Burning Down The Haus Review

Burning Down The Haus by Tim Mohr is a great book about East German punks. The author tracks the evolution of the punk scene from the moment East German kids first herd the Sex Pistols on Western radio to the fall of the Berlin Wall and beyond. It's a great book and you should read it if you are into punk, activism, or history.

The book basically chronicles the rise and spread of punk in the GDR. A lot of the book is about the repression that the punks faced from the state, citizens, and nazi skinheads. It's wild to read about the East German secret police trying to break up punk festivals and sending punks to prison for the lyrics in their songs. This repression naturally led a bunch of the punks to become more political and the book talks about the organizing that the punks did against the state. The punks had a role in bringing down the Berlin Wall!

It's a fascinating and largely unknown story (outside of the German punk scene). There is an interesting dichotomy between the influence that the West had on the punks, but also the rejection of the West by the East German punks.

The book talks about different influential bands of the time, their lyrics, the shows they organized, the way members of the bands and their audiences felt, etc.

It also talks about reaction within East German society to punk rock. This includes reactions from normal citizens, include the parents of many punk kids, but also hippies and activists, students, and the police. Reading this book, it's kind of shocking that punk rock survived at all, let alone grew and thrived in the GDR.

Along with punk, the book talks about grassroots activism that a lot of the punks were involved in. Because their society tried so hard to crush them, many of the punks ended up getting involved in trying to change their society. This organizing went from putting on underground concerts to organizing mass protests against the state.

This book really does a good job of bringing out the unique aspects of punk in the East. In the UK you had nihilistic "no future" slogans while in the GDR you have "too much future" as the slogan, as your whole life was planned for you by the state. If you're interesting in a unique scene that hasn't been talked about much in the English speaking world, check this book out.