How the Stasi’s top man tried to destroy East Germany’s punk movement4 min read

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The head of ruthless Stasi was personally involved in trying to crush the punk rock movement in East Germany amid fears it would spark rebellion, a book has claimed.

Secret police in the German Democratic Republic tried to destroy the punk scene as it rose in popularity across the state in the run-up to the fall of the Berlin Wall.

By 1983, the head of the Stasi – the security force that turned the communist country into a paranoid dystopia – was ‘personally involved’ in trying to wipe out the movement sparking a huge wave of arrests and a brutal crackdown on groups, an author has claimed.

The head of ruthless Stasi was personally involved in trying to crush the punk rock movement in East Germany amid fears it would spark rebellion, a book has claimed. Pictured: Punks in Berlin in 1982

The head of ruthless Stasi was personally involved in trying to crush the punk rock movement in East Germany amid fears it would spark rebellion, a book has claimed. Pictured: Punks in Berlin in 1982

The head of ruthless Stasi was personally involved in trying to crush the punk rock movement in East Germany amid fears it would spark rebellion, a book has claimed. Pictured: Punks in Berlin in 1982

Secret police in the German Democratic Republic tried to destroy the punk scene as it rose in popularity across the state in the run-up to the fall of the Berlin Wall

Secret police in the German Democratic Republic tried to destroy the punk scene as it rose in popularity across the state in the run-up to the fall of the Berlin Wall

Secret police in the German Democratic Republic tried to destroy the punk scene as it rose in popularity across the state in the run-up to the fall of the Berlin Wall

The era is described in the book Burning Down The Haus: Punk Rock, Revolution, and the Fall of the Berlin Wall by New York-based Tim Mohr.

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In an interview with Longreads, he describes how punks played an unsung role in bringing down the Berlin Wall, bravely continuing to perform and dress in distinctive punk outfits despite the threat of jail, beatings or their families being persecuted.

He said punks gradually ‘lost their fear of the police and security apparatus’ and, accepting they would be punished in some way, continued to protest – sparking panic among Stasi ranks as they looked to maintain control.

Youths would be interrogated for hours – having been picked up because of their punk haircuts or after security chiefs had learned of their subversive lyrics.

By 1983, the head of the Stasi - the security force that turned the Communist country into a paranoid dystopia - was 'personally involved' in trying to wipe out the movement sparking a huge wave of arrests and a brutal crackdown on groups, an author has claimed

By 1983, the head of the Stasi - the security force that turned the Communist country into a paranoid dystopia - was 'personally involved' in trying to wipe out the movement sparking a huge wave of arrests and a brutal crackdown on groups, an author has claimed

By 1983, the head of the Stasi – the security force that turned the Communist country into a paranoid dystopia – was ‘personally involved’ in trying to wipe out the movement sparking a huge wave of arrests and a brutal crackdown on groups, an author has claimed

Punishments ranged from beatings and jail time to losing school placements and being stripped of their government accommodation or jobs. Relatives would also suffer similar consequences. 

Mohr describes how bands would play in churches to start with since they were among the few places seen as safe enough to stage performances.

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But when the scene began to grow, the Stasi desperately tried to suppress it with even the head of the service, who Mr Mohr does not name in the Longreads interview, taking a personal interest.

One band, Namenlos, spent two years in a Stasi prison, Mr Mohr said, purely based on the lyrics to their songs which had been noted down by informants. 

He said: ‘I think from a Western perspective, it’s almost impossible to conceive of making the decisions that these kids did. I mean, they obviously had no idea the Wall would fall, and they were making decisions as teenagers that were costing them basically their entire futures.’ 

The era is described in the book Burning Down The Haus: Punk Rock, Revolution, and the Fall of the Berlin Wall by New York-based Tim Mohr

The era is described in the book Burning Down The Haus: Punk Rock, Revolution, and the Fall of the Berlin Wall by New York-based Tim Mohr

The era is described in the book Burning Down The Haus: Punk Rock, Revolution, and the Fall of the Berlin Wall by New York-based Tim Mohr

Mohr interviewed some 50 people from the scene for his book with many having kept diaries of their experiences at the time. He also consulted official Stasi reports. 

Huge street protests preceded the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and Mohr suggests this may at least partly have had its origin in small gatherings of punks years earlier.

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He told Longreads: ‘[Punks] got hassled and beaten so much. A lot of them spent time in prison, came back out and kept fighting. I think for other groups, to see that, kind of changed the game. 

‘And as things shifted onto the streets, the punks were on the front edge, again because they’d lost their fear of the police. They knew they were going to be beaten.’ 

For 28 years, communist-controlled East Germany was cut off from the West by the Berlin Wall and the heavily-armed guards that defended it.

The wall was erected by the Soviets in 1961 after the number of East Germans leaving the GDR via West Berlin reached record heights.

Border guards around the Berlin Wall were under strict orders to shoot men, women or children trying to flee.

That meant escapees had to adopt covert tactics – sneaking through checkpoints, hiding in vehicles and tunnelling under the concrete to get to West Berlin.

In total 75,000 East Germans were caught attempting to escape and imprisoned and at least 140 people were killed by Soviet soldiers.

The Revolutions of 1989 resulted in the end of communist rule in Central and Eastern Europe and the demise of wall.