NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY Rolling Stone * BookPage * Amazon * Rough Trade
Longlisted for the Carnegie Medal for Excellence
“[A] riveting and inspiring history of punk’s hard-fought struggle in East Germany.” —The New York Times Book Review
“A thrilling and essential social history that details the rebellious youth movement that helped change the world.” —Rolling Stone
“Original and inspiring . . . Mr. Mohr has written an important work of Cold War cultural history.” —The Wall Street Journal
“Wildly entertaining . . . A thrilling tale . . . A joy in the way it brings back punk’s fury and high stakes.”—Vogue
It began with a handful of East Berlin teens who heard the Sex Pistols on a British military radio broadcast to troops in West Berlin, and it ended with the collapse of the East German dictatorship. Punk rock was a life-changing discovery. The buzz-saw guitars, the messed-up clothing and hair, the rejection of society and the DIY approach to building a new one: in their gray surroundings, where everyone’s future was preordained by some communist apparatchik, punk represented a revolutionary philosophy—quite literally, as it turned out.
But as these young kids tried to form bands and became more visible, security forces—including the dreaded secret police, the Stasi—targeted them. They were spied on by friends and even members of their own families; they were expelled from schools and fired from jobs; they were beaten by police and imprisoned. Instead of conforming, the punks fought back, playing an indispensable role in the underground movements that helped bring down the Berlin Wall.
This secret history of East German punk rock is not just about the music; it is a story of extraordinary bravery in the face of one of the most oppressive regimes in history. Rollicking, cinematic, deeply researched, highly readable, and thrillingly topical, Burning Down the Haus brings to life the young men and women who successfully fought authoritarianism three chords at a time—and is a fiery testament to the irrepressible spirit of revolution.
In this lively narrative, music journalist and former Berlin DJ Mohr takes readers on a profanity-laden, up-close-and-personal tour of the punk rock scene of 1980s East Germany. He follows notable figures in the scene "Major" (who was 15 in 1977 when she became, in Mohr's retelling, the first punk in East Germany), "A-Micha," "Colonel," "Pankow," "Chaos," "Otze," and others and their associated bands as they evolve from a handful of disaffected youths influenced by outside radio and bootleg Sex Pistols albums to a relentless movement of politically minded revolutionaries determined to change a corrupt system from within. Mohr makes clear the punks weren't seeking a reunited Germany, just an East Germany where they'd be free to express themselves, yet their movement contributed to the fall of the Berlin Wall. He chronicles the ongoing clashes between the East German authorities and several microgenerations of punks, describing a compelling war of subversion, persistence, attrition, and defiance, where every act meant to crush spirits and enforce conformity only helped to fan the rebellious flames. The short chapters and punchy prose, coupled with thorough research, give the reader a front-row seat to the events of the '80s. This take on punk evolution is engaging, enlightening, and well worth checking out.