“Berlin Calling: A Story of Anarchy, Music, The Wall, and the Birth of the New Berlin” by Paul Hockenos— A Journey Through Subcultures

Hockenos, Paul. “Berlin Calling: A Story of Anarchy, Music, The Wall, and the Birth of the New Berlin”, The New Press, 2017.

A Journey Through Subcultures

Amos Lassen

Paul Hockenos takes us on an exhilarating journey to Berlin and we visit the subcultures, occupied squats, and late-night scenes in the first few years of Berlin after the fall of the wall. We get a fascinating and gripping account of the 1989 “peaceful revolution” in East Germany that ended communism there. This is the story of a newly undivided Berlin when protest and punk rock, bohemia and direct democracy, techno and free theater were the order of the day.

As we might expect, we meet wonderful characters from the underground of what was once two Berlins.

These include playwright Heiner Müller, cult figure Blixa Bargeld of the industrial band Einstürzende Neubauten, the internationally known French Wall artist Thierry Noir, the American multimedia artist Danielle de Picciotto (founder of Love Parade), and David Bowie during his Ziggy Stardust incarnation.

We see how Berlin became hip, and of why it continues to attract creative types from the world over.

Hockenos shares his analysis of the effect of a wall on a people and their culture. He uses music as the lens through which to understand Berlin with its “subcultures, countercultures, evolutions, and devolutions that echoed through a West Berlin isolated by a wall…”

West Berlin is noted for its bars that never closed and hard drugs easily available and seemingly everywhere called out to and inspired David Bowie, Iggy, Brian Eno, and Nick Cave. We see that the punks, anarchists, dissidents and neo-Nazis rebelled against totalitarian rule in the east.

Berlin has seen more tumult and disruption in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries than any other city. Paul Hockenos maintains that this is due to the cultural forces that have transformed and are transforming Berlin. Such is the legacy of re-urbanization and gentrification of the world’s great cities. From what we read here, we get an idea as to what the future of Berlin will be.

Berlin of the 1980s is famous for a wild counterculture and the surprising end of the Cold War.

The book starts with when David Bowie came to Berlin and had an affair with the transgender cabaret performer Romy Haag. We then explore the squat and club culture of the 80s and up to 2016. Hockenos captures the zeitgeist of Berlin from both before and after the wall came down. He gives us Berlin through its people and events that have given the city its uniqueness. People come to Berlin for the music and clubbing scene, gay scene or political scene/anarchist community or just want to be in a place of cutting edge design and creative spaces. This is also a historical document about an incredible city and it is hard o believe that it was once the heart of Nazism and anti-Semitism and has become the meeting-place for artists and anarchists. Berlin is a city of contradictions but it has survived and that’s what really matters.

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