The relationship of East German young people to Western popular culture, in particular pop music, is an aspect of GDR history that often comes up in work exploring this era. I’ve written about this a few times on this blog, but while reading Peter Wensierski’s The Unbearable Lightness of Revolution (my translation, sadly available in German only), his book examining anti-state youth culture in late 80’s Leipzig, I came across a passage which opened a window onto the logistics of acquiring one of the relatively hard-to-come by East German releases by Western acts. That it referred to a music shop that in 1999 still sat down the street from my Leipzig flat, largely unchanged from the old days (see photo above), was an nice bonus.
“Frank and Uwe had brought their newest LP acquisitions to Anita’s place. Not far from the Mariannenstrasse where they lived in East Leipzig was a small record store on the Ernst-Thälmann-Strasse. Every Friday, Musik Hans Tappert received their shipment of LPs -including those titles licensed from Western artists – from the state label Amiga. On that day, up to one hundred people would wait in line outside the store, some even skipped work to do so. When the shop opened on the dot of 2 pm, the first would race in with one question on their lips: ‘Are there any license LPs in today?’ More often than not the answer was “No” at which point 99 of the 100 people who’d been waiting would disappear. But sometimes there were records by Pink Floyd, Deep Purple or Supertramp. However, if one wanted to buy one these, a second LP by a GDR artist had to bought as well, a fact that made things somewhat inconvenient.
There were other ways to get one’s hands on an album, like the store in the Polish Cultural Institute or at flea markets. But there, the prices could easily hit 80 M, not the 16,10 M which was the price Tappert (and all GDR records stores) were obliged to charge. Some young people found it easier to travel to Budapest where the choice was far better and the prices still acceptable. On this day, Frank had managed to get his hands on a Santana record, while Uwe had been able to buy three copies of an album by The Police which he planned to give away. One went to Anita and it quickly found a place on her turntable . . .” (pg. 64, Die unheimliche Leichtigkeit der Revolution by Peter Wensierski (Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt: München, 2017)).