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Krautrock for Athletes: What 70s East German Olympians just might have listened to while training

I have to admit, they had me going there for a while…. I thought it was real. I stumbled on the Bandcamp page for the Kosmischer Läufer project two days ago, courtesy of WFMU, who blandly supplied no information about it. The site purported to be the “secret cosmic music of the East German Olympic Program, 1972-1983.” (Kosmischer Läufer means “cosmic runners.”) Volume 1 came out last year, vol. 2 this week.

So I’m listening to these tracks of magnificent 1970s-style German electronic music and taking in the backstory of one Martin Zeichnete, an apprentice sound editor for DEFA (Deutsche Film-Aktiengesellschaft) who, starting in 1972, was transferred to the Olympic training music project, that is, to compose music for East German athletes to train to. Having furtively imbibed the forbidden Western tones of Kraftwerk and Neu! in his hometown of Dresden, Zeichnete managed to smuggle in some avant-garde ideas to the project and generate some pretty sweet Musik that (just by chance) would be tailor-made for the discerning hipster of 2013. Volume 1 represented a program that “should allow the average runner to complete a 5 kilometre run at a reasonable pace. Included are 3 minute warmup and warm down pieces.”

My knowledge of German came in handy, here. There was a puzzlement or two to clear up. The name “Zeichnete,” which means “drew” or “sketched,” isn’t an entirely convincing surname for a German national. The story of being scarily apprehended by the Stasi authorities, only to be suddenly transferred to the Olympic training department, seemed far-fetched. The titles were an absolutely perfect imitation of what the contemporary English speaker would want them to be—“Mausi Mausi,” for Chrissake? “Flucht aus dem Tal der Ahnungslosen” means “Escape from the Valley of the Clueless” and really, that’s a great title in any language and perhaps more to the point, a clue to anyone taking all this retro guff too seriously. The only real problem with it all was that sizable gap between 1989 and 2013. Where were these tracks all this time? What had taken Zeichnete so long? Why was he staggering the releases? Why did some of the tracks sound so perfectly like what a Stereolab-influenced electronic music nut would generate today, given the chance?

More to the point, the whole thing was beginning to seem a bit ridiculous.

Turns out, these fine tracks of faux 1970s e-music had been introduced in a (successfully funded) Kickstarter last year launched by one Drew McFadyen of Edinburgh. (This blog says there’s more than just one person behind it, but I couldn’t discern anyone’s name but that of Mr. McFayden.)

Sehr witzig, mein guter Kerl!

In any case, instead of the most marvelous musical find of this or the last century and an incredible artifact of the Cold War, we have a excellently rendered simulacrum of same. It’s a hoot if you’re in the mood for some free tracks to listen to on Bandcamp or YouTube, but the files can also be ordered on iTunes or Amazon (links to individual tracks are below). Unfortunately, as often happens with Kickstarters, the original run of LPs is sold out. (If you’re listening, Unknown Capability Recordings, remember me if you ever do a future pressing!)

You can read an interview with the fictitious East German, Martin Zeichnete—it’s worth reading, they did a very good job with it. The reference to Andreas Pavel’s Stereobelt was just the right touch.

Track listing:
Kosmischer Läufer: The Secret Cosmic Music of the East German Olympic Program 1972-83, Vol. 1

1. Zeit zum Laufen 156 (Time to Run 156)
2. Sandtrommel (Sand Drum)
3. Die lange Gerade (The Long Straightaway)
4. Tonband Laufspur (Audio Tape Running Track)
5. Ein merkwürdiger Anschlag (An Unusual Attack)

Kosmischer Läufer: The Secret Cosmic Music of the East German Olympic Program 1972-83, Vol. 2

1. Zeit zum Laufen 172 (Time to Run 172)
2. Morgenröte (Dawn)
3. Flucht aus dem Tal der Ahnungslosen (Escape from the Valley of the Clueless)
4. Die Kapsel (The Capsule)
5. Die Libellen (The Dragonflies)
6. Mausi Mausi (Mausi Mausi)
7. Walzer der roten Katze (Waltz of the Red Cat)
8. Der Hörraum (The Listening Room)
9. Für Kati (For Kati)
10. Weltraumspaziergang (Spacewalk)

Here are a couple of the videos, cleverly sync’d up to some bitchin’ footage of East German athletes in their former glory:

“Die Libellen”:

More after the jump…

Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
Berlin youth hostel decorated entirely with Communist stuff
09:20 am


East Germany

Liking stuff is perilous and fraught with moral implications. For example, if one expresses a fondness for an artistic or design movement created under a corrupt or otherwise undemocratic political regime, one is accused of endorsing said regime, or at the very least, making light of the atrocities committed in its name. (“Nazi chic” is the exception. I don’t care how “cool” you think their uniforms were.) It should be noted that these accusations are never levied upon the good ole US of A—no one has ever been declared a bourgeois closet segregationist, for example, because one enjoys the “countrypolitan” sounds of Tammy Wynette, but it’s not like Tammy was singing “Stand By Your Man” in front of a Confederate flag at Klan rallies, was it? I think we’re perfectly capable of engaging with aesthetics without either divorcing them from their historical context, or moralizing like a shrieking rabble of inquisitors,

So let’s all enjoy some crazy cool vintage East German design, shall we?

The Ostel Hostel in Berlin has been painstakingly decorated in the style of 70s and 80s East Germany—even the wallpaper is vintage. And the building itself is a former East German “Plattenbauwohnung”—the modern, prefabricated concrete architecture that came to symbolize East German infrastructure. Should you be under the impression that The Ostel is merely a kitschy tourist trap, it actually receives a lot of guests who lived under the GDR. After the wall fell, many people were quick to toss out any reminder of communist life in favor of freer Western aesthetics. Now the nostalgia for East Germany is significant enough to garner its own term—“eastalgia,”’ or “ostalgie.”

The Ostel isn’t a totally earnest homage either. You might notice some cheekily staged bananas in one of the photos, a reference to ad nauseam anecdotes of trade embargoes on East Germany—many East Germans had never had a banana. In fact the website explicitly jokes, “Nobody needs bananas.” And if you’re looking for some sort of vulgar irony, no, the rooms are not absurdly expensive. Yes, you too can sleep under the benevolent gaze of former East German Prime Minister Horst Sindermann, with single rooms going for about $40!









Via Messy Nessy Chic

Posted by Amber Frost | Leave a comment
The Dinosaur Graveyard of East Berlin

It wasn’t an asteroid but the fall of the Berlin Wall that wiped out this amusement park and its life-size dinosaurs in 1989. The Kulturpark Plänterwald was the only theme park in the German Democratic Republic, and once the wall was gone, the park soon sadly followed, eventually closing its doors (after a brief revival) in 2002.

More dino-carnage can be seen here.
Via Kuriositas
More abandoned dinosaurs, after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
‘This Ain’t California’: Documentary about 80s skate culture in East Germany

This Ain’t California is a 90-minute documentary by director Martin Persiel that takes “original clips of the “wheel-board-riders” – straight out of the East German scene in the 80s – and mixes it with animations and reencounters with the protagonists today. It is not just a well thought out story on its own – this film also raises the aesthetic bar.”

From the film’s website:

Life in the GDR as it has never been seen: a film that shows a unique generation from the GDR in the 80s which has never before been shown in a film. It is free from the classic GDR clichés, which are often adopted by the occidental point of view.

A film in which the East takes a look at the West, right up to the year 2011 – always with one theme clearly in focus: friendship.

Visit This Ain’t California‘s website to learn more about the film and how to support its release. 



Posted by Tara McGinley | Leave a comment