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Chausseestraße 131

Wolf Biermann

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Album Review

Chausseestraße 131 was Wolf Biermann's first solo record with a legendary history: since Biermann was banned in East Germany, and thus not allowed to officially commit any of his songs to tape, he set up an improvised studio in his apartment. With the help of friends and his mother, he had items like a high-quality microphone or a studio tape recorder smuggled to him from West Germany so he would be able to properly record his songs. As the microphone he used was highly sensitive, it picked up background noise of passing cars and sometimes even chirping birds. After unsuccessfully trying to eliminate this noise, Biermann eventually decided to make a virtue of necessity and recorded the songs "as is." The constant noise track thus gives the album a trace of a natural authenticity that is still effective after all these years since its first release. It is also a brilliant statement of how Biermann, officially banned and forced into inner exile, was by no means shut off from the events of the day. Chausseestraße 131 has passed the test of time and is Biermann's masterpiece, a timeless classic of German songwriting. The album starts with the outcry "Die hab ich satt" (I Am Fed Up With Them), which was written in 1963. It directs all of Biermann's anger at the different types of weak and cowardly people supporting an unjust system: "frigid women stroking me," "false friends flattering me who are keen on hot details and then messing their pants," "the entire mob of bureaucrats steamrolling over the people's necks," "teachers breaking the childrens' backbones," "venal slimy poets with their wet hands," and so on. It is one of the most original comments on the East German state of mind in the '60s. "Das Barlach-Lied" (The Barlach Song) describes the mischief waiting for all non-conformist voices in this era in more poetic ways, but Biermann's mockery gets mordant in the following three tracks. In "Deutschland — ein Wintermärchen...(Fortsetzung)" (Deutschland, a Winter's Tale, Continued), a spoken text and a direct reference to the groundbreaking Germany-satirical poem of Heinrich Heine, Biermann refers to Germany as the "fat and heavy arse of the world" (a wordplay on the phrase Arsch der Welt, which literally translates as arse of the world but means in the middle of nowhere) and Berlin as its "divided hole with hairs of barbed wire where it will stink when the stomachs of the world's powerful are aching." In "Die Ballade auf den Dichter Francois Villon" (The Ballad on the Poet Francois Villon), the middle part of the trilogy, Biermann lets his other alter-ego roam on the Berlin Wall and annoy the border posts. "Wie eingepfercht in Kerkermauern" (Penned in Prison Walls) describes Biermann's inner exile in Berlin and sounds quite bitter and sad. In the next song, "Zwischenlied," (Interlude) however, he declares that despite the occasional sad song, he is not getting desperate in these "beautiful moving times," and as if he wants to reinforce this vision he next sings a song about springtime at the Mont Klamott, a big heap of rubble from WWII in Berlin that was turned into a park. In "Moritat auf Biermann seine Oma Meume in Hamburg" (Street Ballad on Biermann's Granny Meume at Hamburg) and "Großes Gebet der alten Kommunistin Oma Meume in Hamburg" (Great Prayer of the Old Communist Granny Meume at Hamburg), he points out where his roots are and how he has been influenced by them. The latter song adds a particularly shrewd twist by letting his granny pray to God for the victory of communism. The swan song of this album, "So soll es sein — so wird es sein" already formulated the legacy of the then 31-year-old Biermann. It was by no means the swan song of his career, but rather a reminder of what was to follow.

Biography

Genre: Singer/Songwriter

Years Active: '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s

Writing about Wolf Biermann is a complex task. This German singer, songwriter, and poet can be called the most famous, controversial, loved, and hated artist of post-war Germany, a scathing critic of the "real socialism" which eventually collapsed at the end of the '80s. He may in some way be called the "Bob Dylan of Germany," but with two significant limitations: Unlike Dylan, Biermann never flirted with...
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Chausseestraße 131, Wolf Biermann
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