Klaus Renft

'Bad boy of East German rock'n'roll'


Klaus Jentzsch (Klaus Renft), rock musician: born Jena, Germany 30 June 1942; married (two sons, two daughters); died Löhma, Germany 9 October 2006.

The East German rock scene spawned many beat and rock acts whose very livelihoods depended on concert income, rather than making records. The Klaus Renft Combo and Renft count among the finest that the GDR (German Democratic Republic) ever produced. Klaus Renft's chequered history and repeated brushes with GDR officialdom made him a perfect witness for Stasiland (2003), Anna Funder's examination of life under the Stasi (secret police) regime.

Funder called Renft "the bad boy of East German rock'n'roll" and the Klaus Renft Combo "the wildest and most popular rock band in the GDR". The Puhdys rank as the GDR's most successful band commercially and City, Pankow and Silly had their moments and high jinks, but when it came to flouting rules Renft was in a league of his own. He courted disaster and official censorship rather assiduously. Accordingly, the state took revenge, as it did against any elements deemed malcontent, decadent, long-haired. Yet, as the Berliner Zeitung summarised so succinctly, "If there ever was a rock legend made in the GDR, then it was Renft."

Born Klaus Jentzsch in Jena, Thuringia, he borrowed his mother's maiden name for his stage name. "Renft" also means "bread crust" in the dialect of Saxony. Somehow he managed to earn his crust playing beat and rock music. He made his first appearance aged 16 in the Leipzig-based Klaus Renft Combo in 1958.

By 1962 they had fallen foul of the authorities - so easy in so many ways in the GDR's era of multiple prohibition. So in 1964 he founded the Butlers, a name as redolently English in Leipzig as the Beefeaters was for the pre-Byrds in Los Angeles. The Stasi duly opened a file code-named "Wanderer".

In 1965 the Butlers were banned from performing. GDR jargon created several variations on Auftrittsverbot (stage ban) and it is unclear which one the Butlers were subject to, but the authorities did not lift the ban until 1967. The new Klaus Renft Combo worked on creating original material, sometimes, as with "Cäsers Blues", setting lyrics to jams. Throughout Rendt's career he remained partial to covering, amongst others, the Rolling Stones, Steppenwolf, Deep Purple, Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin. He once said he thought he would be reprimanded for playing the Stones' "Tell Me"; instead a rebuke was given for the length of his hair.

The group learned this decadent Western filth phonetically, taping Rias (Radio in the American Sector) broadcasts, since Russian was the second language on the GDR school curriculum. Of "Satisfaction", Renft told Funder, "We didn't know what it meant." Coded Renft staples like "Wer die Rose ehrt" ("He Who Honours the Rose") and "Der Apfeltraum" ("The Apple Dream") were heavily scrutinised by fans and state watchdogs alike. Their "Autostop" ("Hitchhiking") not only bottled the Zeitgeist but provided the theme song for a generation thumbing to Erfurt, Prague or Krakow.

The lyricist Gerulf Pannach's arrival in 1969 took the group in a more political, socially critical direction. (Later, in 1986, Pannach appeared as a dissident GDR folksinger in Ken Loach's Fatherland.) The politicking ushered in divisions and divisiveness. In his autobiography Zwischen Liebe und Zorn ("Between Love and Anger", 1997), Renft said,

At the end we Renfts were six musicians with seven opinions, never a homogenous troupe, very often arguing, constantly searching . . . Only on stage were we a group. Sometimes I believe if we hadn't been banned back then, we'd have soon broken ourselves up.

The state record company Amiga was not just the only game in town, but the only game in the nation. Lyrics always came under the burning magnifying glass of argus-eyed apparatchiks. Götz Hintze's Rocklexikon der DDR ("Rock Lexicon of the GDR", 2000) describes the next débâcle. On 22 September 1975, the group were called before the authorities to be told that they didn't exist any longer. Renft had had enough foreign currency to buy a cassette recorder and he taped the interview. He later let on that the incriminating tape was in West Berlin. Overnight, gigs stopped and Renft vanished from the Amiga catalogue. Although some group members stayed, a splinter group, Karussell, became the state-sanctioned shadows of their former selves.

Renft reached West Berlin in 1975, finding employment with the radio station Rias. He later toured, revisited old material and recorded new material. But the title of his 1999 album, Als ob nichts gewesen wär ("As If Nothing Had Happened"), could be taken as a cry of frustration.

Renft's place in the annals of cult European rock music is assured. As the photographer Harald Hausmann wrote in Bye Bye Lübben City: Bluesfreaks, Tramps und Hippies in der DDR (2004), one of the definitive texts about the GDR rock scene,

Music was the bridge. If Renft played [Deep Purple's] "Child in Time", I felt myself freer for the rest of the week. Then I travelled in my thoughts around the globe, became part of the universe.

Ken Hunt

Arts & Entertainment
A stranger calls: Martin Freeman in ‘Fargo’
tvReview: New 10-part series brims with characters and stories

Arts & Entertainment
Shaun Evans as Endeavour interviews a prisoner as he tries to get to the bottom of a police cover up
Review: Second series comes to close with startling tale of police corruption and child abuse
Sport
Raheem Sterling and Luis Suarez celebrate during Liverpool's game with Norwich
football Another hurdle is out of the way for Brendan Rodgers' side
Arts & Entertainment
Schwarzenegger winning Mr. Universe 1969
arts + entsCan you guess the celebrity from these British Pathe News clips?
VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
News
Portrait of Queen Elizabeth-II by David Bailey which has been released to mark her 88th birthday
peoplePortrait released to mark monarch's 88th birthday
Arts & Entertainment
The star of the sitcom ‘Miranda’ is hugely popular with mainstream audiences
TVMiranda Hart lined up for ‘Generation Game’ revival
Life & Style
The writer, Gerda Saunders, with her mother, who also suffered with dementia before her death
healthGerda Saunders on the most formidable effect of her dementia
Sport
Manchester United manager David Moyes looks on during his side's defeat to Everton
footballBaines and Mirallas score against United as Everton keep alive hopes of a top-four finish
Sport
Tour de France 2014Sir Rodney Walker on organising the UK stages of this year’s race
Arts & Entertainment
Jessica Brown Findlay as Mary Yellan in ‘Jamaica Inn’
TVJessica Brown Findlay on playing the spirited heroine of Jamaica Inn
News
YouTube clocks up more than a billion users a month
mediaEuropean rival Dailymotion certainly thinks so
Arts & Entertainment
The original design with Charles' face clearly visible, which is on display around the capital
arts + ents
Arts & Entertainment
‘Self-Portrait Worshipping Christ’ (c943-57) by St Dunstan
books How British artists perfected the art of the self-portrait
News
People
News
Sir Cliff Richard is to release his hundredth album at age 72
PEOPLE
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Geography Teacher

£130 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Ilford: Secondary Geography Teacher Lo...

Do you want to work in Education?

£55 - £70 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: Are you a dynamic and energeti...

SEN Teaching Assistant

Negotiable: Randstad Education Group: SEN TAs, LSAs and Support Workers needed...

Private Client Senior Manager - Sheffield

£50000 - £60000 per annum: Pro-Recruitment Group: The Sheffield office of this...

Day In a Page

Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter: The man who could have been champion of the world - and the Bob Dylan song that immortalised him

The man who could have been champion of the world

Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter and the Bob Dylan song that immortalised him
Didn’t she do well?

Didn’t she do well?

Miranda Hart lined up for ‘Generation Game’ revival
The Middle East we must confront in the future will be a Mafiastan ruled by money

The Middle East we must confront in the future will be a Mafiastan ruled by money

In Iraq, mafiosi already run almost the entire oil output of the south of the country
Before they were famous

Before they were famous

Can you guess the celebrity from these British Pathe News clips?
Martin Freeman’s casting in Fargo is genius

Martin Freeman’s casting in Fargo is a stroke of genius

Series is brimming with characters and stories all its own
How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

Cannes Film Festival

Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

The concept album makes surprise top ten return

Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
10 best baking books

10 best baking books

Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

Jury still out on Pellegrini

Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players