Wolf Biermann

Wolf Biermann, writer and musician
Wolf Biermann at his first concert in the GDR following his 1976 expulsion, 1 December 1989
Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-1989-1201-046, photographer: Waltraud Grubitzsch (born Raphael)

Wolf Biermann

Ja ja, das Bitterwort Exil. Es klingt nach Wehleidigkeit und Aufschneiderei. Wie kann man von Exil sprechen, wenn einer bloß von Deutschland nach Deutschland gejagt wurde, man behält immerhin seine liebe deutsche Sprache. […] Wer aber von Ost nach West geht, der muß eine grundsätzlich anders verfaßte Gesellschaft lernen. Er wechselt nicht nur die Länder, sondern Welten.

[Yes, that bitter word ‘exile’. It smacks of self-pity and bragging. How can you talk of exile when you were merely hunted from Germany to Germany, and you even retain your beloved German language. (…)  But anybody who moves from the East to the West has to come to terms with a fundamentally different kind of society. You aren’t only changing countries, but changing worlds. (ed. trans.)]

Wolf Biermann, Reden über das eigene Land: Deutschland, 1987

Born15 November 1936 in Hamburg
ExileFederal Republic of Germany
ProfessionMusician, Writer

Wolf Biermann already moved to the GDR of his own volition as a young man and, in the early 1960s began to write songs and poems which also dealt critically with the political and social situation in socialist East Germany. For this reason, the artist found himself increasingly subjected to restrictions by the authorities. In 1963 he was temporarily banned from appearing on stage and, following the publication of his volume of poetry Die Drahtharfe in 1965, he was not allowed to appear in public or to publish (from December 1965). It was for this reason that he published his first LP Chausseestrasse 131 in West Germany in 1968. Biermann’s case increasingly became a matter of political interest, and ultimately came to the attention of the uppermost echelons of state leadership. 

After a concert in Cologne gained a great deal of public attention, the SED Politburo decided to expel the artist and strip him of his GDR citizenship. This step led to far-reaching protests by numerous artist colleagues, many of whom subsequently also left the GDR. Wolf Biermann, who until then still saw himself as a socialist despite criticism against him, was very upset by these events. He moved back to his birthplace Hamburg where he continued to publish poems and songs which frequently dealt with German-German relations. After the fall of the Berlin wall, he travelled into the GDR for the first time (on 1 December 1989) and on the same day gave a concert in Leipzig. Biermann has received several awards, among them the Fontane Prize from the city of Berlin (1969), the Georg Büchner Prize (1991) and the German Order of Merit, Grand cross (2006).

Selected works:
Die Drahtharfe (ballads, poetry, songs, 1965)
Wolf Biermann (Ost) zu Gast bei Wolfgang Neuss (West) (record, 1965)
Chausseestraße 131 (record, 1968)
Preußischer Ikarus (songs, ballads, poetry, prose, 1978)
Affenfels und Barrikade (poetry, songs, ballads, 1986)

Further reading:
Arnold, Heinz Ludwig (Hg.): Wolf Biermann. München: Edition Text und Kritik 2. Auflage 1980
Grünbaum, Robert: Wolf Biermann 1976: Die Ausbürgerung und ihre Folgen. Erfurt: Landeszentrale für politische Bildung Thüringen 2006
Mytzke, Andreas W. (Hg.): Biermann und die Folgen. Berlin: Verlag europäische Ideen 1977
Pleitgen, Fritz (Hg.): Die Ausbürgerung. Anfang vom Ende der DDR. Berlin: List 2006