Germany Celebrates Wolf Biermann, a Singer Who United East and West

Mr Biermann said it was a real shock to be kicked out of a country he cherished so much despite all its flaws. While hundreds of people risked their lives to migrate illegally west, Bierman’s heart longed for the east. “For me, it’s always been the other way around. That’s pretty much the cardinal rule,” he says.

Biermann’s expulsion sparked protests by some of East Germany’s most famous artists, writers and actors, and the government responded with further crackdowns on artistic expression that lasted until the fall of the Berlin Wall 13 years later.

After the reunification of Germany in 1990, Biermann continued to play an important role, although he received less attention. He remained a respected figure on the German left, even though he expressed unpopular opinions among his comrades. He supported the US-led war in Iraq and criticized the growing peace movement against it.

Standing in front of a wrought-iron eagle on a Berlin bridge, Biermann sang one of his most popular songs, “Prussian I remember writing The Ballad of Icarus. Biermann recalled that they bet which one would bring the iron creature to the poem.

The song, which has become one of his most famous songs, is a quintessentially Biermann, lyrical criticism of the East German state, stating:

Barbed wire slowly deepens
in the skin, chest and bones
in the gray cells of the brain

The same eagle was looking at a completely different world as a tourist boat passed under the perch of the bridge. If Biermann has a formal place in German history today, it is because of the role he played in shaping German history.

Wolf Biermann: German poet and songwriter

At the German Historical Museum in Berlin until January 14, 2024. dhm.de.

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