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Visiting a reading of Wolf Biermann

Wolf Biermann at Palais Wittgenstein
Photo Christian Jahl 2017

The so called "dragon slayer" and popular German poet and songwriter Wolf Biermann, who always fought against the "brood of the dragon" of former German Democratic Republic, visited Düsseldorf to hold a reading of his new biography. Aligning with his 80th birthday the book has been just published.


At Heinrich Heine Saal of Palais Wittgenstein he presented it jointly with  Manuel Soubeyrand, who read single chapters with great stagecraft, and Andreas Öhler as moderator. Turning into a historical retrospect it bacame clear, that it is not only a personal, but a retrospect of the German history after the Second World War. Starting off with the horror of the bombing of Hamburg in 1944, Biermann experienced as a little boy, his youth in the socialist GDR and his expatriation in the late 1970s were important subjects. The magnetised audience listened carefully when the poet took over in between the chapters and commented vividly. His presence and verve were still so strong that any thirtysomething should envy him. He spoke about his first and unexpected reading at his university. And he also played an audio of this reading, that has survived. It was a poem called To the old socialists. Even the production of a loud noise from one of his earlier records was explained, because he has been asked for many times. It was just a little box for toys made of lead. He also shared with a subtle sense of humour the anecdote, that his mother once in his early days bought a very good microphone to record his songs. But this microphone was so good that it even recorded the sound and noises from outside the house. Consequently there were audible traffic and a tram in the background. 


An easy reading developed from chapter to chapter, from comment to comment, framed with many humorous punch-lines and informative facts that always respected the serious history.  Of course Biermann was always the centre of each narration and of course he truly knew how to present on stage. But frankly spoken, did anyone expected anything else?

Part of the audience was also SLM artist and writer Christian Jahl thinking of his first meeting with Biermann when he was at school. Back then his German teacher wanted him and some other students to visit a concert of Biermann, because his poetry was subject at school. It turned out to be the terrible event as expected, which is understandable for a hardrock-loving 18 year old teen. But Jahl still remembers the talk after the concert with the poet. "I was impressed by his presence and wit", today's songwriter and lyricist himself looked back. „Of course we got a signature on our concert tickets." But somehow it got lost in the meantime. This loss had to be balanced today.  The dragon slayer signed a book with a comment and talked again with the former student. Biermann couldn't recall this special concert and he even could not recall the uninterested teen, but he still knew the tour of that time. Nevertheless a nice talk evolved from that point on.


For Christian Jahl this reading was a trip back in his personal past like for most of the people in the audience. One verse from the song  Encouragement will be treasured.

Christian Jahl with Wolf Biermann, Photo: C. Lingens 2017
Christian Jahl with Wolf Biermann, Photo: C. Lingens 2017




"You, don't let yourself become hardened
in these hard times.
Those who are overly hard will break
those who are overly pointed will pierce
and break off immediately."