The Early Days

Hip-Hop Culture in the German Democratic Republic - A Photo Exhibition

September 4 - December 4, 2014
Opening: Thursday, September 4, 6 PM
Exhibition: September 4 - December 4, 2014
Curated by Leonard Schmieding (Georgetown University/GHI)

B-Boys in Dessau, ca. 1985. Archive Nico Raschick/Here We Come

As hip-hop culture spread around the globe in the early 1980s, it also excited youth east of the Iron Curtain. Teenagers in the German Democratic Republic were captivated by breakdance, graffiti, DJing, and rap, which they first accessed through western media, including radio and television, but also books and magazines. When the GDR Ministry of Culture imported and showed Harry Belafonte's feature film Beat Street about hip-hop heads in the Bronx, East Germany's fledgling hip-hop scene flocked to the cinemas and ensured its success as an instant blockbuster in 1985. Beat Street not only showed the young hip-hoppers how to refine their techniques, but here they also learned about hip-hop culture as a lifestyle, which they emulated in their everyday lives.

The young hip-hoppers in East Germany founded breakdance crews, spray-painted graffiti, and met at parties where rappers and DJs could try out their rhymes and beats. They made sense of the world around them in terms of hip-hop culture. On the one hand, this way of life meant conforming to the rules of the socialist regime. Although the East German regime was suspicious of anything American, it welcomed hip-hop as internationalist proletarian culture of the "other America." Agreeing to be monitored and controlled was the only way to actually practice hip-hop. On the other hand, ironically, playing by the rules enabled hip-hoppers to drop out of socialism and its confining mass organizations and communist institutions. With the power of their imagination, they tuned into the transnational world of hip-hop to take part in the Black Atlantic—sometimes even by becoming culturally Black. It is this ambivalence that characterizes the history of hip-hop in the GDR.

The photographs in the exhibition document the early days of hip-hop culture in the German Democratic Republic. They illustrate how teenagers appropriated and experienced hip-hop culture, how they utilized it to inhabit public space, and how they organized their own peer-group communities. With one exception, the photographs come from private collections of formerly and still active hip-hoppers in East Germany. As such, they are amateur photographs that were snapped as mementos and arranged in photo albums to be shared with friends and family.

We are happy that these fascinating photos can now be shared with a much greater audience and are indebted to Nico Raschick, who made them available: Unless otherwise noted, the photos are taken from the archive of his documentary Here We Come.

Generously sponsored by a bequest from Michael Olshausen to the Friends of the German Historical Institute

Please RSVP (acceptance only) by Aug. 29. Tel: 202.387.3355

Click on image to enlarge or print (pdf).