Translated “for real” by
Bill Collins and Marco Thiede
– FUEGO –
– About the book –
If you used to be a punk, you never where!
I wasn’t even twelve years old in 1976 when I heard about this “New Thing” from England called: PUNK ROCK! Something completely new, snotty and revolutionary. A musical and verbal revolution against the Establishment! A punch right in the face of the whining love song era! I was immediately affected…or better said: infected!
It started with The Sex Pistols and The Damned - but when I heard Jean Jacques Burnel’s bass guitar in “Goodbye Toulouse” by The Stranglers I was totally stoked!
Then as now, the music has never lost its power and energy, and I love all these songs like the first day I heard them!
In this book I’m attempting to describe the beginning of the Punk movement in Bremen - a very unpopular and rough German city - especially in the 80s. About the ongoing battles with right-wing Skinheads, and how we had to scrape together every penny just so we could go to as many cool shows as possible. First in Bremen, then other German cities, then in England (the Promised Land of Punk Rock!), and later in California. To me, it’s an ongoing, never-ending adventure. Finally, In 2012, I “landed” in the Bay Area.
In December 2014 I became 50 years old and Punk Rock is still, to this day, the only kind of music that always gives me goose bumps! And this will never change - as with many of the other “infected” - to my last breath!
What a night! For nearly 3 hours helicopters have been circling our house in Vallejo, a small town in California near Oakland and San Francisco. I've been living here now since October 2012, far away from my much colder homeland in Germany.
Totally wiped out, I drag my tired body out of bed and look forward to my first cup of coffee.
I look out the window and watch an old an old lady strolling past our house on Ryder Street. She has a gypsy look to her; she reminds me of my long dead grandma from Bremen Nord …
Grandma Thiede lived right next door, in the other half of our duplex in Bremen-Aumund. This was an old lady you did not mess around with. Actually, she was anything but a “lady”…
My grandpa was better off than most in our neighborhood of Aumund-Vegesack. He was the first one in that neighborhood to own his own work truck. After he married my grandma his life changed, and not for the better. She showed him right away that she’d have nothing whatsoever to do with keeping house. It didn't take long before they both started drinking heavily. Though they were both already lifelong drinkers, after their wedding, things went only in one direction: downhill!
After a couple of years, the situation deteriorated even more, and as little kids my older siblings and I learned to fear the Terrors Next Door on a daily basis.
Constantly, we could hear bottles smashing against the wall on the other side of our walls as grandma and grandpa beat each other up day in, day out.
I felt sorry, for my father was the complete opposite of his parents. It didn't take long before my grandparents’ house began to attract the most fucked up neighborhood drunks. Windowpanes were soon replaced by wooden boards, and more often than not, one or two police vans were parked in front of the house.
When cars came racing down our street at 50 km/h they would all slow down as they passed our grandparents' place just to see what was flying through the window, or what was being demolished in the front yard today.
Grandma and grandpa Thiede were the talk of the town in Bremen Nord.
Two houses away lived my other grandparents on my mother’s side - who, lucky for us were much nicer. At that time we still had an orchard, complete with manure pile and rabbit hutches.
In our neighborhood, we kids had plenty of opportunities to blow off steam outdoors. Not so far away was a little forest with a pond where we often liked to go to catch frogs and newts.
Next door at my grandma’s lived three cousins: two older boys, and a girl my age. I felt sorry for them because of all the chaos they had to put up with. My aunt Gisela, their mother, was a part-time prostitute and hard-core alcoholic. Her husband, uncle Willie, was a seaman somewhere near Bremerhaven, who more or less followed the path of excess blazed so well by the rest of his family. After a while, my cousins ended up in a state run Home in Bremen-Aumund.
I took another sip of my coffee, when once again these stupid helicopters interrupted my thoughts. It seemed the cops were chasing somebody through the backyards.
Vallejo does not have the best reputation when it comes to criminal activities.
When I recently attended, more or less by chance, a meeting of German transplants, in a pub in Napa Valley, I startled all present when I told them that I live in Vallejo. All the German granny ladies there assured me that when they go to Vallejo or Oakland, they always carry guns in their purses. I could not help but grin and thought to myself: what do I need to fear more - German Grannies armed to the teeth, or Oakland’s resident crack heads?
But back to my childhood …
Back in the days when there were only three channels on the television – apart from what was going on next door - life was rather unspectacular.
As a little boy I unfortunately had always eaten what was on the table, whether I liked it or not. From time to time rabbits were on the menu, but for some reason that was never my thing. Until I had my own rabbit named “Max” on my plate one day. From then on rabbit became my favorite meal! Normally, especially in childhood, an event like this has the opposite result...
As a little kid, my mother constantly forced me to wear scratchy tights, in which I could function only partially, in a robot like way.
A scratch - phobia still haunts me to this day when shopping or trying on new pants. It took years before blue jeans were finally able to triumph over my woolens.
At some point my father started to build a new house in our garden, a task that took him some years. We were finally able to enjoy the Terror of our grandparents from a safe distance.
Nevertheless, the drunken escapades continued to run their course, with more and more sketchy hoodlum types and assorted thugs. It wasn’t uncommon to see one of their new drinking buddies, with a fresh black eye, or a self-sutured Rambo style scar.
Sometimes, when our local drunks burglarized one of our local kiosks or mom and pop shops nearby, they’d present us kids with stolen goods they had no use for.
As a young spud I found a preference for football, and kicked the ball around with my buddies in wind and weather on every imaginable green space. This in turn led to some conflicts with less enthusiastic neighbors who lived directly next to those green areas.
That's why many of our neighborhood kids joined our local football club, Eintracht Aumund. I stayed there as a defender in the (youngest) E group, until a knee injury ended my football career as a hopeful scorer, later in the C group.
1974, Germany became world champions. That was the first time I saw my entire family dancing on the couch at home to the victorious final game! The precursor to Pogo?
Gerd Mueller from Bayern became my football idol. I’m a Bayern Muenchen supporter to this day!
Note: It occurs to me here, that all, like me, who were born in 64,are true-blue loyal types. We stand up for our cause and are not constantly changing ours minds about what we stand behind.
All others in my school were, of course, for Werder Bremen, but they were too boring for me, because Werder constantly at that time was a lower level team back in those days.
Back in those days, the Sportschau program on TV only broadcast games by the three or four best clubs at the top of the league. For years, this was how it went. Bayern Munich was always one of those top teams – the only one that could defeat the other top teams in the European Cup games. They went on to win a lot of championship titles.
I spent a lot of time with my other, good, grandparents, who I will always remember fondly.
My uncle, who lived with my grandparents, often spun singles by T. Rex and The Sweet on his turntable, which eventually sparked my interest.
Even as a ten year old I wanted to have nothing to do with all the schmaltzy Pop bands my parents listened to. The hit parade with Dieter Thomas Heck was ridiculous to me, and on the most embarrassing music show of all time: Ilja Richter’s Disco, 95 % of all the bands just plain made you sick. Bands like Pussycat, Baccara, or Peter Maffay – it was a chamber of horrors with no end. If you were lucky, you could at least admire ABBA’s pretty (at that time) singer Annafried at least, which doesn’t say much for their music - which sucked - unless one was so stinking drunk that nothing made any difference.
My three - year - older brother loved progressive Rock bands like Rainbow or Nazareth. But bands with songs like “Love Hurts”, were not my cup of tea. I realized early on that I had a lot more in common with the Bad Boys of the music scene.
At that time there were still bands like The Who, who demolished stages and their guitars. I found them much more to my taste, but still felt there was something missing. True, at that time, there were bands like MC5, and Iggy and the Stooges, but in Germany they were relatively unknown.
The Sweet did it for me a for few years; despite having top hits they still played aggressive music and had a penchant for destruction, that was cool.
But I would never have guessed what was coming my way two years later, towards the end of 1976. Something that never existed until that time. New, rebellious! Punk Rock, a music that told the truth. An attitude, combined with lifestyle and pure madness!
That has to this day, forever shaped my life, and turned everything that came before upside down.
London Arsenal Tavern
That was the year of redemption! A bunch of crazy fuckers from London would change the lives of an entire generation and youth culture forever. That was the year of Punk Rock! A rebellion against the music establishment; a revolution of misfits. Finally there was something that was a reaction against all that useless Disco garbage and those endless whining love songs. Something that spoke the truth. Finally we had music to touch, to go crazy to and get our aggressions out on. The Punk invasion came at the perfect time, in the era of nuclear power, RAF (Red Army Faction), environmental pollution and other crises.
Punk Rock has changed my life forever, and in an extremely positive way. Unfortunately, it has drawn many…too many other people down into the gutter. From the beginning, I’ve always done my own thing. I had no ambition to just get wasted, and kept my hands off of drugs. And this in a time when those who indulged like crazy people died off like flies!
Old school class photo: top left Wilfried (later a Punk) Voller and I at age 12 about 1976 -1977
I've always been working class, and have nothing in common with those colored-haired Crusties that hang around the train stations.
With this book, I want to document, as well as I can, my Punk Rock life story. From the zero hour, with a focus on the 80s, up to and including today. With all the ups and downs. Including the growth of the Bremen Punk scene, and all the violent clashes against the right-wing Skinheads, cops and rednecks.
Bremen was, especially in the 80s, a very unpleasant place for Nazi Skinheads and sometimes, unfortunately, for Punks from other cities. Because of this, in part, it was not possible for Bremen bands to gig out of town, or to find places to crash in other cities.
Through the founding of ASL (Anti Skinhead League ) Bremen Punks became very well known throughout the whole German Republic. For this, they were sometimes shunned in other cities, because at the beginning of the Punk era, many Punks and Skins hung out together. Beginning of the 80s however, the whole Punks and Skins United thing fell apart.
I would first have to make it clear that I 'm not a thug, and don’t necessarily need violence in my life. But it was always clear to me that I would stand up for my beliefs, whether it was fun or not! If you were a Punk in Bremen, you were automatically in the ASL! There was no founder or boss. Our priority was to attack Skins whenever we saw them, and leave no inch for them to gain a foothold. Bremen was virtually the English Huddersfield,or Millwall (two cities infamous for their Hooliganism); we had a tendency towards cruelty. That’s how it was. This was war!
We all come from the Street, not from the hair salon. And that's a good thing. From today's perspective, I am totally happy that some of my former enemies are nowadays very good friends of mine, healed from the wounds I helped inflict on them, and able to enjoy life.
I realize that I can’t please everyone with this book. But honestly, I don’t really give a fuck. People will always criticize, no matter what you do. Even if you buy the whole world a free beer…
Another reason to write this book, was that although there are many books about bands, musicians, etc., very few have been written from the perspective of other participants: spectators, companions or eyewitnesses. So-called No-Names have maybe written Punk novels – but that’s all...
And also my two friends T. Winter and Chaos, which at that time were on the other side, have written about that time from their perspective, and in my opinion, did a damn good job. So that gave me another reason: to show the situation from the point of view of Punk Rockers, to describe the “brutal, despised” Bremen.
I was unfortunately always too dumb to play an instrument, or even to growl into the microphone, although unbelievably many thought I played in bands. Let's hope that at least my scribbling sounds a bit more interesting.
Dedicated to myself, my daughter Cheyenne, my wife Sarah, my sister Pedy Peng Peng and all my countless great friends. For those that share my life, and those who are sadly no longer with us.
The list is endless!
Bremen-Nord was a town in itself. In the 70s, most in my class were Sweet or Kiss fans.
The Sweet was really my band. From time to time they played on Ilja Richter Disco, Saturday nights on German television’s Channel Two. It happened that the singer Brian Connolly (RIP), broke the microphone and threw it into the corner. Or that Mick Tucker, drummer, smashed up his drums after a song. In the playground the next day that was the number one topic of discussion. Hits like Blockbuster or Hellraiser today are still some of my favorite tunes. At that time, the world’s ugliest band, the Bay City Rollers, attacked the charts. As a result, my favorite band felt they had to compete with them. Suddenly The Sweet played only fuckin ' love songs.
The climax of that cruelty was “Fever of Love”. WTF!
It made you want to scream. Out of the blue, we suddenly became aware of a new sensation out of England. All of a sudden there were articles in the Bravo (Teenie music magazine) on the New Threatening Thing from England: Punk Rock!
It hit like a bomb. Millions of people were disgusted by what had exploded onto the British music scene. Fortunately, this was just what countless crazy and bored people had been waiting for, for years.
Right away, my classmate Voller and I were infected. Many people thought we were crazy, but it wasn’t long till we saw one or two others who were also infected by Punk Rock.
Slowly our situation developed and we set off down the long road to the Viertel - Bremen City’s Punk neighborhood. That took time, thanks to the poor bus service, up to two hours. At flea markets here, you could already discover one or another Punk record. Before long, there was a record store called Govi, which was very focused on Punk Rock. Incredible, that it was possible, even at that time, to buy Punk records from cute, pretty Punk girls working behind the counter.
What birds of paradise!
Julia and Sabine posing in the Govi shop window. [Photo: W. Wiggers]
I'll never forget the first time I heard “Goodbye Toulouse” by the Stranglers, at home with my brother. What a bass! I’d never experienced the true sound of a bass guitar in this way before. Killer! My brother liked that too, although he hated Punk then for some reason.
Kutter ca. 1979
Eventually I met a guy, who I called Sweet Fan, because he had The Sweet logo on his jacket. When I called out to him: Hey, Sweet Fan, he replied to me: I am not a fan of Sweet anymore! I’m a Stranglers Fan and listen to Punk Rock now! That was Wanne of HB-Nord (Bremen Nord). A lifelong Punk Rocker. Just like me.
In the Viertel then there were already Punk or New Wave stores like the Camarillo. We were always happy when we ran into another new Punk. What an adventure!
It was not really easy for us Bremen - Norder. I was born in 1964 and was not even twelve when everything took off. We hardly had any money, and the way to Bremen was very long. Sometimes even longer if we’d been drinking beer and had to take a piss. On the other hand, we still had long hair, and had the feeling that the City Punks despised us because they had short hair or spikes. Then there was the problem that we young sprouts had to be back home on time, which worked less and less.
Near the infamous Sielwall corner was the first official Punk pub called Chateau. Weekends over there were always crazy, and that’s where we first made contact with the Punks from Oslebshausen - which was between Bremen Nord and the City. But the Oslebs Punks didn’t trust us at first, because of our long hair and our oversized, homemade, plate-sized Punk badges.
Only one was very cool to us from the beginning. Hank from Ritterhude. I remember that I met him once at a Buttocks concert where he had his hair spiked with green fluorescent car paint! Unfortunately, that didn’t work out to well for him, so he had to cut it all off down to the scalp. Through Hank I heard about an upcoming Punk concert in Ohlenhof in Groepelingen.
On September 22nd I finally got to attend my very first Punk concert: Two bands from Braunschweig: Bombed Bodies, (later Daily Terror) and Riot Squad (who were later renamed Sluts). What a show! And so many Punks from everywhere! I was in seventh heaven.