2018 Landschaftspark DuisburgNord, © Ruhr Tourismus GmbH, Hoffmann

Travelogue Sound of Ruhr Area

The whole poly­centric pop-his­tory of the Ruhr Area - from then un­til today

Grugahalle Essen, © Rainer Schimm


Right next to the sta­tion on a hotel hangs an enorm­ous neon sign with the words: ?Es­sen. The Shop­ping City?. This sign has been on dis­play since 1951, a rel­ic of the post-war era when Es­sen was try­ing to es­tab­lish it­self as the con­sumer met­ro­pol­is of the Ruhr re­gion. If this claim doesn?t tempt you to go shop­ping , you can go dis­cov­er a city of cul­ture in Es­sen ? the per­fect start­ing point to ex­plore the sound of the Ruhr. There are ex­cit­ing mu­sic ven­ues in every dir­ec­tion. To the north is Licht­burg, one of the old­est and most beau­ti­ful cinemas in the coun­try, which also boasts Ger­many?s biggest aud­it­or­i­um. It?s not only a pop­u­lar loc­a­tion for film shoots, but also a ven­ue for premi­eres of ac­claimed movie and con­certs. Not far from Licht­burg, Kay Shang­hai, a man about town and cre­at­ive free spir­it, op­er­ates his fam­ous elec­tro club, Hotel Shang­hai. Bey­ond the high streets, Vie­hofer Platz is a Ber­muda tri­angle for fans of hard rock. To the east is the Steele dis­trict, the hub of the city?s punk scene which re­volves around the HüWeg youth club and the Grend arts centre. And in the south around Rüt­tenscheider Stern, Es­sen shows off its in­ter­na­tion­al, urb­an, hip­ster side with charm­ing cafés and un­usu­al clubs. And from here, it?s just a stone?s throw to the Gruga­halle, a con­cert and sports arena! 

Bamm-Bamm! ?One, two, three o?clock, four o?clock rock!? Two snare-drum beats like gun shots, then in comes the gui­tar: ?Five, six, sev­en o?clock, eight o?clock rock!? Bill Haley?s voice be­comes more ur­gent, the double bass thumps: ?Nine, ten, el­ev­en o?clock, twelve o?clock rock!? In just el­ev­en seconds, a hard day?s work is for­got­ten. ?We?re gonna rock around the clock to­night!? Bill Haley & his Comets put rock ?n? roll on the mu­sic­al map, and since then it?s been here to stay.

We?re in the Rüt­tenscheid, a dis­trict of south Es­sen, over­look­ing the Gruga­halle?s icon­ic steel roof, which looks like a but­ter­fly tilt­ing to the left on take-off, and epi­tom­ising the dawn of a new era. Us­ing a bit of ima­gin­a­tion, we can beam ourselves back to the 1950s when rock and roll ex­ploded in the Ruhr re­gion, of­fer­ing teen­agers a glimpse of the world bey­ond belch­ing chim­neys and bor­ing jobs.

On 28 Oc­to­ber 1958, just three days after the Gruga­halle?s open­ing, Bill Haley stepped onto the stage after the audi­ence im­pa­tiently booed off el­eg­ant Kurt Edel­ha­gen?s Big Band, the warm-up act. Haley was a rock ?n? roll am­bas­sad­or and his con­cert sig­nalled a turn­ing point in pop mu­sic.

The Ruhr area of the 1950s was a world of miners graft­ing in the pit, day in, day out, to a back­drop of war-rav­aged streets and air clogged with soot. But this was also the time when the eco­nom­ic mir­acle took off, fuel­ling dreams of elec­tric ovens and wash­ing ma­chines in prac­tic­al, brand-new hous­ing es­tates for work­ers. The older gen­er­a­tion hap­pily ad­jus­ted to the ma­ter­i­al­ism of the stuffy Ad­e­nauer years and listened to mu­sic that re­flec­ted their at­ti­tudes. Swing and jazz were fash­ion­able in the early 1950s and were played in dance halls or the some­times splen­did ball­rooms of ho­tels. The biggest star from the min­ing area was Dortmund?s Karl Heinz Schwab. Un­der his stage name Ralf Bendix, he trans­formed Amer­ic­an folk and boo­gie songs in­to taw­dry easy-listen­ing tracks.

This was the world in­to which the bomb of pro­voc­at­ive rock ?n? roll ex­ploded. It first ar­rived via Ger­man fair­ground op­er­at­ors who toured through­out Europe, bring­ing the latest re­cords with them. The rides were spin­ning dis­cos, where teen­agers met up to show off their Elvis quiffs, skinny jeans and leath­er jack­ets, and to rock to the latest hits. Closely linked to the biker and rock­er scenes, James Dean, Buddy Holly and Elvis clubs sprang up over the Ruhr re­gion.

At the end of 1956, Bill Haley?s film Rock Around the Clock opened in cinemas. After one screen­ing, street fights erup­ted between teen­agers and po­lice in Gelsen­kirchen. Oth­er cit­ies saw sim­il­ar scenes. All around Dortmund?s Cap­it­ol cinema, three days of ri­ots broke out, which were dubbed the ?Dortmund Days of Chaos? and are con­sidered to be the first ma­jor youth ri­ots in West Ger­many, even if they only res­ul­ted in a few de­mol­ished rub­bish bins and broken shop win­dows. The press was ir­ate and Bill Haley be­came a sym­bol­ic fig­ure for teen­agers protest­ing against the in­su­lar­ity of the Ad­e­nauer era. This meant that Haley?s show in the Ruhr re­gion was more than just a live gig. To this day, it is a sym­bol of why rock ?n? roll, pop, met­al, hip-hop and elec­tro are more than just mu­sic tastes in the Ruhr area. They rep­res­ent a col­lect­ive re­bel­lion against the au­thor­it­ies and the nar­row-minded world­view of the older gen­er­a­tion, a dis­trac­tion from the grey­ness of the Ruhr and an erup­tion of col­lect­ive eu­phor­ia. Mu­sic, gigs and artists are ir­re­fut­able proof that the Ruhr re­gion is not in the least be­hind the times when it comes to pop cul­ture ? quite the op­pos­ite, in fact: at mo­ments like the night when the lights went out in the Gruga­halle and the mu­sic star­ted, the Ruhr re­gion can feels like the best place to be in the world.

The Gruga­halle is un­doubtedly at the heart of pop mu­sic from the Ruhrge­biet. Big mu­sic­al re­volu­tions over time are re­flec­ted here: In Septem­ber 1965, not long after the re­lease of their hit single ?(I Can?t Get No) Sat­is­fac­tion?, the Rolling Stones went on tour, passing through Es­sen. In 1968, the In­ter­na­tion­al Es­sen Song Fest­iv­al took place at the Gruga­halle, a gath­er­ing of av­ant-garde and polit­ic­al per­formers of chan­son, rock, cab­aret and folk, which was hailed as the first com­mer­cial fest­iv­al in Ger­man pop his­tory. Then the ?In­ter­na­tion­al Es­sen Pop and Blues Fest­iv­al? brought in­ter­na­tion­al stars like Pink Floyd, Fleet­wood Mac, Deep Purple and many more to the Ruhr re­gion. The crowds of vis­it­ors on the last day were so huge that a pan­ic could only be aver­ted when some of the bands played free of charge in front of the arena. From 1977 on­wards, Es­sen be­came the ?Rock­palast City?, named after the eponym­ous TV mu­sic pro­gramme that broad­cast live gigs through­out Europe. Over 17 shows, bands such as The Kinks, The Who, Van Mor­ris­on were trans­mit­ted from Es­sen in­to Europe?s liv­ing rooms.

Even the biggest band of all time has a Gruga­halle story to its name. In 1966, the Beatles played their one and only tour of Ger­many. The Fab­ulous Four headed for three cit­ies on their ?BRAVO blitz tour?: Mu­nich, Ham­burg and ... Es­sen! They per­formed el­ev­en songs in their thirty-minute show and the first lyr­ics of the open­ing song were un­mis­tak­able: ?Just let me hear some of that rock and roll mu­sic!? With their cov­er of Chuck Berry?s song as an open­ing num­ber, they spanned an arc from late 1950s? rock ?n? roll to 1960s? beat. In the Ruhr re­gion, their plea fell on listen­ing ears. And in a church cel­lar in the min­ing town of Gelsen­kirchen, the first mu­sic-makers star­ted put­ting it in­to prac­tice.

The Beatles - Live June 25th, 1966

At The Es­sen Gruga­halle - © Doc­tor Robert

Matthäus Kirche, © © Michael Westphal


We get onto the metro at Gruga­halle. It takes a good hour to reach the centre of Es­sen from here, passing the heart of the met­al in­dustry in Alte­nessen, around the former col­li­ery, Zeche Carl, be­fore fi­nally com­ing in­to Gelsen­kirchen?s Buer dis­trict. There?s are no re­mind­ers that this place used to be a min­ing town of hard graft. It?s sur­pris­ingly green, with pleas­ant parks and rows upon rows of cosy hous­ing es­tates prom­ising the good life. Around the corner is the Velt­ins Arena, home to FC Schalke 04, pride and joy of the city?s quarter of a mil­lion in­hab­it­ants by the River Em­scher. We?re look­ing for the Mat­thäuskirche (St Mat­thew?s Church) on Cranger Street. We have to look twice be­fore we spot the red-brick build­ing hid­den be­hind the trees with its free-stand­ing, square bell tower. Through the win­dows we catch a glimpse of its simple in­teri­or. While walk­ing around the av­ant-garde 1960s? Prot­est­ant church, we dis­cov­er a few small com­mon rooms at the back. We stop and stare in rev­er­ence. In the mid-1960s, this was the site of the ?Tem­pel?.

At the be­gin­ning of the 1960s, skiffle groups, which turned in­to beat bands, had people bop­ping from Liv­er­pool to Ham­burg?s Reep­er­bahn and all the way to the fur­thest-flung corners of the coun­try. Sud­denly, teen­agers every­where star­ted pick­ing up in­stru­ments and form­ing bands in im­it­a­tion of the Beatles, the Stones or the Kinks. Some­times help was at hand from en­thu­si­ast­ic cler­gy­men. For ex­ample, pas­tor Wich­mann in Gelsen­kirchen?s Buer dis­trict. He re­acted to the youth ri­ots of the 1950s by turn­ing the youth club room be­neath the church in­to a meet­ing and leis­ure centre. His ini­ti­at­ive was sup­por­ted by the youth wel­fare au­thor­it­ies, who con­sidered the in­flu­ence of skiffle and beat (in com­par­is­on to rauc­ous rock ?n? roll) con­du­cive to the re­duc­tion of youth crime. This is how the premises of St Mat­thew?s Church be­came the first ven­ue for beat bands from the en­tire Ruhr re­gion. Pas­tor Wich­mann made Buer the centre of the move­ment which at­trac­ted nearly 1,500 bands by the mid-1960s. And the St Mat­thew?s Church be­came the ?Tem­pel?.


Al­most sim­ul­tan­eously, the youth wel­fare work­er Kurt Os­ter turned up on the scene in Reck­ling­hausen. There, in the Vestland­halle, he or­gan­ised beat fest­ivals in­stead of dance teas and youth balls. On a reg­u­lar basis, more than 100 beat groups per­formed in front of thou­sands of fans in the space of a week­end. And so Reck­ling­hausen earned it­self the tongue-in-cheek name of ?Ger­man Liv­er­pool?. Kurt Os­ter also linked the scene to Ham­burg and or­gan­ised a com­pet­i­tion between re­gion­al bands from the Ruhr and Ham­burg (in which the Ruhr mu­si­cians were en­tirely up­staged). Only a hand­ful of groups made the leap to be­ing pro­fes­sion­al mu­si­cians. The most suc­cess­ful were the Ger­man Blue Flames, who, after twice win­ning the com­pet­i­tion in the Vestland­halle, were al­lowed to per­form sev­er­al times in the Beat-Club TV show and re­leased nu­mer­ous re­cord­ings.

The beat move­ment was ex­tremely strong in the Ruhr area. It?s es­tim­ated that half of the 6,000 Ger­man beat bands were formed there. And all of them wanted to per­form on stage. Town halls like the Hans-Sachs Haus in Gelsen­kirchen, the back rooms of res­taur­ants and churches were all snapped up and even beat-mu­sic church ser­vices were held. Hans Schreiber from the Archive for Pop­u­lar Mu­sic in the Ruhr re­gion in Dortmund says: ?By 1966 not only did all the big cit­ies have beat bands, but every single town, vil­lage and pub too. Everything was fine un­til su­per bands like Led Zep­pelin or Pink Floyd came along, which no or­din­ary per­son could im­it­ate. Then the scene fell apart.?

We ask Schreiber why the late 1960s saw mu­sic evolve and un­der­go a re­viv­al in the Ruhr re­gion with Krautrock, psy­che­del­ic folk, polit­ic­al song and prog rock. He has a clear an­swer: ?Youth clubs played a cru­cial role be­cause they wer­en?t as con­nec­ted to com­mer­cial in­terests as the pubs,? he ex­plains. ?In pubs, the land­lords al­ways had to make turnover. That was not the case in youth clubs. These were places for gui­tar les­sons as well as centres for dis­cus­sions and ex­per­i­ments. As a res­ult, mu­sic and polit­ics be­came linked.? A good ex­ample, he says, was the youth club in Pa­pestraße, Es­sen. We set off to get an im­pres­sion.

Ger­man Blue Flames - Too Much Mon­key Busi­ness

© fritz5133

Cover des Magazins der Internationalen Essener Songtage, © © afka.net


In the Hol­ster­hausen dis­trict of Es­sen we look up at a sky-blue refugee home. Only a few patches of graf­fiti are re­min­is­cent of Es­sen?s un­der­ground cul­ture which for dec­ades had a home here in Pa­pestraße.

In 1968, when the beat move­ment was slowly com­ing to an end, these were the con­spir­at­ori­al headquar­ters for the ?Ger­man Wood­stock?. An il­lus­tri­ous band of arts act­iv­ists or­gan­ised the In­ter­na­tion­al Es­sen Song Fest­iv­al. This was per­haps the most im­port­ant mile­stone in the de­vel­op­ment of Ger­many?s in­de­pend­ent rock, folk and song cul­ture: they con­nec­ted the prog rock mu­sic of Frank Zappa?s Moth­ers of In­ven­tion, who was on the event?s ad­vis­ory board, with new ex­per­i­ment­al rock from Ger­many. El­ev­en months be­fore Wood­stock, more than 200 acts per­formed in front of 40,000 spec­tat­ors, in­clud­ing the ex­per­i­ment­al­ists Amon Düül and Tan­ger­ine Dream, Inga Rumpf?s folk-rock City Preach­ers, the agit-rock­ers Floh de Co­logne as well as polit­ic­al song­writers. In­stead of love and peace, how­ever, Es­sen?s em­phas­is was on polit­ic­al de­bate and the so­cial role of art ? top­ics that re­mained an in­teg­ral part of the Ruhr?s pop his­tory from then on.

The Eng­lish New Wave mu­si­cian and mu­sic writer Ju­li­an Cope (The Teardrop Ex­plodes) is an ex­cel­lent con­nois­seur of the Ger­man av­ant-garde mu­sic scene of the sev­en­ties. His book Krautrock­sampler is out of print. It con­tains a can­on of the 50 most im­port­ant re­cord­ings of cos­mic mu­sic and krautrock. In this Best of he also in­cluded the al­bum Trips + Dreams of Es­sen?s sing­er-song­writer duo Wit­thüser & Westrupp. The two mu­si­cians re­cor­ded a 40-minute jour­ney in­to a drug-in­spired dream­world, something pre­vi­ously un­known in Ger­man mu­sic. This mu­sic, re­cor­ded in 1971, is best com­pared to the Scot­tish freak folk mu­si­cians of The In­cred­ible String Band, who also served Wit­thüser & Westrupp as a source of in­spir­a­tion.

Wal­ter Westrupp, whom we are very happy to talk to about the sound of the Ruhr area, spent most of his life in Es­sen. He comes from a re­li­gious house­hold and learned early to play the trum­pet and flu­gel­horn, which he soon did in a trom­bone choir. Church mu­sic was the de­cis­ive in­flu­ence, which can be heard later on oth­er al­bums such as Lieder von Nonnen, Toten und Vam­piren, Je­sus­pilz, Bauer Plath and the live al­bum Live 68-73. "School, ap­pren­tice­ship? Af­ter­wards, the next steps would have been a job, a girl­friend, a child and a place to stay. After the ap­pren­tice­ship, I de­cided: no. I said: I would like to go my own way and work as a DJ in Es­sen, "says Wal­ter Westrupp, whom one can might call one of the earli­est hip­pies in Ger­many.

In 1967 he gets to know Bernd Wit­thüser, who already had a repu­ta­tion as a sing­er in the Ruhr re­gion. In Es­sen-Mitte, they meet at the Club Po­di­um, where they are both in­volved as DJs. At that time it was still very de­mand­ing to equip a daily pro­gram with live mu­sic. The own­er goes bank­rupt, the name changes to Un­der­ground Club. Over­all it is a time in which un­con­ven­tion­al life and ca­reer paths are still hardly es­tab­lished and the hip­pies, es­pe­cially in the Ruhr, im­me­di­ately at­tract at­ten­tion. "Es­sen is a big city, but a uni­on of many small com­munit­ies," says Westrupp. "In the city people go to shop. When we met moth­ers there with our long hair, they said to their chil­dren: Let?s go, these are bums.? In Es­sen, Wit­thüser and Westrupp are among the first bums or hip­pies to show them­selves in pub­lic. "In Dus­sel­dorf or Mu­nich, we would not have been no­ticed like this," he be­lieves.

Liv­ing in a com­mune is part of the hip­pie life of the time. Be­low their liv­ing-place is a re­cord shop from where they get the most im­port­ant new re­leases. "Through this we came to Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, the In­cred­ible String Band, Dr. Strangely Strange or the Strawbs. That was acous­tic mu­sic that turned us on. We spe­cific­ally used hal­lu­cino­gen­ic drugs, es­pe­cially LSD, and saw a way to move on with mu­sic, "he says. A top­ic was set for the ses­sion, then they star­ted re­cord­ing by tape. The next day, the mu­si­cians listened to what they played in a sober state.

The Es­sen­er "Songtage" in Septem­ber 1968 be­come an im­port­ant for Westrupp. Here he first real­izes how many like-minded people there are out there. "A lot of col­or­ful people were around. For the first time, you meet people who are like you. You are not alone any­more, there are many who feel the same way, "he re­calls. " I took it all in with an open heart. It was like a rush; People who did not know each oth­er de­veloped a sense of to­geth­er­ness. "

One of the cent­ral co-or­gan­izer of the "Songtage" is the mu­sic journ­al­ist Rolf-Ul­rich Kais­er. Westrupps mu­sic­al part­ner Bernd Wit­thüser, who died in a mo­tor­cycle ac­ci­dent in 2017, knew him already from the open-air fest­ivals in Burg Wal­deck, where since 1964 the Ger­man song­writ­ing scene met. After a con­cert that Westrupp re­mem­bers as ter­rible, Kais­er and his muse Gille Lettmann ap­proached them and offered them a re­cord deal. "Kais­er was look­ing for people who sing in Ger­man. At that time there was a long­ing for Ger­man lyr­ics that were not hit-ori­ented. We ex­pressed things we felt in Ger­man, "he says. The pro­du­cer Di­eter Di­erks was be­sides Kais­er an­oth­er im­port­ant in­flu­en­cing factor for his ca­reer. "He was great be­cause he al­lowed things. He and Conny Plank were the only ones who said we re­cord what the mu­si­cians want. In nor­mal stu­di­os, for ex­ample in Mu­nich, they said: A gui­tar is a gui­tar, a choir is a choir, "says Westrupp.

Kais­er, who foun­ded the la­bel "Ohr" in 1969 and later the sub-la­bel "Pilz", had no in­flu­ence mu­sic­ally as such. But he tried to push the artists on things that would ad­vance them artist­ic­ally. For ex­ample, he gets Wit­thüser & Westrupp to meet with guru John Al­leg­or in Switzer­land. "That in­spired us to Trips + Dreams with the idea that the Bible is a in­tox­ic­a­tion cult. This res­ul­ted in an open nar­cot­ics op­era. We played it in churches with won­der­ful acous­tics and brought young people in­to churches, "says Westrupp smil­ing. "It was al­ways the ques­tion of how far you could drive such top­ics." The ideas of Krautrock­'s mu­sic­al pi­on­eers, psy­che­del­ic folk or prog rock are be­com­ing cra­zi­er and more un­con­trol­lable. "I am glad that I made it out of there?,, says Westrupp. ?Kais­er com­pletely drif­ted away. He then came to a sheltered home in a home in Warstein. He prob­ably does not live any­more. It's a pity Kais­er was someone who had vis­ions and tried to im­ple­ment them. He then over­took him­self.? Westrupp on the oth­er hand takes a step back after these in­tense mu­sic and life ex­per­i­ences. Later he founds a Skiffle­band with (hu­mor­ous) Ger­man texts, with which he still per­forms today.

A mu­sic-maker who was too young to go to the In­ter­na­tion­al Song Fest­iv­al in 1968, even though he grew up in Es­sen and was ob­sessed with mu­sic from the age of twelve, is the song­writer Stefan Stop­pok. He is second to none in Ger­many for be­ing able to fuse touch­ing gems of songs (?Wet­ter­proph­et?) with polit­ic­al com­mit­ment (?Feine Idee?) and am­bigu­ous Ruhr hu­mour (?Wil­lie & Gerd?) with Ger­man-lan­guage blues, rock and Ir­ish folk. He has also dis­played his mu­sic­al prowess on sev­er­al im­press­ive in­stru­ment­al al­bums with the In­di­an band You & I and on nu­mer­ous live solo and duo re­cords with his bassist Reg­gie Worthy. We meet him be­fore a con­cert in Bonn ? a thought­ful and re­flect­ive con­ver­sa­tion­al­ist. ?When my fath­er died very early, I was so de­pressed and messed up that my moth­er, to com­fort me, bought me a gui­tar, that I had wanted for a long time, but couldn?t get be­cause of lack of money,? he says in an­swer to our first ques­tion about his mu­sic­al roots, adding: ?It wasn?t un­til ten years ago that I real­ized, that this con­nec­tion meant, that I have to treat my play­ing the gui­tar with re­spons­ib­il­ity.? After a short pause, he con­tin­ues: ?When I was 12, I only played the gui­tar and barely did any school­work. Then at the age of 13 or 14, I star­ted my first bands.? How did these bands sound, we ask. Stop­pok laughs: ?Re­cently I found some mind-bog­gling re­cord­ings from the prac­tice room on an old Grundig re­cord­er. We played pure krautrock, not a single straight rhythm, with a change of beat every eight bars. All in search of our own mu­sic­al iden­tity.? Stop­pok?s older broth­er by four years guided this search by con­vert­ing him to BF­BS ra­dio, and this is how he dis­covered Eng­lish folk mu­si­cians. Hav­ing people in the re­gion like Tom Schröder, the co-ini­ti­at­or of the Song Fest­iv­al, was also very use­ful, as they gave mo­mentum to the folk move­ment.

But most im­port­antly, Hilde­gard Doeb­n­er lived in Wit­ten. ?She was already 40 years old ? for us, un­think­ably old back then, a wid­ow. A real mama of folk. She?d in­her­ited a house in Wit­ten where you could play and so­cial­ise be­cause she?d had the loft con­ver­ted so every­one could sleep there,? says Stop­pok. And in this house in 1974, Doeb­n­er and some oth­ers set up the Wit­ten Folk Club. With­in a short space of time, this be­came the ven­ue for the emer­ging folk scene in the Ruhr re­gion and stayed that way for many years. This was where Ly­die Auv­ray, Lieder­jan, Ju­li­an Dawson, Her­bert Gröne­mey­er and many more per­formed. What?s more, open-air gigs were staged. ?Wit­ten is maybe 25 kilo­metres away from Es­sen, but when I grew up, I didn?t even know that the city was there,? Stop­pok says with a chuckle. ?Dis­cov­er­ing a whole new scene so close to home that was one of the European centres of the folk move­ment was simply bril­liant.? The Folk Club played a sig­ni­fic­ant role in his mu­sic­al bio­graphy. ?Ed­die and Fin­bar Furey were the first to bring Ir­ish folk mu­sic to Ger­many in the late 1960s and early 1970s. I used to play ses­sions with them in Hildgard?s kit­chen. And there in the Folk Club, I also learned what en­ter­tain­ment meant ? and how to do it,? Stop­pok ex­plains. In the years that fol­lowed he moved about and busked a great deal. ?Through the Folk Club and its con­nec­tions, I got to know the ex-Stee­leye Span drum­mer Nigel Pe­grum, and that?s how my first band came about.? Stop­poks?s first al­bum was re­leased in 1980 with this band, form­ing the start­ing point of a nearly 40-year ca­reer with them.

At the end of our con­ver­sa­tion, we ask him wheth­er he sees any­thing that the artists in the Ruhr re­gion have in com­mon. He says no: ?They were al­ways very dif­fer­ent, both in their bio­graph­ies and artist­ic tastes. Gröne­mey­er, for ex­ample, who is the same age as me, came from a ven­er­able Ruhr fam­ily con­nec­ted to the Bo­chum theatre, so he was from the in­tel­lec­tu­al up­per middle class. My par­ents, on the oth­er hand, were refugees, and I was one of many who first had to find something to latch onto. For a long time, I didn?t really feel at home in the whole web of con­nec­tions.? Was that an ad­vant­age or a dis­ad­vant­age? ?Prob­ably both,? Stop­pok replies thought­fully. ?I?m one of the few artists from work­ing-class or mi­grant fam­il­ies in the Ruhr re­gion who made it. Be­cause there were so few of us, I al­ways lacked the self-im­age or con­fid­ence to make my Ruhr ori­gins pub­lic in a strong way. In the Ruhr you gen­er­ally felt on the small side. But in the end it helped be­cause something genu­ine could evolve and people didn?t chase hype early on.?

When Hilde­gard Doeb­n­er be­came ill in the mid-nineties, the scene lost its driv­ing force and its activ­it­ies gradu­ally stopped. By then, how­ever, Stop­pok and many oth­ers who had taken their first steps in Doeb­n­er?s Folk Club had long since be­come in­flu­en­tial mu­si­cians.

Nev­er­the­less, Wit­ten con­tin­ued to be a hot­bed of mu­sic­al in­nov­a­tion ?- al­beit of a dif­fer­ent genre. When Dike Uchegbu (aka DIKE) ren­ted a prac­tice room in an old bunker in the dis­trict of Annen in the mid-1990s, the era of ?Bunker­world Wit­ten? began. Hip-hop parties and jam ses­sions were all the rage there. The rap­pers Flip­star and Lak­mann formed the duo Creutzfeld & Jakob, whose de­but al­bum Gottes Werk und Creutzfelds Beitrag was a re­mark­able chart suc­cess. With the track ?Bunker­welt in Wit­ten? they im­mor­tal­ised the scene. And even after the crews were forced out of the bunker due to rising rent costs, Wit­ten re­mained a hip-hop strong­hold. Above all, Lak­man con­tin­ued to fly the city?s flag with his band, the Wit­ten Un­touch­ables.

Wit­ten is an in­teg­ral part of the ex­tremely di­verse hip-hop scene in the Ruhr, which ranges from the battle-rap bands on the Ruhr­pott Elite la­bel to the fun-style hip-hop of the 257ers. No oth­er mu­sic genre mani­fests the life ex­per­i­ences of Ger­mans with mi­grant back­grounds liv­ing in the Ruhr area as clearly as rap and hip-hop, and it is cer­tainly one of the hippest styles in the re­gion?s clubs. Caus­ing of­fence is com­mon­place in hip-hop. But anti-Semit­ic diatribes by the rap­pers Fard and Snaga, or Ha­mad 45?s crim­in­al activ­it­ies are hard to over­look. Even so, hip-hop from the Ruhr has ex­per­i­enced com­mer­cial suc­cess through­out Ger­many. Glad­beck-born Fard, Es­sen-based Snaga and KC Rebel have climbed the charts in re­cent years. We will re­turn to hip-hop in Dortmund. But for now, we?re go­ing to stay for a while in the 1970s. We?re in­ter­ested in how one of Ruhr re­gion?s smal­ler towns man­aged to be­come a hot­spot of Ger­man New Wave.


?Come, come, come, come, come to Ha­gen, be­come a pop star, find your hap­pi­ness!? We?re listen­ing to these lyr­ics by Ex­trab­reit on our playl­ist [LINK] over head­phones while on our way from Wit­ten to Ha­gen ? just a ten-minute ride. The song is on a 1982 com­pil­a­tion called Alles aus Ha­gen (Everything from Ha­gen). It brings to­geth­er an ec­lect­ic mix of 16 bands from the city, in­clud­ing the ex­per­i­ment­al rock combo Kein­Mensch!, John Peel?s fa­vour­ites X-Quad­rat and Eroc aka Joachim Heinz Ehrig. Eroc?s ca­reer is multi-fa­ceted. He?s a com­poser and suc­cess­ful solo artist (Wolken­reise), a mu­sic col­lab­or­at­or (among oth­ers with the Wup­per­tal ex­per­i­ment­al gui­tar­ist Hans Reichel), a mu­sic pro­du­cer and stu­dio op­er­at­or and fi­nally, since the 1990s, he?s been renowned for re­mas­ter­ing old mu­sic gems from Johnny Cash to Procol Har­um and Gen­es­is. He?s pro­duced more than 1,000 Ger­man and over 800 in­ter­na­tion­al mu­sic titles, as well as count­less own al­bums, and has giv­en 1,500 con­certs and re­cor­ded more than 60 live al­bums. Most fam­ously, he was the drum­mer of the prog rock band Grob­schnitt from Ha­gen un­til 1983. Their sprawl­ing songs that fuse Krautrock and psy­che­del­ic im­pro­visa­tion with Ger­man-lyr­ic prog- and theatre-rock put the Ruhr town of Ha­gen on the in­ter­na­tion­al map of pop. Their al­bums Rock­pom­mel?s Land and Sol­ar Mu­sic - Live are clas­sics. At the end of the 1970s, they bridged the gap between ex­per­i­ment­al av­ant-garde and the en­tire breadth of Ger­man rock mu­sic. The band?s live per­form­ances are le­gendary: wild mix­tures of polit­ic­al par­ody and bawdy com­edy, the­at­ric­al pro­duc­tions and kooky stage cos­tumes.

Eroc, whom we reach late at night on the phone as he?s com­ing out of the stu­dio, has roots, like so many, in rock ?n? roll and beat mu­sic. ?Be­fore I moved to Ha­gen, I lived in Ober­hausen. A block fur­ther on, there was a pub, and every Sat­urday night they played live mu­sic. That was around 1958. There were a hell of a lot of scoot­ers parked in front of it. Of course, we chil­dren wer­en?t al­lowed in, but I hung around and heard what was go­ing on,? Eroc says when we ask him about his first ex­pos­ure to mu­sic. ?In 1961 I came here to Ha­gen. And gradu­ally, in around 1962 or ?63, people star­ted to try and im­it­ate their mu­sic­al role mod­els. One had an elec­tric gui­tar and brought it to school, the oth­er had a friend who had once played around on a drum kit ...? Eroc also founds a band. The Crew be­come a part of the beat scene in Ha­gen. ?There was very fierce com­pet­i­tion between the bands. Back then, you couldn?t just play what you wanted. You had to do cov­ers of chart songs. And those who played best were hip. It meant a lot of hard work, of course. You had to do everything in a very pre­cise way,? Eroc re­calls. ?In the 1960s you had to be bet­ter than every­one else. The bands wer­en?t all the same. We were, like, the wild ones, pro­to­type punks or something. Oth­ers played in suits and bow ties on dance nights. It?s def­in­itely true that in­di­vidu­al bands or gangs ruled in dif­fer­ent parts of town.?

Dur­ing the 1960s, a lively scene formed around Ha­gen?s live band scene. Once again, a loc­al youth club played a cent­ral role, the Ha­gen-based ?Kulto­pia?. Events in Es­sen and the so­cio-polit­ic­al de­vel­op­ments of the 1968s also re­ver­ber­ated in Ha­gen. ?The break­away to write my own ma­ter­i­al came in early 1969,? says Eroc. ?It went hand in hand with the Es­sen Song Fest­iv­al. We were all in the Gruga­halle, a few joints were passed around and the bands were play­ing their own songs. That?s when things snapped. We broke up The Crew and set up Grob­schnitt, aim­ing to do our own thing from then on.? Do­ing your own thing, ac­cord­ing to Eroc, de­pended a great deal on Ha­gen?s re­gion­al po­s­i­tion, the Ruhr?s self-im­age and the res­ult­ing cre­at­ive ten­sion. ?Ha­gen is in a val­ley. To the south there are just forests with deer. Bey­ond Dortmund, there?s just a moun­tain range. You either have to be a climber or have a car ? which we didn?t at the time. New mu­sic only reached us via ra­dio, so it was al­ways in­ter­na­tion­al. If oth­er bands ex­is­ted in Mün­ster or Duis­burg, we didn?t hear much about them. We con­cen­trated on ourselves.? Laugh­ing, he tells us how the cre­at­ive ten­sion de­veloped: ?People from Ha­gen are all bark and bite. That was the at­ti­tude. Each man to him­self, all against one. Not a week passed without one of us say­ing: ?Listen, you arse­holes, I?m sick of you all and I?m piss­ing off now. You?ll nev­er see me again.? Then it was like: gui­tar packed, amp packed, gone. The band split up more of­ten than any­one can re­mem­ber. Every­one left at least 15 times a year. And three days later the same guy would walk back in­to the prac­tice room, like: ?All right lads! It?s me. Let?s talk.??

Grob­schnitt?s de­but al­bum was pro­duced by Conny Plank [LINK]. Be­sides be­ing their drum­mer, Eroc could in­dulge in his love of sound tech­no­logy. He re­cor­ded their count­less con­certs, which in­tro­duced the band to ever-grow­ing circles of people bey­ond Ha­gen and was con­stantly in­vent­ing un­usu­al sound ef­fects. So it seems lo­gic­al that soon­er or later, Eroc would trans­fer his equip­ment to a re­cord­ing stu­dio. Along with Siggi Be­mm, he first opened the Wood­house Stu­dio in Dortmund, then later back in Ha­gen, the 800-square-metre Wood­house Stu­di­os. Be­mm be­came a stu­dio le­gend with his met­al, goth­ic and rock pro­duc­tions. Eroc was suc­cess­ful with his solo works and es­tab­lished him­self as a pro­du­cer with Grob­schnitt un­til his de­par­ture in 1983. One of the first achieve­ments of the stu­di­os was to work with the Ha­gen-based in­die band Die er­ste weib­liche Fleis­chergesel­lin nach 1945. When their re­strained gui­tar­ist Ernst Ul­rich Fig­gen foun­ded the Voo­doo­club and called him­self Philip Boa, Eroc be­came the artist?s pro­du­cer, sound en­gin­eer and mu­si­cian.

Grob­schnitt and Eroc were the first. But by the end of the 1970s and in the early 1980s, as im­prob­able as it sounds, Ha­gen had be­come a hub of Ger­man pop mu­sic.

Grob­schnitt - Vater Schmidt's Wander­tag

Live at Rock­palast '78 / © Il Trovatore

?In the past we were the class en­emy and the bad guys, then we were idi­ots and today we?re cul­tur­al as­sets,? says Stefan Kleinkrieg with a loud laugh. We?re sit­ting with him back­stage in Ha­gen?s Stadthalle ven­ue. It?s a fit­ting loc­a­tion. When it opened in 1981, Stefan Kleinkrieg?s band Ex­trab­reit was at the height of its suc­cess. Their photo on the cov­er of the Ger­man teen mag BRAVO, sold-out con­certs and a well-groomed bad-boy im­age had made them the most suc­cess­ful Ger­man punk and new wave band of the year. A loud punk-rock band do­ing a gig in a middle-class city hall back then? Un­think­able. Their gig today has a def­in­ite home-turf ad­vant­age and Stefan Kleinkrieg is vis­ibly happy that they were vic­tori­ous over the stuffy loc­als back then, but even hap­pi­er about the audi­ence?s de­vo­tion after nearly 40 years of band his­tory. He can spare us half an hour to ex­plain how Ha­gen be­came the centre of the Ger­man New Wave in the early 1980s.

From his per­son­al point of view, the punk move­ment that spilled over from Eng­land at the end of the 1970s was de­cis­ive. ?In 1978, you had two choices as a young man: you joined a foot­ball club, like most did, or you formed a band,? Kleinkrieg says. ?I was do­ing my mil­it­ary ser­vice in Ger­many and we all listened to ra­dio BF­BS ? and sud­denly, they were play­ing the Sex Pis­tols! From then on, everything else was bor­ing. That was the ini­tial spark that made me have the cour­age to buy an in­stru­ment and an amp, to find a prac­tice room and meet every night to play.? In Ha­gen, like in towns all over the world, punk spawned a craze of cre­at­ive en­ergy and al­tern­at­ive life­styles. ?Sud­denly it was easy to find people be­cause a scene was form­ing,? he re­calls, de­scrib­ing what happened. ?I had a friend who I per­suaded to play the drums. Then we bought a kit, ren­ted a prac­tice room, and each mem­ber was ad­ded. ?You?re our bassist now.? ?I can?t play the bass!? ?We can?t either!? And then that was a band.? Every­one was aim­ing to make mu­sic that soun­ded like something in-between rock and punk ? the main thing was to sound noth­ing like the cov­er bands that pro­lif­er­ated in the re­gion. Kleinkrieg says: ?For us it was clear: The lyr­ics had to be in Ger­man, no songs longer than three minutes, noth­ing too bluesy and as far from Grob­schnitt as pos­sible. Their whole swirl­ing mist thig was the per­son­i­fic­a­tion of the en­emy for us,? he says, then adds, laugh­ing loudly. ?It?s like this: if you?re no good at any­thing, you need to be able to point at someone and say: ?That?s total crap ... what WE?RE do­ing is bril­liant ...??

There are cer­tainly sev­er­al reas­ons why Ha­gen be­came a centre of Ger­man punk and new wave back then. One is that the town makes un­usu­al af­fin­it­ies pos­sible. As a clas­sic one-disco-town - ?a place where there?s only one crowded disco and all the rest are empty,? as Stefan Kleinkrieg puts is, people in­ev­it­ably met in the even­ings on the dance floor or at the bar. And so col­lab­or­a­tions arose.

This, for ex­ample, was how the proto-punk band The Ram­blers was foun­ded. On their de­but The Kids are back to Rock ?n? Roll , on gui­tars is Frank Beck­ing and on vo­cals is Hartwig Masuch, cur­rently the chair­man of Ger­many?s largest re­cord com­pany, BMG. To­geth­er they set up the stu­dio Rock-Ranch, where they re­cor­ded the im­mensely suc­cess­ful de­but al­bum of Ex­trab­reit. The Ram­blers? second gui­tar­ist was Carlo Karges, who later wrote one of the largest Ger­man-lan­guage hits of all time: Nena?s ?99 Bal­loons?. Talk­ing of Nena: Gab­ri­ele Susanne Kern­er ? Nena?s real name ? was fin­ish­ing an ap­pren­tice­ship as a gold­smith in Ha­gen dur­ing those years and would go to the Madis­on disco in the even­ings. This is where the Ram­blers road­ie Rain­er Kamel dis­covered her and turned her in­to the front wo­man of his band The Stripes, which formed the nuc­le­us of the band Nena.

The pro­lif­er­a­tion of cre­at­ive people in the Ruhr re­gion at the time was ex­traordin­ary. Not only in Ha­gen it­self, where the sis­ters An­ette and Inga Humpe, for ex­ample, dis­covered their love of mu­sic (be­fore they shook up the Ber­lin mu­sic scene with Neonba­bies and Ideal). But also 12 kilo­metres away in Gevels­berg-Silschede where, at the end of the sev­en­ties, a liv­ing com­munity had set up house in the Grün In pub and had trans­formed the large farm­house in­to an eat­ery for all kinds of vis­it­ors from the al­tern­at­ive arts scene. Res­id­ents in the com­munity were the DAF mu­si­cians Wolfgang Spel­manns, Kurt Dahlke and drum­mer Robert Görl, as well as Mi­chael Kem­ner, who joined Fehl­farben and Mau Mau. At the Grün In, S.Y.P.H. with Ralf Dörp­er on gui­tar [LINK] re­cor­ded their first demo tapes, fol­lowed in 1979 by the first DAF LP. Mu­si­cians from Ha­gen reg­u­larly dropped in and picked up ideas.

The nuc­le­us of the Ha­gen scene was the dis­trict of Wehring­hausen. Around Wil­helms­platz, the mu­sic un­der­ground was alive and kick­ing in the bars and dis­cos. Stefan Kleinkrieg tells us about it: ?On Sunday even­ings, all the bands came back from their week­end gigs, met in ?Bei Rain­er? and swapped ideas. We all talked about what kind of gui­tars and in­stru­ments we had, how we play this and that, or how we were go­ing to buy the same sys­tem ... all that turned in­to a kind of Ha­gen sound.? Not 500 meters from Wil­helms­platz was the flat-share B56. In the hall­way, some large graf­fiti wel­comed vis­it­ors with: ?B56 - Al­ways rad­ic­al. Nev­er con­sist­ent?. The 7-room apart­ment was home to the mu­sic teach­er and mu­si­cian Gabi Lap­pen (whose band Kein Mensch! was the first Ha­gen band to be played by John Peel on BF­BS in 1981), the per­form­ance artist Wolfgang Luth­er, the graph­ic artist, taxi driver and later front­man of Ex­trab­reit Kay Sch­lasse aka Kai Havaii, and Jörg Hoppe. Hoppe be­came the first man­ager of Ex­trab­reit but above all, he was the founder of the punk and new wave la­bel Ton­träger 58, named after Ha­gen?s former post code. This is where the dom­in­ant early sound re­cord­ings of the Ha­gen scene formed.

But when The Stripes ap­peared on TV shows with the sen­sa­tion­al Nena and shortly af­ter­wards Ex­trab­reit had a break­through with their de­but al­bum Ihre größten Er­folge, a hype grew around the New Wave hub in Ha­gen, which led to some strange events: ?I re­mem­ber one ex­per­i­ence es­pe­cially. There was a pub near the main sta­tion which we of­ten went to. I was sit­ting there in the af­ter­noon with a beer when sud­denly, in came a guy with a bass case and asked: ?So, where?s the scene here?? He?d just got off the train,? says Stefan Kleinkrieg, amused. ?Our suc­cess and Nena?s brought huge at­ten­tion to the area, so people thought: ?Right, I?m go­ing go there.? And then any room that could be ren­ted as a prac­tice room was seized and bands sprouted up every­where.?

Spread­ing out­wards from Ha­gen, the Ger­man New Wave soon covered the en­tire Ruhr area. In Wanne-Eick­el for ex­ample, Die Vor­gruppe wrote its first al­bums. They mixed post-punk and new wave to form great mu­sic col­lages. Herne 3 picked up the ex­per­i­ence of miner?s lives with their singles ?Im­mer wieder auf­stehen? and ?Wieder kein Geld?. In Dortmund, the Lat­in band Cross­fire col­lab­or­ated with the punks from 451. Un­der the name Konec, the res­ult was Lat­in reg­gae funk, and they had a small hit with the single ?Tan­ze?.

The de­vel­op­ments in Gelsen­kirchen were fas­cin­at­ing too. Here, where the ori­gin­al Wit­ten band Franz K. was one of the first to write Ger­man song lyr­ics at the be­gin­ning of the 1970s, mu­sic and art were united. The cent­ral fig­ure was Jür­gen Kramer. As a mas­ter stu­dent of Joseph Beuys at the Academy of Arts in Düs­sel­dorf, he had a back­ground in art and forged a con­nec­tion between Düs­sel­dorf?s Rat­inger Hof [LINK] and Gelsen­kirchen. For ex­ample, he was the ed­it­or of the punk-lean­ing magazine Die 80er and the an­nu­als Der Rabe. Kramer was at the heart of a net­work of punk-lean­ing artists and bands in Gelsen­kirchen. Among them was Kab­ar­ett Küchentheat­er, who formed in 1976 and later be­came Die Sa­li­n­os. They mixed new-wave-pop with screech­ing fe­male vo­cals, and their 1981 al­bum Du sieh­st nicht aus wie ich aus­seh was one of the most in­ter­est­ing Ger­man al­bums of those years.

But like every craze, New Wave or Neue Deutsche Welle did not last in the Ruhr re­gion. In Ha­gen, too, the move­ment fizzled out after a brief peri­od. This was also be­cause most of the scene?s mem­bers moved to Ber­lin. The Ha­gen pi­on­eers Ex­trab­reit had to shoulder com­mer­cial set­backs that led to ex­ten­ded breaks and re­in­ven­tion, such as re­cord­ing al­bums with Eng­lish lyr­ics. For Stefan Kleinkrieg this was ul­ti­mately just a nor­mal pro­cess, but it still hurt: ?For me, the biggest frus­tra­tion was that the ideal rhythm of tour, al­bum, tour, al­bum stopped when the New Wave Move­ment came to an end,? he says. ?Like Lemmy, I could?ve been on the road to the end of my days. Three months at home and then off again,? he says, look­ing im­pa­tiently at his watch. He?s soon to be al­lowed on stage.


The at­ten­tion that the New Wave Move­ment brought to the coal-min­ing towns of Ha­gen, Gelsen­kirchen and Herne was only the be­gin­ning. The 1980s were the de­fin­ing dec­ade of the Ruhr re­gion. These were polit­ic­ally tur­bu­lent times: In Rhein­hausen, the miners from Duis­burg went on strike for months to save their steel­works, block­ing bridges and mo­tor­ways. Their fight be­came sym­bol­ic of the chan­ging struc­tures in the Ruhr re­gion. In the me­dia, the ball was set in mo­tion by Theo Gromberg, a truck driver from Herne, played by the Düs­sel­dorf mu­si­cian Mari­us Müller West­ernha­gen [LINK]. The movie Theo ge­gen den Rest der Welt was seen by over three mil­lion cinema-go­ers. In the same year, the flip­pant, mous­ta­chioed TV po­lice in­spect­or Horst Schi­manski (from the show Tatort) was re­lo­cated to Duis­burg. Günter Wallraff?s book The Low­est of the Low was pub­lished in 1985 and shaped the im­age of mi­grant work­ers in the Ger­many. As is of­ten the case with zeit­geist, it can sud­denly change. And in the Ruhr?s case, it was sud­denly a cool, au­then­t­ic, down-to-earth place, as op­posed to the gelled hair­styles, ubi­quit­ous Su­per­stars and dazzling, gar­ish 1980s? styles. And, as an an­ti­dote to the bubble-gum pop of Madonna, Mi­chael Jack­son or Kylie Minogue, hard rock also un­der­went a re­viv­al. And nowhere else was this as di­verse and hip as in the coal re­gion of the Ruhr.

From the be­gin­ning of the 1980s, bands, fan­zines, re­cord shops and, soon­er or later, la­bels, agen­cies and magazines fea­tur­ing hard rock and met­al in its myri­ad vari­ations emerged through­out the re­gion. It was much the same as in the 1950s and ?60s, only this time with louder gui­tars, longer jack­ets and an­gri­er lyr­ics. Just like Bill Haley and the Beatles? con­certs at the Gruga­halle had in­spired a gen­er­a­tion to make their own mu­sic back in the day, the fest­iv­al ?Rock Pop in Con­cert? in 1983 in Dortmund?s West­falen­halle was the next craze. Iron Maid­en and Ozzy Os­borne won over fans. In par­tic­u­lar, the Eng­lish band Ju­das Priest be­came the gold stand­ard that many of the newly foun­ded bands tried to emu­late.

The de­tails of this unique suc­cess story can be read in the two su­perbly re­searched books, Kumpels in Kut­ten. Heavy Met­al im Ruhrge­biet (Bud­dies in Jack­ets. Heavy Met­al in the Ruhr Re­gion.) In in­ter­views with mem­bers of former and cur­rent met­al bands, the role of youth clubs in the Ruhr re­gion stands out once again. In ad­di­tion, the Ruhr area was the birth­place of the so­ciocul­tur­al move­ment. They be­came self-gov­ern­ing com­mu­nic­a­tion and arts centres for ?al­tern­at­ive cul­ture? and the ?counter-pub­lic sphere?. Places such as the Autonome Zen­trum and the Ringlok­schup­pen arts centre in Mül­heim, the Esch­haus in Duis­burg, Druckluft and the Al­ten­berg Cen­ter in Ober­hausen, the Linden Brew­ery in Unna or the Arts Centre in Grend are all in­dis­pens­able for un­der­stand­ing the mu­sic­al verve of the Ruhr re­gion.

At the be­gin­ning of the 1980s, these centres were home to a hard rock and met­al scene whose di­versity was unique in Europe. The magazines Rock Hard and Met­al Ham­mer, whose ed­it­or­i­al of­fices were in Dortmund, also played a part. Steel­er from Bo­chum rep­res­en­ted the hard rock fac­tion. Cen­taur from Duis­burg and Cus­tard from Herne played clas­sic heavy-met­al mu­sic. Dortmund?s Axxis char­ac­ter­ised power met­al from 1989 on and went on tour with the icon­ic Black Sab­bath. In the mid-1980s in Krefeld, Lu­ci­fer?s Her­it­age spawned the band Blind Guard­i­an. It mixed speed met­al with lit­er­ary, po­et­ic lyr­ics and in­fused it with in­flu­ences from the Bay Area, prog rock and even folk mu­sic. With their third al­bum, Tales from the Twi­light World, which races through ten crack­ing tracks and at least as many styles in just 30 minutes, they be­came in­ter­na­tion­al stars. And far to the north of Es­sen, near the former col­li­ery Zeche Carl, the thrash met­al band Kreat­or found their home. From 1982 on­wards, they joined the ranks of Ger­many?s most in­ter­na­tion­ally renowned bands, have played to tens of thou­sands of fans around the world to this day, and have triggered sub­genres such as death met­al and Scand­inavi­an black met­al. Their de­but al­bum Pleas­ure to Kill is con­sidered by many fans and mu­sic crit­ics as one of the most im­port­ant met­al al­bums of all time. The Kreat­or?s set­ting of Zeche Carl was also the birth­place of the Gelsen­kirchen thrash-met­al band So­d­om, whose pro­voc­at­ive lyr­ics and mega-hard gui­tar riffs garnered them enorm­ous suc­cess. To date, they have sold more than 8 mil­lion re­cords world­wide.


© Nuc­le­ar Blast Re­cords

In Ger­many, how­ever, a sing­er from Bo­chum emerged as one of the most suc­cess­ful artist of all time. Her­bert Gröne­mey­er ex­ten­ded his Ger­man-lan­guage sing­er-song­writer mu­sic to the poppy syn­thes­izer sounds of the New Wave and in 1984, he re­leased the al­bum 4630 Bo­chum. With 2.5 mil­lion cop­ies sold, it is one of the most com­mer­cially suc­cess­ful Ger­man al­bums ever. Gröne­mey­er, to­geth­er with the house squat­ters? band Gei­er Sturz­flug and its lead sing­er Klaus Fiehe ? today a ra­dio presenter ? en­sured that Bo­chum in the heart of the Ruhr re­gion be­came the centre of Ruhr pop in the 1980s. It took the bat­on from Ha­gen and led the un­der­ground punk and new wave fringes of the New Wave Move­ment to out­stand­ing com­mer­cial suc­cess.

Her­bert Gröne­mey­er - Bo­chum

© Groene­mey­er

A ven­ue that was de­cis­ive in shap­ing the Bo­chum mu­sic scene dur­ing this time was the Zeche Bo­chum. It opened in 1981 in the former lock­smith?s shop of the Prince Re­gent mine in south Bo­chum, and quickly be­came a ven­ue for con­certs and parties and there­fore a pro­to­type for the trans­form­a­tion of former in­dus­tri­al build­ings in­to arts centres. Ini­tially only un­der­ground bands per­formed there. But since the loc­a­tion had to be com­mer­cially vi­able, it opened up to the main­stream. From the mid-1980s, the arena, which only had ca­pa­city for just un­der 1,000 spec­tat­ors, was an ex­cit­ing live club. Be­cause the TV show WDR Rock­palast re­cor­ded con­certs there, unique bands and artists per­formed, like Echo & the Bunny­men, R.E.M., Tina Turn­er, Chris Rea and Simply Red, to name a few, as well as al­most all big Ger­man names.

But the Zeche also turned Bo­chum in­to a town known across the coun­try for its parties. Fol­low-up was the Tarm Centre in the Rom­bach­er Hütte in­dus­tri­al area. From 1986 on, the Tarm and its res­id­ent DJS ATB and Caba Kroll be­came a role mod­el for club cul­ture in the whole of Europe. In­nov­at­ive laser light and sound tech­no­logy, sev­er­al floors, vari­ous bars, an in­teg­rated res­taur­ant and a huge out­door area with a swim­ming pool set high stand­ards. From 1992 on, le­gends of De­troit techno like Juan Atkins were be­hind the turntables in Plan­et Bo­chum where stars like Sven Väth or West­Bam were fre­quent guests. The Plan­et also made a name for it­self as the top ad­dress for hip-hop, acid jazz and trip-hop. Bo­chum?s fame grew due to these clubs, but also due to the un­ex­pec­ted, enorm­ous suc­cess of the mu­sic­al Star­light Ex­press, which kicked off in 1984.

These days, tens of thou­sands of people from all over the re­gion swarm in­to down­town Bo­chum every week­end. And there are even more crowds when the an­nu­al Bo­chum Total takes place, the largest free mu­sic fest­iv­al in Europe, at­tract­ing around 500,000 spec­tat­ors to con­certs, parties and per­form­ances. The heart of Bo­chum?s night­life is the Ber­muda3Eck around Kon­rad Ad­e­nauer Platz. Chic clubs, hip bars and cinemas can be found in a very small area, while high­brow cul­ture is not far away at the Bo­chum Theatre or the Mu­sikfor­um.

Starlight Express Actors, © © Mehr-BB Entertainment GmbH

It?s a Wed­nes­day in the early even­ing when we roam through the hustle and bustle of the Ber­um­da3Eck. We are on our way to the Riff disco, where weekly ?New York Nights? are held. We?re meet­ing Pamela Fal­con and her man­ager and part­ner-in-crime Al Fal­con. From be­hind the thick en­trance door, the sound­check is boom­ing. After some knock­ing, we are let in. With a wide smile and Amer­ic­an hos­pit­al­ity, Pamela Fal­con wel­comes us and leads us in­to the back­stage area. She knows every inch of the space. Every Wed­nes­day her band have played an in­cred­ible 943 shows over nearly 20 years ? a pot­pourri of pop, funk and rock clas­sics and ori­gin­al songs. Be­fore it starts, the spec­tat­ors can tuck in­to a buf­fet, and dur­ing the show, Fal­con presents es­tab­lished artists and prom­ising new­comers as spe­cial guests. Pamela and Al?s ?New York Nights? have cre­ated a plat­form for young mu­sic­al tal­ent in the Ruhr area, which has be­come a jump-start for many a mu­sic­al ca­reer. To­night one of her spe­cial guests is the Ruhr sing­er Kieron, who is swamped by throngs of teens be­fore his per­form­ance, as they ask for selfies.

Pamela Fal­con?s ca­reer is so unique that we?re soon listen­ing slack-jawed as she and Al tell us how they got in­to mu­sic as New York­ers. ?I?ve known Al since I was ten? be­gins Pamela and Al adds: ?We played to­geth­er in bands and at the end of the 1970s we were part of the New York mu­sic scene. At that time you could feel that something spe­cial was hap­pen­ing. Sud­denly there were some very cool bands ? Blon­die, Talk­ing Heads, later the Red Hot Chili Pep­pers. You could see them all at their first New York con­certs.? Pamela con­tin­ues: ?And we per­formed at the China Club, where Prince or Dav­id Bowie and oth­ers came by. That was the early to mid-1980s. But I also played in the CBGB and Max?s Kan­sas City, all the clubs that are le­gendary today.? The two tell such vivid stor­ies of long nights in Stu­dio 54, disco parties in Lime­light, a con­ver­ted church, and of the be­gin­nings of today?s icons that we feel like we?re ac­tu­ally in New York.

Back in those years, the two played ?good old Amer­ic­an rock,? as Pamela calls it. ?A little heavy with a little soul?. Maybe a little too clas­sic for a real break­through? ?We worked with a lot of fant­ast­ic people in New York, but there came a time when it all ended,? re­calls Pamela Fal­con. ?That was a mo­ment when I sat on my bed and thought: I really need a new ad­ven­ture.? The op­por­tun­ity for a new be­gin­ning arose when her agent entered her for a cast­ing in a mu­sic­al in Ger­many. I said: ?Well, yeah, I wanted an ad­ven­ture, but that is a bit much,? Pamela re­mem­bers with a grin. ?And my agent just said, ?You go there and you GET THE JOB! - and THEN you can still turn it down!? A real New York agent! So I screamed: ?I got this! I?m gonna GET THE JOB!? and I flew to the cast­ing in Ger­many.? Pamela Fal­con got the job and with­in a week, she star­ted a promo tour through West Ger­many for Star­light Ex­press. ?I was already a long-time fan of the Scor­pi­ons and had seen them sev­er­al times live in the US,? she says. ?So I thought: ?What do I have to lose? I?ll per­form my mu­sic in Ger­many. And play with the Scor­pi­ons some time.??

We want to know wheth­er the change from New York to the com­par­at­ively quiet Bo­chum triggered a fully-fledged cul­ture shock. ?Some things were totally dif­fer­ent,? Al ad­mits. ?All the shops closed at six and we wondered where we were sup­posed to buy our food. But there?s an ex­cit­ing dy­nam­ic in the air. In New York, for ex­ample, mu­sic­als have been around forever, that?s where it all star­ted. And in Bo­chum a whole new theatre was built for it.? Pamela adds: ?And there?s one thing I?ll nev­er for­get: on my first night in Bo­chum, every­one kept ask­ing me: ?Have you been in­to town? Have you seen what?s go­ing on there? You have to come!? I went to the Ber­muda3Eck. The city was full, it was at the end sum­mer and every­one was sit­ting out­side and I just thought: ?I?m in the right place! I can make good mu­sic here!??

Just like at the China Club in New York, Pamela and Al were look­ing for a place where young tal­en­ted mu­si­cians could have their first stage ex­per­i­ence and es­tab­lished stars could turn up for after-show jams once they?d fin­ished their big con­certs. It took some time, but at the end of the mil­len­ni­um, they dis­covered the Riff. In the years that fol­lowed, they set up the ?New York Nights? shows in which artists, act­ors, out­stand­ing mu­si­cians from the re­gion and young tal­ents ap­peared on stage, time and time again. And fi­nally, Pamela Fal­con man­aged her own break­through. In the first sea­son of the cast­ing show ?The Voice of Ger­many? to­geth­er with the Tex­an sing­er Per­civ­al, she per­formed a vo­cal duel of Prince?s song ?Purple Rain?. An audi­ence of mil­lions was thrilled by her ver­sat­ile rock vo­cals. Since then, she has worked as a vo­cal coach, train­ing young mu­si­cians and es­tab­lished artists, and ment­or for TV shows. Des­pite her activ­it­ies, she re­mains faith­ful to her Wed­nes­day show at the Riff. There?s a little pride in her voice as she con­cludes: ?For me the greatest thing is that we really man­aged to give a chance to many young tal­ents who dreamed of play­ing here. And many of them have gone on to great­er things. Plenty of them have re­mained in the re­gion and have re­vived the mu­sic scene.?

As we skirt the edge of town after the show at the Riff, it seems to us that Bo­chum really is un­der­rated as a town of pop. A centre of the Ger­man New Wave in the 1980s, a show­case of world stars at the Zeche, a mu­sic­al strong­hold and party hub. Bo­chum?s dis­trict of Lan­gend­reer, how­ever, is a lot more des­ol­ate than you think. We?re here in search of the re­mains of a le­gendary un­der­ground club. Un­til a few years ago, dir­ectly at the metro sta­tion there was a club called Zwis­chen­fall (In­cid­ent). From its open­ing in the mid-80s, this un­usu­al ven­ue ? a pub down­stairs, a disco up­stairs, a stair­case to sit on and everything in per­man­ent dark­ness ? be­came the main meet­ing place of ?dark cul­ture?. Scenes from the un­der­ground movie Kinder der Nacht were shot here, and fet­ish and BDSM parties were cel­eb­rated, which co-ex­is­ted sur­pris­ingly well with the dark mu­sic of the goth­ic, dark wave and goth scene. And partly be­cause the Zwis­chen­fall was a fo­cal point of the scene, these sub­cul­tures were es­pe­cially strong in the Ruhr.

Sadly, the flats above the night club burned down in 2011. The fire-fight­er?s wa­ter ran in­to the club, ir­re­par­ably des­troy­ing the Zwis­chen­fall. In 2017, the build­ing was de­mol­ished. We look soberly at an empty build­ing lot and de­cide to drink a Bo­chum beer as a toast to the lost club in the nearest bar. When we enter the op­pos­ite cel­lar bar, we?re greeted by a caustic smell of ur­ine. Balls of dust have col­lec­ted on the shabby car­pet, a dog is snor­ing and the bar lady is dan­cing to easy-listen­ing songs with a drunk­en reg­u­lar. We sit down in a corner and watch what?s go­ing on, slightly baffled. Only one oth­er guest is sit­ting at the bar in si­lence. His ear and eye­brow pier­cings give us hope that he might be a former punk and we tell him why we?re here. When we men­tion the Zwis­chen­fall, his eyes light up. ?It was the best club ever,? he says nos­tal­gic­ally. ?When I was 16, I was still liv­ing in Han­over and every single week­end I came here to Lan­gend­reer. Just to go to the Zwis­chen­fall,? he says. ?And the crowd came from all over the place. That was ex­actly my kind of scene. Then I some­how ended up here. And now I?m a so­cial work­er in Bo­chum.? He turns back to his beer and we have the sad feel­ing that a scene has lost its home. We de­cide that it?s time to find out where con­certs and fest­ivals are played today. Dortmund, the big live-mu­sic centre of the Ruhr re­gion, seems like a good des­tin­a­tion.

Dortmund U by night, © © Frank Vinken


Hardly any oth­er city in Ger­many com­bines catchy, main­stream, simple pop so nat­ur­ally with hard rock and av­ant-garde mu­sic as Dortmund. Punk and Neue Deutsche Welle, met­al and hard rock, and elec­tron­ics and pop have al­ways been based here. Dortmund is the city of Phil­lip Boa as well as Tic Tac Toe, of Sir Hannes Smith and the punk mu­sic of the Idi­ots, not to men­tion the ghetto rap new­comer Brenna.

Per­haps this di­versity is due to the fact that pop his­tory began es­pe­cially early in Dortmund. Baby Rock by the Dortmund band Elras Broth­ers and the Teddy Long Boys is re­garded as the first rock ?n? roll re­cord ever from the Ruhr re­gion. You could also say that beat mu­sic in Ger­many only be­came a mass move­ment be­cause of Dortmund, as the founder of the Ham­burg Star-Club, Man­fred Walk­er, was a nat­ive of the city. But already long be­fore all these de­vel­op­ments, the city had an em­in­ent place in mu­sic. The Hot Club Dortmund, for ex­ample, fore­run­ner of today?s le­gendary dom­i­cil club, was a jazz hot­spot in the re­gion as far back as 1948.

In the course of pop his­tory, al­most every mu­sic­al move­ment has found an echo in Dortmund. Folk rock and polit­ic­al pop of the 1970s is rep­res­en­ted by Cochise, who be­came a mouth­piece of the en­vir­on­ment­al and peace move­ment. Ul­rich Schmidt-Salm began as a punk rock­er in the band Neat be­fore he dis­covered reg­gae, be­came a mu­sic pro­du­cer and as Natty U turned out a world hit with the dub ver­sion of The Cure?s song ?Boys Don?t Cry?. On the oth­er hand, Sir Hannes Smith has al­ways re­mained a punk at heart. With his band The Idi­ots, foun­ded in 1978, he gave mo­mentum to the Ger­man punk re­volu­tion; today he runs the ex­cel­lent re­cord store Idi­ot Re­cords in the centre of Dortmund. Today, hip-hop has a large fol­low­ing in this city with a high mi­grant pop­u­la­tion. Crews such as Too Strong and Koma Mobb won sub­cul­tur­al rel­ev­ance at the turn of the mil­len­ni­um.

A corner­stone of the genre di­versity in Dortmund is its status as a fest­iv­al and con­cert centre. Since the end of the 1960s, the FZW (West Leis­ure Centre) has en­sured that top bands per­form in the city. It was an un­usu­al ven­ue west of the city centre in the Kreuzvier­tel dis­trict of Dortmund, with a bowl­ing al­ley in the base­ment, a cinema com­plex and mini­ature golf course, and space for just 350 spec­tat­ors. For more than 40 years, up-and-com­ing bands such as the Scor­pi­ons, Bad Re­li­gion, Green Day, White Stripes or the Fant­ast­ic Four have played here. What?s more, the Club Trin­id­ad star­ted in the base­ment of the FZW in the mid-1990s. That club night formed the base out of which the pres­ti­gi­ous elec­tron­ic mu­sic fest­iv­al Juicy Beats grew. A couple of years back, the FZW has moved to a lar­ger and more com­mer­cially ori­ented site. The elec­tron­ic mix­ture is still an im­port­ant part of the pro­gramme and in gen­er­al cent­ral to Dortmund?s mu­sic world. Since 1993, May­day, a large-scale techno event, has taken place in the West­falen­hal­len con­cert hall. With up to 25,000 dan­cers, it is Ger­many?s largest in­door rave.

MAY­DAY "True Rave" 2017 / Friends of MAY­DAY


However, Dortmund pop cul­ture?s most fam­ous son is Phil­lip Boa, who since 1983 is an in­ter­na­tion­ally ac­claimed Post-Punk/New-Wave und Al­tern­at­ive/Av­ant­garde-artist. He finds it hard to say how much of his suc­cess is owed to his nat­ive city. When we ask him about it, he tells us about two trips he made to Lon­don which had a de­cis­ive mu­sic­al im­pact. ?I vis­ited Lon­don twice with my Eng­lish class after punk ex­ploded there in the late 1970s. On the street we asked people where the punk scene was. Then we went to clubs every night for two weeks. That?s how the kicks came about,? says Boa. The do-it-your­self ap­proach of punk were an in­spir­a­tion to him. XTC, Talk­ing Heads, Tele­vi­sion, Joy Di­vi­sion and New Or­der ex­em­pli­fied a new form of rock mu­sic that broke the rules of the old hip­pie bands. Back in Dortmund, he foun­ded bands without really de­riv­ing any mu­sic­al sat­is­fac­tion from them. With his girl­friend at the time Pia Lund, he then foun­ded the band Phil­lip Boa and the Voo­doo­club in 1983. Eroc, a good old friend from times of the band Die er­ste weib­liche Fleis­chergesel­lin nach 1945, re­cor­ded the first al­bums in his Wood­house Stu­di­os.

Phil­lip Boa and the Voo­doo­club be­came one of the most ver­sat­ile form­a­tions of the Ger­man new wave, even if Boa says today that he didn?t ini­tially be­lieve in the band. He didn?t come in­to close con­tact with the Dortmund scene either. ?I?m from Dortmund and I love the city, but I haven?t done any­thing with mu­sic here for dec­ades. I feel more con­nec­ted to Ham­burg, Ber­lin, Leipzig, Lon­don and New York,? he sums up. He was al­ways drawn abroad for mu­sic­al in­spir­a­tion, even though he now has a home in Dortmund as well as in Ham­burg and Lon­don. This dis­tant gaze has its reas­ons: ?When we went out in Dortmund back in the day, we were ac­cos­ted. I love the city, I love the foot­ball team. But mu­sic­ally ... If I?d stayed there, I?d have be­come an ar­chi­tect.? This re­mark isn?t in­ten­ded to be derog­at­ory to­wards ar­chi­tects. Boa just felt that an mu­sic­al in­fra­struc­ture was al­ways lack­ing in Dortmund. ?The city simply had no sup­port­ers. There were mu­si­cians in punk bands, some sol­diers, and cool clubs like the Java. Really fant­ast­ic reg­gae bands used to play there. But in the Old Daddy, there were nev­er more than 50 people at the week­end, and 20 dur­ing the week. And they are still the ones mainly shap­ing the mu­sic scene.?

For his mu­sic­al edu­ca­tion, he says, the bar­racks along Bundesstraße 1 and the Brit­ish sol­diers who lived there were the most im­port­ant in­flu­ence. ?They brought glam­our to the town. Hanging around them was cool. Es­pe­cially for someone who was of­ten in Lon­don. It was between around 1981 and 1988,? says Boa. He was too late to wit­ness the most ex­cit­ing phase at the Rat­inger Hof in Düs­sel­dorf. In­stead, he reg­u­larly went to Bo­chum. Clubs, and the re­cord shops Last Chance and Dis­cov­er be­come im­port­ant meet­ing places for him. That?s where dis­cus­sions took place that crossed art forms, and which he some­times still misses. ?The people were all very ?do-it-your­self? ? not trained mu­si­cians. Film and lit­er­at­ure were im­port­ant for them. I?d nev­er been a bril­liant mu­si­cian, I had more video­tapes than LPs,? he says. ?Today, mu­si­cians only study their sub­ject and keep their sights just on that. They?re crafts­men. If I gave them two films and a book as a key to un­der­stand­ing the world, it wouldn?t reach them. It?s all about mar­ket­ing these days ? oh how bor­ing,? says Boa.

Up un­til today, Boa re­cords al­bums with Phil­lip Boa and the Voo­doo­club, wrote hits like ?Con­tain­er Love? or ?Kill Your Ideals?. His mu­sic os­cil­lates between wave, elec­tron­ics and hard in­die rock ? an ex­ten­sion of the mu­sic played by his former idols from Eng­land and the USA. To­geth­er with Pia Lund, he has also man­aged their la­bel Con­strict­or since 1986, who dis­trib­ute Ger­man and Brit­ish in­die bands. When the Voo­doo­club changed line-up in 1993, Lund and Boa per­son­ally split a short while af­ter­wards. Since then, Pia Lund has be­come an im­port­ant fig­ure­head in Dortmund?s mu­sic and visu­al arts. And even if Dortmund may not have in­flu­enced Phil­lip Boa mu­sic­ally, it cer­tainly shaped his per­son­al­ity. ?I def­in­itely have some West­phali­an stub­born­ness,? he ad­mits. ?There?s a kind of cool­ness, which is also hurt­ful and hon­est. You don?t let people in­ter­fere in your life.? Con­sid­er­ing the many glossy re­leases of the past few years, it be­comes clear that he prob­ably doesn?t like to talk much about the past in Dortmund be­cause he?s still hanker­ing for something new. ?I do not want to be someone who clings to the past and thinks that everything today is shit. The fu­ture in­terests me more than the past,? he con­cludes.

Kill Your Ideals - Phil­lip Boa & The Voo­doo­club

© Phil­lip Boa and the Voo­doo­club

Konzert Duisburg Landschaftspark, © © RTG Hoffmann


Many cit­ies in the Ruhr suf­fer from the cliché of be­ing ugly and poor, with no green areas and no cul­ture, and com­pletely un­in­ter­est­ing for vis­it­ors, es­pe­cially those from abroad. This is said es­pe­cially of the 500,000-res­id­ent city of Duis­burg, deep in the west of the Ruhr re­gion. In pub­lic per­cep­tion, Es­sen and Dortmund usu­ally out­strip Duis­burg. The only time the city crops up in the news is when there is something neg­at­ive to re­port, such as empty city cof­fers, high un­em­ploy­ment or lack of pro­spects for young people. The Duis­burg-Marxloh dis­trict is re­garded as the epi­tome of a polit­ic­ally and so­cially de­prived no-go zone. We ar­rive at Duis­burg?s cent­ral sta­tion on a sunny spring day. As the train enters the sta­tion, passing the ruined hangar of the former freight and shunt­ing sta­tion, the heart be­comes heavy. Here in 2010, 21 mostly young people were killed in an ob­scure tun­nel sec­tion that should have been the en­trance to the techno fest­iv­al Love Parade. A touch­ing me­mori­al worth a vis­it com­mem­or­ates the tragedy on Karl Lehr Straße.

All of these as­so­ci­ations mean that people of­ten for­get what a live­able and cul­tur­ally fas­cin­at­ing city Duis­burg is. Peter Bursch, the gui­tar­ist of krautrock band Brösel­maschine told us: ?If you look at coolibri?s pro­gramme of events [an on­line portal for Ruhrge­biet en­ter­tain­ment], there are a hun­dred con­certs every day. The Ruhr is the largest arts space in Europe, wheth­er for clas­sic­al mu­sic or a dif­fer­ent kind of DJ night,? he em­phas­ises. ?In Duis­burg alone, there are 500 bands with prac­tice rooms. The scene is really huge. There are count­less clubs that play live mu­sic. In Duis­burg there are def­in­itely between 15 and 18.? In the land­scape park of Duis­burg-Nord there is also the an­nu­al Traumzeit Fest­iv­al with its ex­cel­lent book­ing; around Dell­platz, there are live mu­sic ven­ues, and dur­ing winter, the in­ter­dis­cip­lin­ary mu­sic, art and theatre fest­iv­al Platzhirsch takes place. The ?Duis­bur­ger Akzente,? a European-wide ac­claimed arts fest­iv­al for theatre, visu­al arts, lit­er­at­ure & film has also been run­ning since 1977.

But we want to walk on down to the wa­ter­front. A tram takes us through the old town past Duis­burg?s in­ner-city har­bour to the north­west­ern part of the town. Each dis­trict looks dif­fer­ent and we?re re­minded of how Tom Li­wa de­scribed his ho­met­own to us [see Spot­light/Link 02]: ?Some­times the streets are nar­row, some­times the streets are al­most twice as wide in the next es­tate, like small av­en­ues. You can drive around here, as if the whole place were a vast park. You come to dif­fer­ent areas like in a zoo: here are the kangaroos, then the pan­das, then the don­keys.? It gradu­ally be­comes more in­dus­tri­al after we?ve driv­en over the River Ruhr. We get off at the Ruhrort dis­trict, where the Ruhr flows in­to the im­mense Rhine and prob­ably the largest in­land port in the world be­gins. It?s a unique place in Ger­many. Around Neu­markt you can come across quaint sail­ors? pubs like Zum Anker, and there is a ship­ping bank as well as a chil­dren?s home for sail­ors. Mu­seum-like paddle steam­ers putter along the canal. In many places, the mag­ni­fi­cent façades of the houses hint at the wealth that once resided here.

In around 1900, Ruhrort was the gate­way to the Ruhr re­gion with a pre­val­ence of mer­chants and mil­lion­aires. These con­verged with Ger­man and Dutch sail­ors, turn­ing the area in­to the ?St. Pauli of the West? by the 1960s, with over 100 pubs, amuse­ment amen­it­ies and a red-light dis­trict. The Tante Olga bar (Aunt Olga) was es­pe­cially no­tori­ous and fit­tingly loc­ated halfway between the spires of the Prot­est­ant and the Cath­ol­ic par­ishes. If you squint in front of today?s Bor­deaux-red painted build­ings, it?s pos­sible to ima­gine how tarts with hearts of gold en­ter­tained sail­ors while the beat kids from the re­gion shyly hung around. Among them was Udo Linden­berg, today Ger­many?s biggest rock le­gend. After a wild start in Düs­sel­dorf, he stud­ied drum­ming at the Duis­burg Con­ser­vat­ory and whiled away the nights at Tante Olga?s. And this is where Benny Quick, who had just had a hit with his song ?Mo­tor­biene,? set him on track. ?I asked him wheth­er be­ing a pop sing­er was a cool job. Sure, he said: big cars, big cheques, plenty of chicks and guys. ?Okay,? I thought, ?then that?s what I?ll do,?? as Linden­berg told the Han­dels­blatt news­pa­per a few years ago. In the Ruhrort, Linden­berg, like many oth­ers, also learned hard drink­ing. So it?s fit­ting that just a few metres from Olga?s, Horst Schi­manski Al­ley com­mem­or­ates the hard-drink­ing, hard-hit­ting po­lice in­vest­ig­at­or in Duis­burg.

In the 1960s, Ruhrort lost its status, which went hand in hand with the emer­gence of al­tern­at­ive coun­ter­cul­ture. Com­munes and squats sprung up, mind-ex­pand­ing drugs were con­sumed and ex­per­i­ment­al mu­sic was all the rage. Around Peter Bursch and the Brösel­maschine a minor mu­sic scene ap­peared. And it turned the oc­cu­pied Esch­haus in Nieder­straße am Innen­hafen ? the old­est street in Duis­burg ? in­to a self-gov­erned youth club at the be­gin­ning of the 1970s. Un­til its highly con­tro­ver­sial de­mise in the late 1980s, fant­ast­ic bands could be heard there ? Alex­is Korner, Ju­lie Driscoll, BAP, Clay Stones Shards and many more. But above all, the Esch­haus Centre passed the bat­on from one gen­er­a­tion to the next. It was the ven­ue where heavy met­al was able to flour­ish (per­haps be­cause Peter Bursch gave gui­tar les­sons to many of the mu­si­cians, in­clud­ing Kreat­or). And this is where Duis­burg de­veloped in­to a punk strong­hold in the Ruhr re­gion.

To un­der­stand more about the spe­cif­ics of the Ruhr-re­gion punks, we get the journ­al­ists Den­nis Reb­mann & Philip Strat­mann on board. With im­press­ive di­li­gence, the duo wrote a book, un­der­pinned by their own ex­per­i­ences as fans and fea­tur­ing many in­ter­views, with the title Mit Schmackes. Punk im Ruhrge­biet (With Verve. Punks in the Ruhr Re­gion). In it, they por­tray all con­tem­por­ary punk bands with a repu­ta­tion in the Ruhr area. Band that mostly have at­trac­ted little at­ten­tion bey­ond Ger­many. Many, if not all, of these bands play ?pro­let­ari­an punk? with ob­scene, some­times iron­ic or dirty lyr­ics and an ex­tremely beer-friendly at­ti­tude. This move­ment was first ini­ti­ated by the Oi! punk band Pö­bel & Gesocks around the re­gion­al celebrity Willi Wuch­er. The were foun­ded as Beck?s Pis­tols in 1979, but had to re­name them­selves at the brew­ery?s re­quest. In­spired by this band, ac­cord­ing to the two mu­sic ex­perts, the ?holy trin­ity of pro­let­ari­an Ruhr punk? fi­nally de­veloped. These are: loc­al her­oes Lokal­mata­doren (Loc­al Mata­dors) from Mül­heim an der Ruhr, the punks Eis­en­pimmel (Wil­lies of Steel) from Duis­burg and the Kassier­er (Cashiers) from Bo­chum. Their best-known songs have il­lus­tri­ous titles like ?Blu­men­kohl am Pille­mann? (Cauli­flower on my Willy) ?Rudelfick im Al­ter­sheim? (Gang Bang in the Re­tire­ment Home) or ?Mein schön­er Hoden­s­ack? (My Beau­ti­ful Scro­tum). Hardly a fest­iv­al takes place without fans loudly growl­ing the lyr­ics: ?But the worst thing is when the beer runs out?. Duis­burg is one of the most im­port­ant cit­ies for this un­der­ground cul­ture. And un­der­ground it is, in the truest sense of the word ? be­cause apart from the Kassier­er, the only Mül­heim band to achieve na­tion­al suc­cess has been punk-ska-form­a­tion Son­daschule. ?Ima­gine: You?re from Bo­chum and you play a gig 500 metres down the road in Es­sen. That?s already your gig out of town. In Ber­lin, you?d have to go to Ham­burg to get the same feel­ing. Here you quickly feel that you?ve made it be­cause you?re play­ing in a dif­fer­ent city,? says Strat­mann to ex­plain why many bands don?t leave the Ruhr. ?Between Dortmund and Duis­burg, there are plenty of op­por­tun­it­ies to per­form, so you can do pretty well,? adds Reb­mann. Most of them stay nearby or in the re­gion ? hardly any of the bands can live from mu­sic. ?But be­cause of this, there are hardly any rows about selling out to com­mer­cial­ism or the kind of envy you see again and again in oth­er punk scenes,? notes Reb­mann. Yet the scene is still large-scale. The ?Ruhr­pott Rodeo?, for ex­ample, is the biggest open-air punk fest­iv­al in Ger­many. ?Punk im Pott? in Ober­hausen is con­sidered the largest in­door punk fest­iv­al in the coun­try. But oth­er­wise, punk, ac­cord­ing the two au­thors, is more a club scene, and takes place in pubs, clubs, an­ti­fa and arts centres. The punks are also the ones who up­hold the clichés of the Ruhr re­gion most vo­ci­fer­ously. ?It?s strange,? says Strat­mann in puz­zle­ment. ?Some­times you get the im­pres­sion that punk bands still glor­i­fy the work­er?s men­tal­ity, struc­tur­al change and the eco­nom­ic dif­fi­culties of the Ruhr.? And Reb­mann adds: ?This cliché of the Ruhr with its belch­ing chim­neys and hard graft hasn?t been true since the 1980s. But it was the source of the re­gion?s iden­tity. It was also a way for early punks to feel a bond with Eng­land. Nobody talks about how green it is here in the mean­time,? he laughs.

DIE KASSIER­ER - Blu­men­kohl am Pille­mann 19.12.2013

Zeche Bo­chum / © ek77

The Ger­man main­stream ra­dio land­scape is showered with ter­ribly cheesy, Ger­man-speak­ing pop mu­sic, which des­per­ately wants to sound like Cold­play. If you want to hear life-ex­per­i­enced mu­sic from Ger­many that hits the cen­ter of your heart and feels new and wider with each listen­ing, then try the Duis­burg song­writer Tom Li­wa. This ap­plies to the al­bums of his (dis­ban­ded and re­united) band Flower­pornoes as well as his ex­cel­lent solo al­bums or the pieces he has writ­ten for oth­ers like the Co­logne band Klee [LINK]. Al­bums like ... red? nicht von Straßen, nicht von Zü­gen (1994), St. Amour (2000) or his new­est re­cord Ganz nor­male Songs re­leased on the Ham­burg la­bel Grand Hotel van Cleef prove his unique­ness. His lyr­ics are of­ten deeply saddened, closely ob­serving di­ary entries, short nov­els that reach straight for the heart: songs about a doc­tor's vis­it with a grim dia­gnos­is, a fate­ful en­counter by the river, a strange squir­rel and a strange girl.

We reach the song­writer on the phone. He has not lived in Duis­burg for a long time, but we are curi­ous to find out how his grow­ing up in the Ruhr area in­flu­enced him mu­sic­ally. He loc­ates these in­flu­ences very early in his bio­graphy, but at first quite in­de­pend­ently of the pe­cu­li­ar­it­ies of the Ruhr area. "In the be­gin­ning, the ra­dio was cer­tainly im­port­ant, WDR ra­dio with clas­sic­al mu­sic and Sch­la­ger," Li­wa sur­mises. "And then, in the 60s, strange forms of mu­sic broke in. For ex­ample, Jimi Hendrix was heard by someone who lives op­pos­ite, who is twice my age and who plays that mu­sic to me as an eight-year-old. To find that strange at first, be­cause you grew up between Bach's ideas of har­mony and Sch­la­ger, but still per­ceive: That's hot shit ... " Im­port­ant is his fath­er, who works at the youth wel­fare of­fice and takes Li­wa to con­certs. "I ac­tu­ally wanted to be a mu­si­cian already when I was four or five," he re­calls. "These were the first touches - apart from school per­form­ances or something sim­il­ar - with live mu­sic." With his fath­er, he ex­per­i­enced a fest­iv­al in the Wedausta­di­um with the Brit­ish hard rock band U.F.O. At the sound­check he stands, maybe as a sev­en-year-old, next to his dad and up front were those long-haired guys. ?This was the first time I saw a band in their work­ing con­text, "says the song­writer, con­tinu­ing to tell of oth­er im­port­ant events such as a con­cert by Her­mann van Veen in the Mer­cat­or Halle in Duis­burg.

Some­where in between these many mu­sic­al styles de­vel­op Tom Li­wa's own mu­sic­al aes­thet­ics. But when we ask if the pop his­tory of the Ruhr re­gion played a role in this, the beats­cene or the suc­cess­ful Krautrock bands, he em­phat­ic­ally neg­ates: "For me, my mu­sic was nev­er tied to cit­ies. For me, that was nev­er im­port­ant, wheth­er any­one from Duis­burg has ever done any­thing, "he says and con­tin­ues after care­ful de­lib­er­a­tion," but I'm sure that the re­gion has nev­er­the­less shaped me. The weath­er. The men­tal­ity of the people who sur­roun­ded me. But also def­in­itely the ar­chi­tec­ture that has in­flu­enced my idea of spaces. How mu­sic sounds in rooms - from the nurs­ery where I sang for the first time to the youth cen­ter. "If there really were not any Duis­burg artists who im­pressed him, we urge him. "Yes, there was one here in Duis­burg that in­flu­enced me a lot, but only at a time when, in my view, I thought I was already a song­writer, even be­fore I wrote songs: A.S.H. Pe­lik­an. Later I also played with him a couple of times. He was ac­tu­ally the first sing­er-song­writer I ex­per­i­enced and liked. As a per­son who stood in front of me and was filled with something. "

A.S.H. Pe­lik­an is one of those artists whose life de­served a whole book. He has pub­lished many re­cords and text pub­lic­a­tions since 1971 as a mu­si­cian and writer, of­ten in self-pub­lish­ing. He is also a gui­tar teach­er, act­or and much more. On his homepage there is a timeline (ht­tp://ash­pe­lik­an.de/?page_id=463), which is a highly en­joy­able Duis­burg world cul­tur­al his­tory (and in which Tom Li­wa also plays a role). In sum­mary, the homepage wel­comes the vis­it­or with the fol­low­ing words: "Pe­lik­an is con­sidered one of the most un­suc­cess­ful Duis­burg au­thors and song­writers of the last 40 years. He has sold 984 books and 652 CDs world­wide. "

Tom Li­wa ex­per­i­ences him in the youth cen­ter Esch­haus. "These youth cen­ters were im­port­ant to many," he ex­plains. "If you were in these circles some­how, they were a place to say: we want to play live in two week?s time. And that was pos­sible. Also the joy of ex­per­i­ment­ing in these places. Not hav­ing to lim­it your­self to a format that has to be sold, with which you go dir­ectly to a mar­ket. The free­dom to try something in front of people. "

In 1985, Li­wa fi­nally foun­ded his band Flower­pornoes, with which he has re­leased nine al­bums, ini­tially in Eng­lish, later Ger­man-speak­ing. Of­ten he was and is also do­ing solo stuff. In ad­di­tion, he has set up nu­mer­ous cul­tur­al pro­jects, dealt with spir­itu­al­ity and sus­tain­ab­il­ity, and re­cently trans­ferred his many years of pre­oc­cu­pa­tion with paint­ing and draw­ing in­to a first ex­hib­i­tion of his own works. Dur­ing this time he has seen many scenes come and go: the punk, the Ger­man rock, the Ham­burg school and more. Mostly he kept away as far as pos­sible. Maybe it helped him that there nev­er really were big scenes in the Ruhr area, but rather al­ways only mi­cro scenes. "There are voices that say: As soon as a move­ment has more than 200 fol­low­ers, it is fucked, be­cause then everything di­lutes and eats it­self," says Tom Li­wa at the end of our con­ver­sa­tion. "Maybe de­vel­op­ments in small circles are much more ex­cit­ing. If they die, then the next mi­cro-things can morph from them faster. And all this quick morph­ing eludes much ugly com­mer­cial pres­sure or re­stric­tion."

On the way to the train we listen to some songs from Duis­burg?s di­verse pop his­tory ? from the Krautrock of Brösel­maschine to the sing­er-song­writer-folk of Danny Dzi­uk and Dödel­haie?s punk. Fi­nally, we listen to the unique Tom Li­wa. And our hearts are touched by the mel­an­choly beauty of Li­wa?s song ?Für die linke Spur zu lang­sam? (Too Slow for the Left Lane).

Then we go to the last stop of our jour­ney of dis­cov­ery. Once again, we?re off to Bo­chum.


A hip ice-cream café near the Schaus­piel­haus (Theatre). On the menu they have spicy chai latte with soy milk. The I Am Love Café in the centre of Bo­chum would not look out of place in Ber­lin Mitte. On the last leg of our tour of the Ruhr area, which has turned in­to sev­er­al months of re­search, we?re go­ing to meet one of today?s most prom­in­ent and mod­ern bands. Alina Süggel­er and Andi Weizel of the pop band Frida Gold have not giv­en in­ter­views for a long time and are work­ing in­tens­ively on new songs. Since their de­but Juwel they are among the most suc­cess­ful acts in the coun­try. The al­bum Liebe ist meine Re­li­gion (Love is my Re­li­gion) with its eponym­ous single reached No. 1 in the charts, sold-out tours and fest­iv­al ap­pear­ances fol­lowed, and es­tab­lished the duo as a cel­eb­rated live band. Sit­ting to­geth­er at a low wooden table, an ex­tremely like­able con­ver­sa­tion de­vel­ops, one that brings across the long-time fa­mili­ar­ity of the two. They of­ten fin­ish each oth­er?s sen­tences or help each oth­er search for a bet­ter word. They tell the story of a band from the Ruhr re­gion that went out to con­quer the coun­try and has re­turned to its roots for the time be­ing.

On pa­per, Frida Gold is an im­possible mix of in­flu­ences. Alina Süggel­er, who grew up just out­side Bo­chum in Hat­tin­gen, ac­tu­ally has a back­ground in clas­sic­al mu­sic. She sang early on in the church choir, learned the flute and went on to study this in­stru­ment at Folk­wang Uni­versity. She sees the re­gion as a good place for a mu­si­cian to start. ?I look back on Hat­tin­gen and the sur­round­ings as be­ing mu­sic­al,? she says. ?At my school there was a really good or­ches­tra. I trav­elled with them. Then mu­sic­als were staged, which were per­formed out­side the city. These are all small things, but there was a feel­ing that if you wanted to ex­press your­self mu­sic­ally, no mat­ter how, then there was room.? Yet in the mid-2000s, she en­countered a lot of res­ist­ance with her first bands Am­ne­sia and Lin­arockt. ?I?ve al­ways writ­ten very pop-ori­ented mu­sic, be­cause I wanted to reach as many people as pos­sible with what I have to say. But back then, I had the feel­ing that I had to jus­ti­fy my­self a lot for do­ing that,? she says. ?In the mu­sic scene in the Ruhr re­gion at the time, hard gui­tar mu­sic ruled.?

One of those mak­ing the loudest noise was Andi Weizel. ?I?m from Es­sen-Steele. There was HüWeg, one of those old youth clubs where all the dif­fer­ent so­cial classes came to­geth­er, there was an arts scene and everything clashed: hard­core, hip-hop, graf­fiti spray­ers,? he says. ?The con­certs there and in the nearby Grend club, where un­der­ground punks played, were why I star­ted mak­ing mu­sic: this clash of dif­fer­ent people who gave their all every night, no mat­ter wheth­er on stage or in the pogo circle in front of the stage or when spray­ing.? The duo met at a fest­iv­al for up-and-com­ing tal­ent. Amused, Andi Weizel re­mem­bers: ?I didn?t get at all why there was a band on stage with a sing­er who was so nice,? he laughs and Alina gives him an amused look, ?singing pop songs.?

It took a while un­til the two formed Frida Gold. Alina Süggel­er did some train­ing in Ham­burg with the suc­cess­ful pro­du­cer Franz Plasa, while Andi Weizel stud­ied at the Popakademie Man­nheim. The pair first came closer per­son­ally, then mu­sic­ally. ?From the be­gin­ning I be­ne­fit­ted a lot from the fact that Andi takes it for gran­ted that you can and should make a liv­ing from mu­sic,? says Alina. ?In spite of my work in Ham­burg, I didn?t take it for gran­ted un­til then.? The band de­veloped am­bi­tions and cre­ated some mo­mentum, wrote songs and at­trac­ted the in­terest of more and more people. They had to man­age a bal­an­cing act between the Ruhr and a na­tion­al break­through. ?We already knew that we had to reach people from all over Ger­many with our mu­sic in or­der to be in­ter­est­ing for la­bels,? says Weizel, who plays the bass and pol­ishes their songs on his com­puter. ?There are no bands who are only known in the Ruhr re­gion and then get signed to a la­bel some­where in Ger­many. Even if you fill clubs with a ca­pa­city of 500 people here, no one from Ber­lin or Ham­burg will come down and take a look at you.? Alina Süggel­er nods, but adds: ?When we first star­ted get­ting ser­i­ous, we still had the feel­ing that the Ruhr area is a good place to start. There?s a men­tal­ity here that gives you the feel­ing: You?ve really got to get stuck in. I think it was good for us in the be­gin­ning to make our first re­cord here and go to Ber­lin later on. Be­cause hardly any­one here can live off big busi­ness. If you get passed around too much at an early stage, or meet too many people who have an opi­on, you might lose your own way ...?

Their de­but al­bum Juwel was re­leased in 2011. The two moved to Ber­lin, split as a couple but stayed to­geth­er for their song­writ­ing. They re­cor­ded their second and third al­bum in Los Angeles and oth­er places. Alina Süggel­er be­came a jury mem­ber for TV cast­ing shows, be­came a suc­cess­ful mod­el, and was fea­tured in fash­ion magazines. And yet something got lost on the way. Their fans re­jec­ted their at­tempt to write Eng­lish lyr­ics. The can­did video for the song ?Lang­sam? (Slow) res­ul­ted in more talk about Süggel­er?s ap­pear­ance rather than the ex­cel­lent elec­tro-pop on their third al­bum Alina. But that?s just life in the cap­it­al. ?Ber­lin?s great,? says the sing­er. ?But you can fill up your life with things and feel like you?re busy all the time, but all you?re do­ing is dis­tract­ing your­self. You meet people and meet people and talk and talk, but you don?t end up do­ing any­thing.? So the de­cision to move back to their home turf slowly grew ? a plan which they?ve re­cently car­ried out. ?At the mo­ment, I have the feel­ing that we can go back to our roots here in the Ruhr. I can only feel my ori­gins here and talk about things, of course,? ex­plains Alina Süggel­er, adding with a laugh: ?And sud­denly I want to write a song about Bo­chum!?

Frida Gold - Zurück Zu Mir


Zeche bei Sonnenuntergang, © © Ruhr Tourismus Jochen Schlutius

Ruhr area im­pres­sions

Our jour­ney through the Ruhr is over. We?ve listened to hun­dreds of re­cords, col­lec­ted half a lib­rary of books on the Ruhr, vis­ited ten cit­ies and had many re­mark­able con­ver­sa­tions. We wer­en?t able to find a clear-cut an­swer as to why the pop his­tory of the Ruhr is as unique as it is. But the re­gion?s poly­centri­city cer­tainly play a spe­cial role. Self-con­tained mu­sic scenes, like in Düs­sel­dorf?s Rat­inger Hof [LINK] or the Sound of Co­logne did not emerge in 60 years of pop his­tory. For this to hap­pen, per­haps the cit­ies were ul­ti­mately not big enough. There was barely a dis­trict with dif­fer­ent sub­cul­tures that could gen­er­ate enough pro­duct­ive fric­tion to be­come main­stream. In­stead, the many mi­cro scenes (es­pe­cially at night) spread via rather sporad­ic pub­lic trans­port across many loosely in­ter­linked large and me­di­um-sized towns. Only in Es­sen with its In­ter­na­tion­al Song Fest­iv­al, Ha­gen?s New Wave, or from the met­al and punk scenes did the loc­al mu­sic make it bey­ond city lim­its.

Every ma­jor and minor city had ? and mostly still has ? a youth or arts club. The im­port­ance of these in­sti­tu­tions for the de­vel­op­ment of mu­sic in the Ruhr can­not be over­es­tim­ated. Without the JZE and the HüWeg in Es­sen, the Esch­haus in Duis­burg, the FZW in Dortmund and many more, things would have stayed pretty quiet in the Ruhr area. At the same time, these places have been dom­in­ated by loud, male, ag­gress­ive mu­sic since their in­cep­tion. Met­ro­sexu­al, queer or trans­sexu­al life and art worlds are only now find­ing their way slowly in­to the Ruhr area: to date, mu­sic fans look­ing for fe­male bands would still be look­ing for a needle in a hay­stack.

For dec­ades, the Ruhr area was marked by an eco­nom­ic crisis and its im­age as a work­ers? re­gion. Here there were no masses of well-heeled stu­dents who could af­ford to make mu­sic as a hobby with their par­ents? money or state fund­ing. In the Ruhr area, mu­sic al­ways had to be fin­an­cially vi­able. The res­ult is quite of­ten unique pop-rock met­al-elec­tro mu­sic, which doesn?t shy away from keep­ing an eye on sales but at the same time ex­presses the life ex­per­i­ences and mu­sic­al in­flu­ences of the Ruhr area. Few have had in­ter­na­tion­al suc­cess, but the vari­ety of genres, bands and artists in the Ruhr is all the more fas­cin­at­ing. Just as Ruhr cit­ies are not ?main­stream? in terms of tour­ism, but un­usu­al places for those who love things out of the or­din­ary, same goes for the sound of the Ruhr are.

Throughout the re­gion we dis­covered fas­cin­at­ing places in pop his­tory: The Gruga­halle, Duis­burg?s Ruhrort or the Zechen Carl and Bo­chum are im­press­ive pop hot­spots where you can still feel his­tory in­to the present day. It was easy to im­merse ourselves in the re­gion?s night­life in Bo­chum?s Ber­muda3Eck, in Dortmund?s trendy pubs, in wrecked punk shacks in Gelsen­kirchen or hip­ster ven­ues in Es­sen?s Rüt­tenscheid. The op­por­tun­ity to travel from one city, from one mi­cro-scene or pop story to the next on a cheap day tick­et is won­der­ful. We only man­aged a first glance. Jazz, swing, dance mu­sic and pop, soul, fu­sion, free jazz, the biker-mod scene, rocka­billy fans, and steam­punk sup­port­ers have their own stor­ies to tell of the Ruhr area. We?ll be back. ?See you later, al­ligator?.

Clos­ing and Playl­ist

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