The Punk Presence

#music #activism #resistance #coldwar

On the painted streets of Kreuzberg
Feeling the rush of music
I open my eyes I press my ears
Breathe in the air of rebellion

Maybe the punk spirit lives on in Berlin
Can you hear Ramones playing?
Can you hear Ramones paying?
Can you hear Ramones playing?

The whisper of the punk youth
Ligering in the walls and in the pavements
Flowing through the air in the smell of beer
Etched on the walls of dirty corners and record shops

Maybe the punk spirit lives on in Berlin
Can you hear Ramones playing?
Can you hear Ramones paying?
Can you hear Ramones playing?

As I wandered the streets of Berlin, Kreuzberg in particular, what struck all my senses was the punk scene (Pink, 2015). This was evident from the punk related graffiti on the walls, record shops and music venues, to dedicated punk museums playing ‘Sheena Is A Punk Rocker’ (Ramones, 1977) into the street as I walked past. My embodied experience of punk in Berlin can be understood through the punk song I have written at the start of this blog, a form of geoart (Madge, 2014). The video below shows photographs I have taken on my journey through Kreuzberg, with the same Ramones song playing in the background.

Punk emerged in its own right in Germany, inspired by the rebellious and chaotic messages of American and English punk bands, bred out of a history of tensions in Cold War Berlin (Hall et al, 2016). The punk subculture developed in the 1970s and 1980s, particularly in Kreuzberg (former Wester Berlin), as a social and cultural and political movement in the form of rebellion, disobedience and frustration (Bader and Scharenber, 2010).

German punk developed out of a history of Nazi and Cold War tensions with power, control and imperfect living practises dominating the every day life of people in Berlin (Hall et al, 2016). The punk aesthetic, mind-set and music was a way of resisting authority in the constructed spaces created by the Berlin Wall (Shahan, 2013). Followers were considered deviant criminals who rejected government and socialism and glorified chaos (Brauer, 2012). The state criminalised provocative Punks in the German Democratic Republic (GDR) East Germany and they were heavily targeted and made examples of (Brauer, 2012). High levels of police brutality, unnecessary searches, and paid informants were used to undermine and battle the punk scene in Berlin (Mohr, 2009). This harassment created a shift in the punk scene from being purely rebellious, youthful and chaotic to something with more political underpinnings (Mohr, 2009).

German punks are thought to have heavily contributed to the reunification of Germany through a series of seemingly small but globally connected and symbolic ways through lyrics, rebellion, graffiti on the Berlin Wall and the transgressing of the Berlin Wall border for events (Hall et al, 2016). One of the punk bands that crossed the Berlin Wall for concerts was Die Anderen, who understood the significance of undermining the authority of the barrier and spreading their message (Mohr, 2009). The frontman of Die Anderen described how when the Berlin Wall fell they felt as though their mission was accomplished and the group disbanded (Mohr, 2009).

The rebellious nature of punk followers in the 1970s and 1980s can still be seen in modern Berlin and I experienced it through the graffiti on the streets, the scent of alcohol blended with the sound of the punk music and the evidence of famous record shops SO36 and Coretex still in use. The material and textual representations of Berlin (Latham et al, 2009) as containing a continued punk scene through the flyers, graffiti, stickers, punk bars and dedicated Ramones museum induced a representation of Berlin as a place proud of its subculutre and youthful nature. Whether or not this representation of the city was becoming increasingly commodified for the benefit of capital, it was hard to deny the feeling of anticipation I received as I was walked through the brisk streets of Kreuzberg. It was still palpable, and the environment gave me a rushing sense of excitement, and a legacy of the vibrant punk scene, which was catalysed by the Cold War’s socio-geopolitical tensions.

Further Reading:

Bader, I. and Scharenberg, A. (2010). The Sound of Berlin: Subculture and the Global Music Industry. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 34(1), pp.76-91.

Brauer, J. (2012). Clashes of Emotions: Punk Music, Youth Subculture, and Authority in the GDR (1978-1983). Social Justice, 38(4), pp.53-70.

Hall, M., Howes, S. and Shahan, C. (2016). Beyond No Future: Cultures of German Punk. 1st ed. New York: Bloomsbury Publishing, pp.1-15.

Latham, A., McCormack, D., McNamara, K. and McNeil, D. (2009). Key Concepts in Urban Geography. 1st ed. London: SAGE Publications, pp.1-15.

Madge, C. (2014). On the creative (re)turn to geography: poetry, politics and passion. Area, 46(2), pp.178-185.

Mohr, T. (2009). Did Punk Rock Tear Down the Wall?. [Blog] Daily Beast. Available at: [Accessed 11 Apr. 2018].

Pink, S. (2015). Doing sensory ethnography. 1st ed. London: SAGE, pp.95-117.

RAMONES, 1997. Sheena Is A Punk Rocker [vinyl]. Sire.

Shahan, C. (2013). Punk Rock and German Crisis: Adaptation and Resistance after 1977. 1st ed. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, pp.1-23.



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