Kurt Demmler: Pop and rock lyricist whose career ended in disgrace
Tuesday 10 February 2009
Kurt Demmler was indisputably the most successful pop and rock lyricist to emerge from the German Democratic Republic (GDR) – and arguably the entire Eastern Bloc – during the 1970s and 1980s. However, after child abuse charges, Demmler fell from grace and became an increasingly reviled figure in the last year of his life.
Demmler, whose parents were both doctors, grew up in Cottbus in the state of Brandenburg in the east of Germany. He followed in his parents' footsteps by going into medicine, qualifying as a doctor in 1969. By 1965, however, he had already begun writing lyrics – songs and poetry that tapped into the political struggles of the GDR.
Political songs and folk song –frequently co-joined – shaped his creativity. By 1967 he was part ofthe politicisation of song that was going on in the GDR, appearing, or example, as a named artist in 1970, 1971, 1972 and 1980 on the bill of Berlin's Festival des Politischen Liedes [Festival of Political Song]. In 1976 he was a signatory against the Ausbürgerung [stripping of citizenship] of the notable songwriter Wolf Biermann.
He was also among the signatories to a demand for artistic freedoms in the GDR in September 1989, and he gave a speech and sang in support of that – and against surveillance by the Stasi – in November 1989 in East Berlin.
He hanged himself, according to reports, while in custody in Moabit in Berlin, facing multiple charges of child abuse. With his artistic reputation unravelling, there is no doubt that how people will view Kurt Demmler's songs will be sorely tested by the events that led up to his trial and which were left unresolved by his suicide. The tales were harrowing.
A huge proportion of Demmler's songs became more closely associated with other performers than with their author. The major acts who have performed Demmler's songs have included Nina Hagen, Veronika Fischer, the Czechoslovakian singer Karel Gott, Karussell, Oktoberklub, the rock band the Puhdys, Dean Reed (known as "the Red Elvis"), the Klaus Renft Combo and the East German rock group Silly. Demmler was also the uncredited contributor to Hagen's hit "Du Hast Den Farbfilm Vergessen" ["You Forgot the Colour Film"] and Renft's "Autostop" ["Hitch-hiking"].
Kurt Demmler, singer-songwriter: born Posen (now Poznan in Poland) 12 September 1943; died Berlin 3 February 2009.
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