Unjustly perhaps, East Germany’s girl singers of the 1960s remain largely overlooked in the history of German pop. This month Jens Keller discovers more great deutsche demokatische dolls as he leads our second reconnoitre behind the barbed wire of beat.
Helmet-haired brunette Karin Prohaska had two top hits in 1965, Bis zur Hochzeit wird alles wieder gut (East Germany’s biggest-selling single of the year) and Ich such’ mir meinen Bräutigam alleine aus. Both were so successful that they were covered for the West German market – the latter by British teen sensation Helen Shapiro (which you can hear here).
For us, Karin’s Man küsst nur, wenn man liebt, from 1967, is also a high point of her career.
She had started out singing in a school band in what was then Karl-Marx-Stadt and is now known as Chemnitz. She was whisked off to Berlin after leaving school and went on to enjoy a string of hits. By 1969, however, she had tired of the music business and she and her husband packed their bags for Moscow, where she scaled the dizzy heights of public sector middle management.
Veteran singer Helga Brauer was very successful in the 1950s and 60s.
Born in Leipzig in 1936, Helga trained as a dental technician. But she jacked in a career in dentistry in 1954 after winning a talent contest while on holiday in the spa town of Sellin. By 1959, she was promoting the Lipsi – a short-lived dance step created by the East German government to rival
rock ‘n’ roll – with songs such as Heute tanzen alle jungen Leute im Lipsi Schritt and Mister Brown aus USA.
With hubby, composer Walter Eichenberg, providing hits such as Das Tagebuch von schönen Max and Hör’ mein Herz, Helga remained a firm fixture on the music scene well into the 1960s. In 1966, she won the very first East German Schlagerwettbewerb, modelled on the hugely popular West German contest.
Her catalogue is a little cheesy for our tastes, but in 1967 she gave current pop a go, and her Auf keinen Fall isn’t bad at all.
Not quite an A-lister, but popular all the same, was perky redhead Sonja Schmidt. Hailing from the Saxon town of Crimmitschau, her first record was the chipper Nein, nein, nein, es lohnt sich nicht, in 1968.
However, it would take three more years until Sonja struck gold. 1971’s Ein himmelblauer Trabant was a lively ode to the East German car for everybody – the (in)famous Trabant, a car whose entire body was made of plastic. And like the car, the song became major hit and cult object. Today the single sells for top euros on the second-hand market and is a must for all Trabant enthusiasts.
It remains Sonja’s sole hit, although she continued to perform until she retired in 2006.
Travel was a universal theme in German music in the 1960s. In the West, songs about foreign men and exotic climes became all the rage. The East Germans set their sights a little lower, however, with ditties about travelling by car or by taxi. Heidi Kempa, for instance, enjoyed a few hits but it is her 1964 track Mach mit mir ‘ne Fahrt ins Land der Liebe that, er, drives us crazy.
Tomboy Tina Brix released a few very danceable tracks before the beat ban. Lang, lang ist’s her is her best offering.
Eva Maria Bitomski
A bit of mystery is Eva Maria Bitomski. She only made two recordings for AMIGA. Listening to Doch es war Illusion, from 1968, makes us wish she had done more.
Monika Hauff, like East German star Chris Doerk, was a singer that was at her most successful when she was teamed up with a male counterpart. In Monika’s case, her partner was Klaus-Dieter Henkler. In the 1970s, as Hauff & Henkler, they conquered the record market – cutting over 300 songs together – and presented several TV shows.
We really like her very first solo effort from 1967, Geh hin zu ihr.
Gabriele Kluge began her career with the Magdeburg group Connys in 1965. Three years later, her Sommerliebe became her biggest solo hit, but we prefer her brassy Immer sagst du verzeih’ from 1967.
AMIGA deemed Ingrid Winkler’s 1967 record Aus alten Scherben wird kein neues Glück good enough to give it a rare release in West Germany. West Germany didn’t care, though. Quite unfairly, we think.
Gipsy was another minor recording artist in the AMIGA stable. She made only two singles – most of her other material was released on compilation LPs. Check out her Die Liebe klopft an, from 1967.
Die Kolibris were the only thing in East Germany that vaguely resembled a girl group. Mainly a studio formation that did back-up vocals on many productions, they released a couple singles of their own. 1970’s Hallo, Taxi bitte is their finest moment.
Petra had a minor recording career on AMIGA, but she raised some eyebrows in 1962, when she became the very first person to dance the (Western) twist on East German television. And while the record label cleverly disguised her song Erst kommst du as a foxtrot, Petra’s hip-shaking action with a cartoon cat leave no doubt that Chubby Checker’s revolution had broken through the Iron Curtain.
A West German trend that AMIGA picked up on was to import Scandinavian talent. Siw Malmkvist, Wencke Myhre, Gitte and Dorthe were outselling most homegrown girls in the West. Yet, with a currency that was basically worthless internationally, it was hard to entice foreign beauties to come to the Arbeiter- and Bauernstaat.
Norwegian doll Kirsti Sparboe recorded one track, the eerie Zwei Augen in 1968 for AMIGA, before she concentrated on a more lucrative career in West Germany.
AMIGA bosses’ next move was to sign Swedish bombshell Nina Lizell. A former air hostess, she already had a successful recording career on West Germany’s Cornet label and she became the only artist to record in both German states at the same time. Her trademark sound in both countries was
feather-light sing-a-long Schlager.
Fahr’ mit mir Auto, from 1969, is probably the best cut of her East German catalogue.
Back in Sweden, Nina teamed up with the recently emigrated Lee Hazelwood in 1970 to lend her vocals to his album Cowboy Sweden, and the result is regarded as her most credible project.
The 1970s and 80s
In the 1970s and 80s, the East German music scene continued to try and keep up with times, but it was hardly setting any trends or raising much interest outside its borders. West Germany had – perhaps unfairly – a condescending attitude towards all things from the East.
As a company, AMIGA existed for a further four years after the fall of the Wall, until 1994.
Many local artists found it very hard to prevail against the heavy competition from the West and the musical heritage of the East was almost forgotten for two decades. The rights to all AMIGA recordings are now owned by Sony BMG Music Entertainment. In the 2000s, the label began a reissue series and many titles are now for the first time available on CD.
Want to know more about East German girl singers of the 1960s? Read part 1 of our trip behind the Iron Curtain of pop.
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