Cover image for Burning down the Haus : punk rock, revolution, and the fall of the Berlin Wall / by Tim Mohr.
Burning down the Haus : punk rock, revolution, and the fall of the Berlin Wall / by Tim Mohr.
Title Variants:
Burning down the house
First edition.
Publication Information:
Chapel Hill, North Carolina : Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2018.

Physical Description:
ix, 363 pages, 8 pages of unnumbered plates : illustrations ; 24 cm
General Note:
"A version of this book was originally published in Germany as Stirb nicht im Warteraum der Zukunft: die ostdeutschen Punks und der Fall der Mauer by Heyne Hardcore in 2017"-- title page verso.
Too much future -- Oh bondage up yours! -- Combat rock -- Rise above -- Burning from the inside -- Disintegration -- Lust for life.
"The history of how teenage East German punk rockers played an indispensable role in bringing down the Berlin Wall"-- Provided by publisher.
Personal Subject:


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
306.48426 MOH Book Adult General Collection

On Order



NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY Rolling Stone * BookPage * Amazon * Rough Trade
Longlisted for the Carnegie Medal for Excellence

"[A] riveting and inspiring history of punk's hard-fought struggle in East Germany." -- The New York Times Book Review

"A thrilling and essential social history that details the rebellious youth movement that helped change the world." -- Rolling Stone

"Original and inspiring . . . Mr. Mohr has writ­ten an im­por­tant work of Cold War cul­tural his­tory." -- The Wall Street Journal

"Wildly entertaining . . . A thrilling tale . . . A joy in the way it brings back punk's fury and high stakes." -- Vogue

It began with a handful of East Berlin teens who heard the Sex Pistols on a British military radio broadcast to troops in West Berlin, and it ended with the collapse of the East German dictatorship. Punk rock was a life-changing discovery. The buzz-saw guitars, the messed-up clothing and hair, the rejection of society and the DIY approach to building a new one: in their gray surroundings, where everyone's future was preordained by some communist apparatchik, punk represented a revolutionary philosophy--quite literally, as it turned out.

But as these young kids tried to form bands and became more visible, security forces--including the dreaded secret police, the Stasi--targeted them. They were spied on by friends and even members of their own families; they were expelled from schools and fired from jobs; they were beaten by police and imprisoned. Instead of conforming, the punks fought back, playing an indispensable role in the underground movements that helped bring down the Berlin Wall.

This secret history of East German punk rock is not just about the music; it is a story of extraordinary bravery in the face of one of the most oppressive regimes in history. Rollicking, cinematic, deeply researched, highly readable, and thrillingly topical, Burning Down the Haus brings to life the young men and women who successfully fought authoritarianism three chords at a time--and is a fiery testament to the irrepressible spirit of revolution.

Reviews 3

Publisher's Weekly Review

In this lively narrative, music journalist and former Berlin DJ Mohr takes readers on a profanity-laden, up-close-and-personal tour of the punk rock scene of 1980s East Germany. He follows notable figures in the scene-"Major" (who was 15 in 1977 when she became, in Mohr's retelling, the first punk in East Germany), "A-Micha," "Colonel," "Pankow," "Chaos," "Otze," and others-and their associated bands as they evolve from a handful of disaffected youths influenced by outside radio and bootleg Sex Pistols albums to a relentless movement of politically minded revolutionaries determined to change a corrupt system from within. Mohr makes clear the punks weren't seeking a reunited Germany, just an East Germany where they'd be free to express themselves, yet their movement contributed to the fall of the Berlin Wall. He chronicles the ongoing clashes between the East German authorities and several microgenerations of punks, describing a compelling war of subversion, persistence, attrition, and defiance, where every act meant to crush spirits and enforce conformity only helped to fan the rebellious flames. The short chapters and punchy prose, coupled with thorough research, give the reader a front-row seat to the events of the '80s. This take on punk evolution is engaging, enlightening, and well worth checking out. Agent: Anna Stein, ICM Partners. (Sept.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

New York Review of Books Review

IN EARLY 1989, an East German government report identified punk as the top problem among the country's youth. And the thing is - as Tim Mohr points out in burning DOWN THE HAUS: Punk Rock, Revolution, and the Fall of the Berlin Wall (Algonquin, $28.95) - the study was more prescient than the authorities realized. By the end of that year, the barrier between East and West Germany had been eradicated, and as much as America likes to credit Ronald Reagan's "Tear down this wall" speech for the historic development, Mohr points to another social force that set the wheels in motion. By the fall of 1989, he writes, "the groundwork laid by punks and other activists influenced by the punk mentality was becoming a magical, spontaneous, mass uprising." A number of new books remind us of the revolutionary power of music - of its ability to transform movements, imaginations and individuals in ways that can radically alter how we think about politics and creativity. Though today's algorithm-centric playlists may not seem the richest source for cultural upheaval, these stories illustrate how, from Liverpool to the Bronx, musicians have consistently found their own ways out of societal dead ends. The stakes are highest in Mohr's riveting and inspiring history of punk's hard-fought struggle in East Germany. The music journalist, translator and former Berlin club D. J. traces the movement to one individual - a Punk Zero, so to speak - named Britta Bergman who spied a photo of the Sex Pistols in her sister's collection of West German teen magazines in 1977, heard the band's "Pretty Vacant" on Radio Luxembourg, hacked off her hair and adopted the name "Major." With minimal knowledge of the action in London or New York, she and her friends keyed into punk's "Do ft Yourself" worldview - ripping and painting slogans on their clothes, forming bands with no musical training or ability - and were immediately perceived as a direct threat to the Communist government. "Major and her friends were being political by having fun," writes Mohr. "To think differently, to speak out or to stand out was to be political." One of the powerful insights of "Burning Down the Haus" comes through in Mohr's explanation of what punk represented in a country with no unemployment or homelessness, but instead a choking lack of control over individual choices and destiny. "The social conditions for punk in Britain didn't exist in East Germany," Mohr writes. Rather than having "No Future," for East German youth the problem was "Too Much Future." The book chronicles, with cinematic detail, the commitment and defiance required of East German punks as they were forced to navigate constant police harassment and repression. The subculture was given support and safe haven by the country's more progressive churches, whose interests converged with the punks over issues like environmentalism and antinuclear proliferation. "When 1 am troubled, 1 sit in church and lament quietly," a minister named Gerhard Cyrus said. "These young people here lament loudly." Even as the punks were monitored and targeted by higher and higher levels of the Stasi ("The concerted action against punk in 1983 and 1984 far exceeded that undertaken against any other opposition group since the installation of dictator Erich Honecker in 1971"), the movement continued to grow - largely because the authorities didn't comprehend that suppressing the obvious manifestations of punk protest only gave its message more power and impact. Punks represented "active constant opposition any time they appeared in public," Mohr writes, also noting that "punk wasn't music or clothing or novelty haircuts, it was revolution from below, it was creating your own reality." East German punk eventually made inroads on the other side of the Berlin Wall, and with like-minded groups in Poland and Eastern Europe. In addition to its role as a catalyst in bringing down the wall, Mohr argues that its legacy lives on in modern-day Berlin. "What's important isn't the locations that survived but the spirit that survived," he writes, "a hyper-political spirit that continues to imbue the city with the ethos of East Berlin punk." The roots of punk, of course, can be traced far beyond the Sex Pistols and the Ramones. Kembrew McLeod's the DOWNTOWN POP UNDERGROUND (Abrams, $27) looks at the various figures and forces that started bubbling up in the early 1960s, later filtered through Andy Warhol's Factory and eventually exploded around the globe from a home base of CBGB. McLeod, a professor of communication studies at the University of Iowa, begins this tale with the experimental theater of collectives like Caffe Cino and the Living Theater. "You took pieces of cable and then swear it was a magic wand, and it became a magic wand!" Paul Foster says of Ellen Stewart's La MaMa. "Nobody told us that it could not be done, so we just did it." Through eight downtown rainmakers - some famous (Patti Smith and Debbie Harry) and some less so (the actor Hibiscus of the Cockettes, the video artist Shirley Clarke, who was "laying the groundwork for a new media age") - McLeod examines the ways in which the nascent creative worlds were deeply intertwined. "Everything was one, the music and theater and art," Hibiscus's mother, Ann Harris, says. "Everybody was interested in everybody then, and it was beautiful." Part of Warhol's genius was attempting to bring all of this energy, and all of this chaos, under one roof. The Factory, Bibbe Hansen says, "had drag queens and queers, children, street hustlers, rough trade, dropouts, runaways, drug dealers, psychiatric basket cases and society bad girls." Sterling Morrison of the Velvet Underground even asserts that the groundbreaking band didn't look at themselves as musicians. "We considered ourselves part of the underground film community," he says. "We had no real connection to rock 'n' roll as far as we were concerned." McLeod's approach is dense and scholarly (complete with neighborhood maps), though his tone sometimes turns a little too dry given the anarchic material. As time goes on, though, more and more boldfaced names edge into the picture - early roles for Robert De Niro and Tim Robbins, Elton John and David Bowie sniffing around for ideas - and it becomes clear that this underground couldn't stay downtown forever. Meanwhile, in 1960s Detroit, another foundational element of punk was being born, and this one had a more overtly political intent. Wayne Kramer's the hard stuff (Da Capo, $28) opens with a quick recap of the 1967 Belle Isle police riot, at which an outdoor performance by Kramer's band, the MC5, turned into mayhem, ft forever radicalized the guitarist, and the MC5 - short for "Motor City 5," though at first they had only four players - would become one of the pioneers in the marriage of rock and revolution. (The group is currently on the ballot for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, its fourth time being nominated.) Kramer recalls that when he was first expressing his desire to pursue music as a career, his mother cautioned him that it would mean working all night and being around alcohol, drugs and loose women. "The things she warned me about sounded great to me," he writes. In fact, "The Hard Stuff" chronicles Kramer's life of addiction and crime far more than it does his music making. Though the MC5 started with a clear sense of purpose and strength - "The most important thing was our solidarity and unity; that we were together in mind, body and spirit" - ultimately its blend of uncompromising sonics, radical politics and excessive chemical habits proved unsustainable, and the group blew apart in a familiar mix of bitterness and legal troubles. Kramer breezes past historic moments (the MC5 were the only band to perform at the 1968 Democratic convention, which he notes only in passing) in favor of detailed accounts of criminal capers, of increasing seriousness, to pay for his habit, and his stints in jail. The stories can't help being voyeuristically dramatic, but his forthrightness falls short of revelation, or even serious self-reflection. In the end, Kramer is an unlikely survivor, saved by finding a new function for his music - working with prisoners through his "Jail Guitar Doors" foundation - and with the adoption of his young son. While punk was coalescing, another musical and cultural uprising was brewing in the streets of New York. But where McLeod documents the scene downtown, Vikki Tobak's CONTACT HIGH (Clarkson Potter, $40) turns its sights uptown and beyond. The book collects the work of the most important photographers documenting hip-hop over the years and offers the stories behind some of the genre's most iconic images. Shots of the earliest days at clubs and parties in the Bronx are almost startling in their intimacy. The photographer Ricky Flores notes that he sought to present a contrast to the "Bronx Is Burning" image of the time. Such historic sessions as the first shoots with Jay-Z and with Kanye West, or an early photo of Eazy-E on a skateboard, wearing a bulletproof vest, reveal stars trying to figure out how to present themselves. Unforgettable pictures of RunDMC and Ttipac Shakur, though, are incontrovertible evidence of hip-hop's bold visual statement matching its musical power. "Contact High" also serves as a love letter to old-school photography on film, by including the contact sheets from which each larger image was selected. The shots not chosen are often surprising - most notably, the outtakes for Barron Claiborne's immortal deadpan shot of the Notorious B.I.G., the "King of New York," wearing a crown, which show the rapper smiling and laughing. The photographer Ray Lego describes the effect, speaking of his shots of Kid Cudi: "It was more like watching a film unfold with each frame related to the next." The collection illustrates the maturing of an artistic, and commercial, community, tracing the steps from impromptu, candid snaps to more styled setups (sometimes literally: Eminem in a "Clockwork Orange" costume, 01' Dirty Bastard imitating Janet Jackson's famous Rolling Stone cover), and from pure street fashion to the high style of Puff Daddy and the Family. A journalist and curator, Tobak has assembled a celebration of both the musicians and those who documented them, who captured this historic era by heeding the words of the photographer Lisa Leone: "Feel the energy. Don't just click away; really see." Only a few musicians could genuinely be thought of in a category of their own. In help! The Beatles, Duke Ellington, and the Magic of Collaboration (Norton, $27.95) Thomas Brothers takes on two of those titans. Brothers, a professor of music at Duke whose "Louis Armstrong, Master of Modernism" was a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize, argues for the creative similarities between Ellington's orchestra and the Fab Four: "They each brought a composer's vision to the dynamics of collaboration." His larger point is that while Ellington was presented as the embodiment of the solitary genius, the orchestra's songs were often built from ideas initiated by such great soloists as Bubber Miley and Juan Tizol, or from creative partners like the brilliant composer and arranger Billy Strayhorn. (When Strayhorn died, Ellington eulogized him as "my right arm, my left arm, all the eyes in the back of my head, my brain waves in his head and his in mine.") Brothers concludes that the Duke's "most fruitful method actually resembles a moviemaking model that is much less centralized." In contrast, the Beatles have always been considered the paragon of creative cooperation, the defining model of a band. By establishing early on that all songs by John Lennon and Paul McCartney would be attributed to both, Brothers writes, "collaboration was not only visible and audible, it was inscribed." By embracing outside influences, from the Beach Boys to Indian music, and utilizing a structure that encouraged rather than dissuaded teamwork, the Beatles were able to expand their range and burnish their image. All of which is certainly true enough, though hardly anything new. Books including Terry Teachout's 2013 biography of Ellington and David Hajdu's landmark Strayhorn study, "Lush Life," have documented the composer's liberal use of his band's musical ideas (often compensated, sometimes not), while an ever-growing library of Beatle tomes has frequently explored the Lennon-McCartney relationship (including Joshua Wolf Shenk's fascinating study of creative partnerships, "Powers of Two," which is conspicuously absent from Brothers's bibliography). The pairing of the Beatles and Ellington in "Help!" comes off as somewhat arbitrary despite an interesting quote from Lillian Ross, in The New Yorker, noting that "the Beatles, like Duke Ellington, are unclassifiable musicians." There are better questions to ask here: Why has jazz remained so dependent on the ideal of the leader-with-sidemen structure Why has American rock 'n' roll been defined by individuals (Elvis, Dylan, Prince) while England has been led by bands (the Beatles, the Stones, the Who) - but those are left unexplored. Sometimes the most revolutionary thing about music comes down to its ability to transform an individual. With his engaging memoir, let's go (so we can get back) (Dutton, $28), Wilco's Jeff Tweedy presents himself as someone - to quote the Velvet Underground and close this circle - whose life was saved by rock 'n' roll. He describes the feeling that came from learning to play guitar: "When I figured out how to do the standard da-da-dada Chuck Berry riff, it was like I'd split the atom." Tweedy has survived his own struggles with addiction, spurred by combinations of migraines and depression, and he doesn't shy away from that part of his story, noting early in the book that "nobody has the disposable income to splurge on a memoir by a moderately successful indie rock 'stalwart' if it's not going to deliver something pretty entertaining." But the most memorable sections of "Let's Go (So We Can Get Back)" - aside from the almost physical awe that Tweedy conveys in his love for his wife and sons - are his descriptions of the act of songwriting. "I write for myself first, pretending that the audience isn't even there and will never be there," he says. "I can expose shadow selves that I believe I should keep my eye on. I can admit things about myself without really having to take ownership of anything." As an architect of the "alt-country" movement that transitioned into a more experimental and modern group, Wilco has straddled multiple worlds, and Tweedy goes from being a kid at Black Flag and Replacements shows to later encounters with Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash. "I feel like I'm part of some connective tissue between two worlds that don't really interact the same way anymore," he writes. "I feel like I might be a member of the last tribe that made it across the divide before time changed." Sometimes his language gets a little too self-consciously cutesy, but in the end - as with the punks and rappers and jazz players and rockers and all the musicians before and after him - the ability to put notes together to express something, to communicate, to make sense of the world, changes everything. "Anyone who makes stuff," Tweedy writes, "lucked out that they found an outlet for what most of the world has as a condition." ALAN LIGHT is the author of "Johnny Cash: The Life and Legacy of the Man in Black" and the co-host of "Debatable" on SiriusXM.

Library Journal Review

The Berlin Wall was difficult to cross physically, but some West Berlin radio signals got through. Starting in the late 1970s, East Berlin youths started hearing a new form of music-punk-played by Western bands such as the Sex Pistols. In a strictly regimented society such as East Germany, the kids inspired by this new music and the radical style that went with it represented a baffling and threatening form of social nonconformity. Mohr's book (originally published last year in German) chronicles the revolutionary movement that grew up around the East German punk-a movement pushed more and more into direct anti-government action by the activities of the state itself, as punks were targeted by police spies, arrested, interrogated, and imprisoned for simply expressing anti--authoritarian points of view. Mohr highlights the unique elements of the East German punk scene compared to the more familiar American and British narratives: a recurring theme is how, in contrast to the Sex Pistols' "No Future" slogan, punks felt oppressed by "too much future" in East Germany's overplanned society that offered youths no say in their mandated lives. A surprising element to the story is the unexpected alliance between the Lutheran church and the punk movement, as the church's "open work" missionary outreach efforts provided punk activists with sanctuaries to meet and organize as anti-government efforts grew closer to a boiling point. British narrator Matthew Lloyd Davies's reading is personal, warm, and passionate as he reads a story full of individual threads and snippets of oral history. VERDICT Readers of punk histories like Legs McNeil's Please Kill Me and John Doe's Under the Big Black Sun will find this title an exciting new perspective of Eastern bloc punk during the Cold War. ["Mohr pens an inspiring history of a punk scene that literally tore down a symbol of division and oppression. An excellent companion to Paul Hockenos's Berlin Calling": LJ 8/18 review of the Alginquin hc.]-Jason Puckett, Georgia State Univ. Lib., Atlanta © Copyright 2018. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

Prefacep. vii
Introductionp. 1
I Too Much Futurep. 7
II Oh Bondage Up Yours!p. 77
III Combat Rockp. 121
IV Rise Abovep. 191
V Burning from the Insidep. 249
VI Disintegrationp. 297
VII Lust for Lifep. 333
Acknowledgmentsp. 357
Bibliographyp. 361