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Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Biermann in Context. Series of talks on the exhibition at the Deutsches Historisches Museum | 06.09.2023 – 14.01.2024

Editors’ Choice

To accompany the exhibition “Wolf Biermann. A Lyricist and Songwriter in Germany” (until 14 January 2024), the German Historical Museum in cooperation with the Federal Agency for Civic Education and the Berlin State Library invites you to the discussion series “Biermann in Context” in the Pei-Bau. On five evenings, journalist and literary critic Lothar Müller and alternating guests will look back on the period from the 1960s to the end of the GDR and the establishment of “German Unity” from the perspective of the year 2023. Authors and sociologists, cultural scholars and humanities scholars, contemporary witnesses and historians of different generations have their say; short film clips introduce each round of talks.

Fig. above: Wolf Biermann at a concert in the Sporthalle Köln, 13 November 1976
Photo: Barbara Klemm/Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung © Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung GmbH, Frankfurt/Main. All rights reserved.

In the first edition on Wednesday, 6 September 2023 at 6.30 pm, Lothar Müller and his guests Volker Braun, Prof. Dr Eva Geulen and Durs Grünbein will talk about “Biermann and cultural politics. ‘An die alten Genossen’ (1962) in context“: Biermann’s “Gesang an die alten Genossen” was written from the perspective of youth. It ends with the lines “Put a good end to your work / By leaving us / The new beginning!” When he recited it at the “Young Poetry” event at the Akademie der Künste in December 1962, it was not only the literary editor of Neues Deutschland who was incensed. At the same time, a good year after the Wall was built, there were also hopes for a more liberal cultural policy. The 11th Party Congress of the SED put an end to them in 1965. What became of the impulses for a “new beginning” in the following generations? What role plays, what aesthetic strategies did authors invent in a state that was repressive and at the same time wanted to be a “cultural nation”?

DEEDS NEWS - Deutsches Historisches Museum (c) Deutsches Historisches Museum
“es grünt so grün” poster from Wolf Biermann’s tour to support the Green Party in the election campaign, 1980
© Deutsches Historisches Museum

With an excerpt from the article “Vor seiner Ausbürgerung. A flat concert by Wolf Biermann in Chausseestraße” in the political magazine “Kennzeichen D” (197

From 23 September 2023, the Zeughauskino, in cooperation with the Federal Agency for Civic Education and the Deutsche Kinemathek, presents the film series “EIN ANFANG VOM ENDE DER DDR. The Biermann petitioners of DEFA and their films in East and West Germany”: In the GDR, from the mid-1970s onwards, a series of films critically examined the social conditions in their country. They tell of interpersonal conflicts and personal problems that can be parabolically related to social ills in the GDR. The works realised in the West by screenwriters, directors, actors and actresses from the GDR in turn reflect experiences of forced emigration, life in a capitalist foreign country and alienation from the homeland. The film series, which looks at German-German film history in the run-up to and after Wolf Biermann’s expatriation, tells of the attempts of East German filmmakers to assert themselves and remain true to themselves in the face of a repressive policy of the Politburo on both sides of the Wall.

DEEDS NEWS - Deutsches Historisches Museum - Wolf Biermann - Barbara Klemm, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (c) Frankfurt-Main
Wolf Biermann at a concert in the Sporthalle Cologne, 13 November 1976
Photo: Barbara Klemm/Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung © Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung GmbH, Frankfurt/Main. All rights reserved.

About the exhibition:

Wolf Biermann is one of Germany’s best-known songwriters – East and West. His expulsion from the GDR in 1976 was a political caesura in post-war German history and an admission of great perplexity on the part of the SED party leadership. Unlike lesser-known artists, Biermann had become too popular to be imprisoned and he was too unpredictable to be allowed to make public appearances. Many of his songs, ballads and poems have outlived the current occasion of their creation. “Don’t Wait for Better Times”, “Encouragement” or “Ballad of the Prussian Icarus” have become classics.

Curated by Monika Boll (“Hannah Arendt and the 20th Century”), the exhibition focuses on Wolf Biermann’s life and work against the backdrop of the special position that culture occupied in the GDR. The show presents Biermann’s work in its interweaving with the (cultural) political events of contemporary German history. The exhibition tour follows the career of the singer-songwriter from his move to the GDR and his first artistic successes to his ban on performing and publishing and finally his expatriation. For Biermann, the forced move from East to West initially meant a challenge: how did a singer-songwriter redefine himself who, for all his criticism of the SED leadership, saw himself as a communist? When the civil rights movement in the GDR gained strength in 1989 and the government began to falter, Biermann remained an onlooker for the time being. He still looks at the PDS and DIE LINKE as successor parties to the SED with a critical distance. A detailed station is also dedicated to Wolf Biermann’s family history: for Biermann, whose father Dagobert was murdered in Auschwitz as a Jew and member of the communist resistance, this was not only central after his expulsion from the GDR.

All events of the discussion series “Biermann in Context”:

Wednesday, 6.9.2023, 6.30 pm
Biermann and cultural politics
“To the old comrades” (1962) in context

With Volker Braun, Eva Geulen and Durs Grünbein

Wednesday, 20.9.2023, 6.30 p.m.
Biermann and the Stasi
“Stasi Ballad” (1967) in context

With Marianne Birthler, Julia Franck and Philip Oltermann

Wednesday, 4.10.2023, 6.30 p.m.
Biermann and the expatriation
“Ballad of the Prussian Icarus” (1976) in context

With Bettina Leder, Doris Liebermann and Steffen Mau

Wednesday, 18.10.2023, 6.30 p.m.
Biermann and the West
“German Miserere” (1978) in context

With Daniel Cohn-Bendit, Kai Sina and Willi Winkler

Wednesday, 1.11.2023, 6.30 p.m.
Biermann and the Jews
“Great Song of the Exterminated Jewish People” (1994) in context

With Dmitrij Kapitelman and Annette Leo


Deutsches Historisches Museum
Unter den Linden 2
10117 Berlin


Pei Building:
daily 10am-6pm, Thu 10am-8pm


24 December closed


Admission is free. Registration is required at: www.dhm.de/anmeldung-biermann
The entire accompanying programme can be listened to on the DHM Soundcloud channel.
Further information and tickets at: www.zeughauskino.de

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