht nich´penn”) is a workingman´s blues type song.
This is from a time when Berlin was grey. Before the Wall came down. Before the Love Parade. When Berlin was a Mecca of subculture. Bands like Ton, Steine, Scherben and Einstürzende Neubauten ruled and guys like Kutte roamed the streets. This is as authentic as you could get in Germany. I like his songs.
KUTTE, Du stehst an einer Straße
KUTTE, Du kannst inne Nacht nich`penn
( Eine von mir auf deutsch geschriebene Übersetzung dieses Textes über den Berliner Songwriter Kutte erschien am 16. Juli 2009 in der Wochenzeitung Jungle World.
Im Internet zu lesen ist sie hier. )