(Laura Döing’s article appeared on DW, 7/7; Photo: Wolf Biermann in Cologne in November 1976: He didn’t even play his most critical songs — out of caution Image: Wilhelm Bertram/dpa/picture-alliance’)

A new exhibition dedicated to German singer-songwriter and famous former East German dissident Wolf Biermann reflects

Wolf Biermann‘s career is so directly intertwined with the history of East and West Germany that Berlin’s Deutsches Historisches Museum (German History Museum) is now dedicating an exhibition to the poet and songwriter. Upon finishing school, he left Hamburg to emigrate to East Germany, as he believed he could live out his communist ideals there. But then the protest singer was spied upon by the Stasi, the German Democratic Republic’s (GDR) secret police. Banned from performing in the East, he was eventually expatriated back to the West.

Learning he was expatriated from the radio

After being forbidden to perform publicly for 11 years by the East German authorities, on November 13, 1976, Wolf Biermann was surprised to be allowed to travel to Cologne for a concert. That night, sitting on a bar stool with his sleeves rolled up, armed with only his a guitar, he mocked and protested against the (GDR) to a crowd of 7,000 people.

Although the singer-songwriter was not allowed to distribute his recordings in East Germany, his songs were so popular in West Germany that they had found their way back into the GDR in the form of clandestine copies. 

Three days later, still on tour in West Germany, Biermann learned while listening to the radio that he would be deprived of his East German citizenship for betrayal and defamation of the GDR.

“I felt cast away,” he wrote about the anxiety the news provoked in his 2016 memoirs, titled “Wolf Biermann: Warte nicht auf bessre Zeiten!” (Do not wait for better times).

His expatriation triggered protests. A petition to the government was signed by the GDR’s most important intellectuals, including Stephan Hermlin, Christa Wolf, Stefan Heym, Günter Kunert, Heiner Müller and Jurek Becker. This response made the regime nervous: Surveillance, work bans and arrests increased.

The actors Manfred Krug and Armin Mueller-Stahl left the country. “The East German authorities were expecting an angry media reaction from the West, but they didn’t expect that a group of recognized authors and artists from the GDR would protest for the first time publicly through a petition,” Biermann wrote in his autobiography.

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