“This Will Stay Forever”: City: End of a Legend

“This one stays forever”
City: end of a legend

By Marko Schlichting

More than 15 million records sold, several gold records, a gold DVD: The rock band City, founded in the GDR, can look back on this after 50 years. And lots of sold out concerts. City will be performing for the last time this Friday.

“It’s incredibly hot,” is the name of an early hit by the group City. It’s hot in the Mercedes-Benz Arena on Thursday evening. It’s a concert that really shouldn’t exist. But the fans wanted it that way. And City, known for hits like “Am Fenster”, “Wand an Wand”, “Casablanca”, “Amerika” or “Flieg’ ich durch die Welt”, give their all. A penultimate time. A day later – this Friday – will be their last concert. Then they go into the rocker pension once praised by their colleagues, the Puhdys. But first of all, it’s time to celebrate, and one or the other thinks back with nostalgia and pride – to the last 50 years of the city.

It all begins in 1971. That’s when guitarist Fritz Puppel and drummer Klaus Selmke met in East Berlin. They want to make music together. Rock, as unfussy as possible. On February 4, 1972 they give their first concert in the ABC Club in Berlin-Köpenick with three other musicians. Now they call themselves “City Band Berlin”. It soon becomes the name they will be touring with for the next half century: City.

The power of the GDR censorship

In 1974, after a number of line-up changes, the Bulgarian Georgi Gogow joined the band as bassist. A short time later, drummer Selmke brings a violin to the practice room that his uncle had found in the attic. And then the surprise: Gogow grabs his violin and bow – and starts. What nobody knew: He is a real devil violinist. Around this time, the band singer at the time, Emil Bogdanow, brought a text by the well-known GDR poet Hildegard Maria Rauchfuss to an evening of practice. Title: “At the Window”. A melody is quickly found, and Gogow writes a violin solo for it.

But first the song may not be performed. In the GDR, musicians had to submit their texts to a state committee. That decided whether they could be sung – or not. Criticism of the socialist system in the GDR was forbidden. And the song “Am Fenster” is too critical for the censors. The third stanza is to blame. She has the text:

Really grasp it once and never again
have to give everything you have
Does a bird complain? Ah, my feathers too
If the rain wets, I fly through the world.

It’s the line: “Have to give everything you have” that angers the censors. They believe that this is a criticism of the mastermind of communism, Karl Marx. As early as the 19th century he had written that the abolition of private ownership of the means of production was the prerequisite for a classless society, and without it there could be no communism. In the GDR, the government began expropriating property early on. Farmers had to enter agricultural production cooperatives (LPG) with their private farms, private trade is forbidden anyway. Everything should belong to the state, and thus to the entire people, according to the theory. Anyone who disagrees is punished, often with many years in prison.

And then City singer Bogdanov receives his call-up order – the army is waiting for him in Bulgaria. Bogdanov is a pacifist, flees to Sweden. There he became a celebrated country and folk musician. A new singer is needed. Toni Krahl joins the band – and becomes the face of City to this day. At a screening of “Am Fenster” in front of the censorship committee, he omits the third verse, allegedly by mistake. Now the censors no longer have any objections, the song can be performed and appears on the first City LP in 1978.

It is to be published simultaneously in the GDR and in the Federal Republic. But due to a glitch at the East German record label Amiga, it’s released a few days earlier in West Germany. “Am Fenster” becomes a German-German hit. It’s the lyric “I’m flying through the world” that makes him so. For the people in the GDR, it expresses the urge for freedom that the state has denied them for almost twenty years with walls, barbed wire and minefields. The censors had not counted on that!

From the band to the brand

City’s first album soon went gold, but not in the GDR. There is no such thing as gold discs. In Greece, of all places, the single becomes a huge hit in clubs and discotheques, and the LP goes gold – it is the third album by a foreign artist to have such success in Greece. There was also gold in the then Federal Republic of Germany, but not until 1987. The former censors no longer have any say in the GDR, rock music has meanwhile become too successful. And so City are allowed to sing in their song “Half and Half” without any problems:

In half the country and the divided city,
Half happy with what you have.

City has since become a brand in East Germany, although the band almost broke up in the early 1980s. In the meantime, however, there are concerts in West and East, often with more than 10,000 visitors, LPs and lots of hits.

After reunification, the band became a little quieter, singer Toni Krahl and guitarist Fritz Puppel founded their own record label, promoted East German bands such as Herbst in Peking, the ingenious folk punkers The Inchtabokatables – and above all, Keimzeit, who had hits at the beginning of the 1990s like “Kling Klang” stormed the German charts.

Now 50 years of City are over. For the anniversary, the album “The Last Round” will be released in April 2022. It reached number two in the German album charts. Today they are giving their last concert in Berlin, in the Mercedes-Benz Arena. The run on the tickets is so gigantic that there has to be a replacement concert the day before. A good 30,000 fans want to see City one last time.

Thursday evening: City rocked the Mercedes-Benz Arena in Berlin for two and a half hours. “Grab everything, this stays forever,” was how frontman and singer Toni Krahl began the concert. A sentence from the hit “Am Fenster”. It’s going to be a roller coaster ride of emotions. Guests come: Henning Wehland from the H-Blockx and actor Henry Hübchen sing, the Berliner Sinfoniker accompany City on two songs. The concert ends with their biggest hit “Am Fenster”. During the rock songs, fans dance in front of the stage, tears flow during a ballad for drummer Klaus Selmke, who died in 2000.

City will perform again this Friday evening. At the same place. It will be the last time. The end of a German-German legend. But City and their fans know: “This one stays forever”.