Published in the German newspaper supplement Süddeutsche Zeitung Magazin on the occasion of their 2012 Made in Germany tour, Alexander Gorkow and Andreas Mühe’s reportage of Rammstein in the United States was a study on the potential of “ANTIDEOLOGY.” Four years later, our private obsession with this document has transformed into a matter of political urgency. In this us presidential election cycle of Donald Trump rallies, with right-wing upheavals across Europe, Rammstein’s capacity for myth-making and destruction was a harbinger of mainstream political strategy. What was a left-leaning punk opera in 2012, reads like a seismograph for Western democracies in 2016. Here we do not witness ideology, but its equal opposite: raw energy unhinged from the burden of truth.
After beginning as castaways from the socialist bohemia of East Berlin, Rammstein’s 2012 Made in Germany tour was an authoritarian cabaret that asserted the revolutionary power of the grotesque. This is social critique in the form of fireballs spitting from steel batwings, of arenas filled with swaying smartphone lights. Even in this age of technological oversaturation, the spectacle of Rammstein remains overpowering. Their sound systems and pyrotechnics threaten to demolish the arenas that house them. Their lyrics are a shocking amalgam of poetry and militarism. Their story is a hangover of the 20th century. The band’s cross-country trip served as a strange sequel to the American arrival of Bertolt Brecht, Theodor Adorno, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, and other German intellectuals fleeing Nazism more than 70 years prior: the deranged grandchildren of WWII parading through the land of exile, offering a twisted mockery of capitalism.
“This, my dear, is one of the biggest stages out there,” says Rammstein event engineer Thilo “Baby” Goos at the Denver Coliseum, “24 meters wide, 15 meters high, a pure steel construction. Here, 100 loudspeakers and a lot of lights are hung from the ceiling. The crew lifts 50 tons of equipment with 120 motors. The sound system uses 380,000 watts. It needs to be banging. It’s Rammstein. The power stations they travel with alone take up two of the US Trucking Company’s 24 trucks on the tour. That’s two megawatt aggregates, and they suck around 1,000 liters of diesel out of the tank per show. Not exactly eco-friendly. You have to decide: Hot old stage lights instead of cold light? You’re going to need juice. Most productions today look like television studios. Rock shows, too. Ice cold. That also works. But not for Rammstein.”
You are going to need juice. From below the stage, fountains of smoke shoot through the gridded floor, all the way up to the roof. Flames shoot up through the grid. Lights shine through. All from below. Rammstein singer Till Lindemann stands on this grid. He looks a little bit sad, like he came to visit from the underworld. His voice sounds like very bad weather. Perhaps he himself hears voices? One is reminded of the “former cement and transport worker” Franz Biberkopf in Alfred Döblin’s Berlin Alexanderplatz. Freedom? A panopticon. Cities? Excess. Life? You have to confront it at full tilt.
Lindemann calls, “Links, zwo, drei, vier,” [“Left, two, three, four”] and marches like he has a battery sitting under each of his ass cheeks. Night after night, he asks crowds of Americans: “Können Herzen singen? Kann ein Herz zerspringen? Können Herzen rein sein? Kann ein Herz aus Stein sein? ” [“Can hearts sing? Can a heart burst? Can hearts be pure? Can a heart be made of stone?”] The people in the arenas here sing every single one of these questions along with him. They back away from the fire. They sweat in the heat. They squint at the glaring light. At some point, after weeks of touring through North America, shortly before take-off in the early morning, lying on the bed in room 1023 at Houston’s Zaza Hotel, I reach a final certainty: This is how bright it is, how loud it is, how hot it is, when a planet is born.
Embedded into the right side of the iron stage is a bunker for the pyrotechnists. Those who creep through this bunker during the show navigate the intestines of a gigantic machine of cables, turbines, pipes, and oxygen bottles. For example, as guitarist Paul Landers stands behind his burning mic-stand on top of the bunker’s gridded ceiling during “Asche zu Asche,” the soles of his boots are only millimeters above the technicians’ heads. Through the small observation slits right below Landers, one can watch a show that tells a sad and strange story about darkness, and about the way light enters darkness. The light during “Asche,” for example, takes the shape of a red heart pinned to Lindemann’s chest, throbbing in the pitch-black concert hall. During “Engel,” the light is in Lindemann’s 50 kilogram wings of steel, which will throw flames at the end of the show. The light is also in the bursts of fire with which Lindemann, a hellish clown, cooks the whitewashed keyboardist and great comic Flake Lorenz in an iron cauldron until he hops out and races across the stage, his pants smoking.
“Everything that is made with effort is shit,” says Lorenz on a car ride from San Antonio to Houston, “Listen to the music on the radio. Droning, whiny, idiotic filth. Created with strain. Made by people who have to pay mortgages. Numbly presented by people who have to pay mortgages. Capitalism numbs. I haven’t made an effort for five minutes in my life. You have to make a decision. Good art is not made with effort. But unintentionally. With zest.”
Impressions of America itself will only remain in shreds after this journey. For example, the green of Denver and Red Rock State Park, where a park ranger warned a naked Richard Kruspe, posing against the rocks for a picture, “Buddies, if the sheriff passes by, this means at least 180 days in jail for each of you.” Mockingbird Lane in Dallas, the Rockfish Diner, and lunch with Lindemann in the scorching heat. Lindemann’s memories of the GDR and his pen pal Dschenja from Kazakhstan, who one day turned up at his doorstep in the flesh and brought colorful plates from his home country as a hospitality gift to the World Festival of Youth and Students: “Komsomolets here, Free German Youth there. The World Festival was organized so that young socialists would procreate. It was one giant fuckfest.” Young Till is a sensitive, headstrong boy. On March 19, 1970 he sees Willy Brandt on West German television, visiting Erfurt and making an appearance at a window of the Erfurter Hof. For hours, the child screams: “Willy Brandt to the window! Willy Brandt to the window!” His apprenticeship with a carpenter at Betriebsteil 5, Rostock-Schmarl: “Here’s a log. Now make it a window, Lindemann! I’ll make a window out of a log for you today.”
Another shred of the journey: a walk with Flake Lorenz along Huntington Beach. Flake’s horror at the pueblo-esque, stillborn construction sites under Californian sun, guarded like the Pentagon. Flake curses: “Who lives here? Who wants to live here? Insanity. Idiotic.” He suddenly declares into Pacific suburbia: “I used to live on Fehrbelliner Straße 7. And get this: my neighbors were Frau Fett [“Mrs. Fat”] and Herr Fleischfresser [“Mr. Meateater”].” Is he trying to make an ass out of me? “I swear. Astrid Fett in one at. Wolfgang Fleischfresser in the other. I have witnesses.”
But the show. But the lights. But the fire. Everything is in its place at any moment. Cirque du Soleil minus the escapism. Berghain plus lyricism. Till Lindemann renews his pyro- technics license every couple of years with a crash course at Berlin’s Velodrom, after which he holds something ambiva-lently marvellous in his big, scarred hands, “License and qualification to burn pyrotechnic substances.” Things get blown up elsewhere, too. But Rammstein knows exactly which moments need fire, and which do not. The times at which the show should be a dream, and when it should be a nightmare. It was created by the minds of storytellers, this show, not those of event cretins. For example: Drummer Christoph Schneider. His father is an opera director, and so young Schneider had already heard of mystic concerts in the West – flying pigs and gigantic walls. This created visions of a hellish circus, a black theater, in his head early on. Keyboardist Lorenz is an anti-epicist. His nickname Flake references the stubborn inhabitants of a village of the same name in the TV show Wickie. Flake is actually a belated Fluxus child and a flaneur of Robert Walser’s caliber. As such, he is also a radical. One of his succinct and dazzling assertions on life, an offhand remark on the way back from the arena to the hotel: “You fuck. Or you don’t fuck. You can’t fuck a little.”
Till Lindemann wears a number of scars on his body and his face. For one, he headbutts his heavy microphone stand on stage night after night. Once you take a close look at this show, you realize, “This is seriously dangerous.” You walk away scarred by flying sparks, your eyes irritated by light and smoke, with burn marks from the bursts of fire. Darkness is one thing, light is another. Loudness is one thing, a whisper another. Sorrow is one thing, comedy is another. You will not understand Rammstein unless you are willing to live with contradictions.
“Good things originate from friendship,” says Oliver Riedel over breakfast in Huntington Beach, “bad things out of fanaticism. The band has always been a friendship thing, and only that has gotten us through our crises. We are a little extreme and contradictory. Everyone does it their own way. Narziß und Goldmund. My mom still gifts me a Hesse book every year. My favorite author? Murakami.”
“Mich interessiert kein Gleichgewicht / Mir scheint die Sonne ins Gesicht” [“I’m not interested in balance / The sun is shining in my face”]
The thousands of young people all over the world singing along to this German poetry are party to an art project that is frequently censored by the state. The Rammstein project was born in the early 90s in a rehearsal studio in Prenzlauer Berg. It was a strange baby, called to life by a mob of boys who liked the opera and conceptual rock. They were schooled in jazz, blues, and classical music, but possessed the kind of anger that made West German punk look about as dangerous as, say, a poorly visited Easter parade in light rain.
“Anger, hate, they are fantastic motors,” says Paul Landers during a car ride after the concert in Anaheim, “Of course, I hung out at the Haus der Jungen Talente in Berlin. Jazz. Dietmar Diesner, Volker Schlott – splendid. Of course, jazz actually means anger. Rebellion. Fury. Jazz is on the consciousness of art section wimps. Of course, it isn’t actually the corduroy pant of music. Essentially, we have known each other for 30 years. And as a band now almost 20 years. We are unimaginable without rage. That had nothing to do with the GDR, really. Or only a little bit. You could rebel, push against it. Capitalism evidentially gives shelter to as many assholes as socialism did. Resistance in the East was dirtier. In the West more oily. We stood in front of the Haus der Jungen Talente in East Berlin. And we had this rage. And Fehlfarben, I assume, were standing in front of Ratinger Hof in Düsseldorf and had this rage. Right?”
This rage is – and there is no need to curl one’s lips to address this delicate truth – that of the children of middle-class intellectuals. For example, Till Lindemann is the son of East German children’s book author Werner Lindemann and culture journalist Gitta Lindemann. Drummer Christoph Schneider is the son of the opera director Martin Schneider, who remained a professor at Berlin’s Hanns Eisler Conservatory until 2006. Guitarist Paul Landers is the son of philosopher and slavicist Anton Hiersche. At age 78, Hiersche was in the audience of a Rammstein concert at Berlin’s O2 Arena. Afterwards, he emailed his son Paul: “By taking things beyond the extreme, you free them of their indecency. But behind the grotesque, the notion of something very earnest and substantial is not lost. There are not two, but three layers to you. There is a Russian term, sá-um, for this kind of art, which is hard to explain, but literally translates to Hintersinn [“deeper meaning”]. You have to factor in the performance to get the deeper meaning of it.”
No pathos without deeper meaning. The song “Engel” is a childlike hymn about a rational human’s renunciation of faith. 10,000 Americans sing along with every line in surprisingly secure German: “Wer zu Lebzeit gut auf Erden / Wird nach dem Tod ein Engel werden / Den Blick gen Himmel fragst du dann / Warum man sie nicht sehen kann,” [“Who does good while on earth / Will become an angel after death / Gazing at the sky you then ask / Why one cannot see them”] The choir of angels: “Erst wenn die Wolken schlafen gehn / Kann man uns am Himmel sehn / Wir haben Angst und sind allein.” [“Only when the clouds go to sleep / You can see us in the sky / We are afraid and alone”] Lindemann and all these completely insane Texans, “Gott weiß, ich will kein Engel sein.” [“Lord knows, I don’t want to be an angel”] Now the sawing grind of Kruspe and Landers’s guitars, a euphoric beat, supported by something like whiplashes from the rhythm section, Christoph Schneider planting metronomic drum hits like malicious syncopations, and the Sandberg bass of Oliver Riedel, who stands bent over his instrument like a flesh-eating plant over its prey. Can rock music be this heavy and still possess the untranslatable – a groove? Weirdly, it can.
“America has always been the dream,” says Richard Kruspe on a drive from Denver Airport to Red Rock State Park, “America has also always been my personal dream. I feel more comfortable in New York than I do in Berlin. Berlin gets me down. New York takes me high. When these things came up in the press, about us being on the Right – because Till rolls his R’s and we look archaic – that was bitter. We don’t have a right, but a left history. We got our asses kicked by skinheads – unlike the gentlemen who took on this high- moralistic tone in newspapers and failed to get their asses out of their office chairs.”
Kruspe has dreamt of rock stardom from an early age and worships Pink Floyd’s guitarist David Gilmour. He beams and enjoys interacting with people at the shows, carrying a deep and interrogative soul around with him. Is it possible that “Mutter,” the song in which Kruspe stretches his chords with uncharacteristic indulgence on stage, is too sentimental for certain Rammstein fans? But what would Rammstein be without “Mutter”? And what would Rammstein be if they did not also break this elegy again? On stage in Dallas, Till Lindemann rephrases one of his most famous lines. Instead of Mutter – mother – who does he sing of? He sings of Mutti. Mommy. Has this beaver head lost it?
“Werf in die Luft die nasse Kette / Und wünsch mir, dass ich eine Mutti hätte” [“Throw the wet chain in the air / And I wish I had a mommy”]
Michael Slade, bestselling author, emails Paul Landers after the Vancouver concert: “I have seen them all, Paul. I even witnessed Presley’s appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. Then The Beatles, Pink Floyd, The Rolling Stones, The Clash, The Cramps. But what are you? You are something else. Europe has arrived. For me, this night was like my first night at the opera back when I hitchhiked across Europe to Vienna. You are a crystal clear, truly overwhelming experience. Down below, the five of you like sinister Morlocks. And up top Flake, the Eloi!”
The fact that Till Lindemann, only one of Rammstein’s six members, could be a paradox in and of himself is already a good indicator. On stage, a creature. But a man, too. One who silently sits as if shrunken in the shade of the pool bar at a hotel in Phoenix, hunched over his texts, his drawings. He sips Budweiser to counter this stifling heat, and not just one, but one after another. His gaze suddenly falls upon a raven examining the neighboring table’s breadbasket. He is mesmerized by the bird. He stares and says: “Look. Beautiful. A very lean bird. They are everywhere around here. Smart, lean animals.” He has drawings on laid paper with him, soaked in tea, drawings of dragons and puffy clouds in fine ink, along with poems, some of which are for his grandson, little Fritz. Some of which are unsuitable for the little Fritz’s of the world.
His poetry is always perfumeless, abundantly clear, bitter, audacious, sensitive stuff. Sometimes it turns into a Rammstein song, sometimes it does not. Sometimes it morphs into a kind of short story. Sometimes it consists of only two lines on a sheet of paper, which sound like lines from Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s collected works.
“In stillen Nächten weint ein Mann / weil er sich erinnern kann.” [“On silent nights, a man cries / Because he can remember”]
“All the good things I come up with come to me in the countryside,” Till Lindemann says at the Rockfish Diner in Dallas, “I have an apartment in Berlin, but sometimes Berlin gets me down. So I live in my village, up north, between Schwerin and Wismar. A lot of my friends who are on tour here with us also live there. My father has been dead for a long time. But my mother lives there. My daughter Nele and her son, little Fritz, come by often. We are a big family. I go fishing. I hunt. I stare at the lake. I sleep in the woods and listen. I hear nature. Incredible, the things you hear in the woods at night. It is indescribably beautiful. I hate noise. I loathe blather. Exposing myself to it is pure masochism. So I have to protect myself from it. Noise drives me crazy. You perish in it.”
In “Anthem,” Leonard Cohen sings: “There is a crack in everything / That’s how the light gets in.” Rammstein is about this crack. Just as it is in theater, if you are lucky enough to enjoy a great evening of it, you will feed off this crack for a long time. To create it, you first need inspiration. You need the calm language Lindemann finds in the countryside. You need, in the words of Paul Landers, “rage.” Then, as Richard Kruspe says: the team. “Take one of us out of Rammstein, and the band is dead.” The combination of all this is the biggest cultural export of the German language. Katharina Wagner would like to win the band over for Bayreuth. And Oliver Riedel says: “It would have to sizzle and rustle there, too. Sparks need to fly at the festival theater, too. We cannot go to Bayreuth and serve up classic rock.” And then, evening after evening, numbers meet temper, formulas the soul, the production, the intuition.
“We use lycopodium powder for Till’s burning wings and all the fire on stage,” says tour and production manager Nicolai Sabottka at the AT&T Center in San Antonio, “It’s ground clubmoss spores. A natural product. China harvested 11 tons of it this year. We bought four. After the last show tomorrow in Houston, it will be gone. When Till shoots the lycopodium through his wings, we blow air up from below the grid, so it really burns off your pants. I always say, ‘Lyco is for everyone!’ The band could do this cheaper. But the band doesn’t want that. They are obsessed with this being good. And I’m not just saying that because I work for them.”
The whole production costs around half a million euros per night. Sabottka is responsible for the stage going up in flames, and not the arena. He is uniquely qualified for this job: a Westphalian. Sabottka is friendly, he says only what is necessary, but what he says, as we are about to see, he says carefully. Every day, his moment comes not at 9 PM when the show starts, but at 4 PM. It brings the most risky minutes of the day.
At 4 PM on the dot, in every city, in every arena, six local fire marshals appear and are presented the pyrotechnic effects in the empty hall. They have seen a lot in their careers and yet they are somewhat stunned. The mood of the fire marshals in Anaheim is bad. They confer. One quietly says to his colleague, “That’s fuckin’ weird.” This is one question that American re marshals and German culture journalists alike ask without pause, “Can they do this?” In Anaheim, the five fire marshals deliberate, supervised by one female marshal. Their boss is especially humorless. The discussion is endless. In the end, the fire fighters back off. Sabottka recounts the scene with the unmoved expression of a 747 pilot experienced in emergency landings: “My job just now was to explain to the fire fighters that we handed in all applications in an orderly manner. Based on this and the show, we are determined to fire off all rockets from 9 PM tonight. This time, there was an additional problem: a female fire marshal. The woman was the boss of these five male fire marshals. Under no circumstances was I allowed to make a fool of her in front of these guys. So I had to give her the feeling that each and every one of her concerns were warranted, and that we had already taken care of them preemptively. Since I managed to get this across, the show can take off including all accompanying pyrotechnic elements at 9 PM tonight.” Pause. Then, “Which in principle, is nice.”
Rammstein toured Canada and the USA for five weeks, and these five weeks were the finale of a tour that lasted for three years. Two programs. It started in 2009 with the sinister Liebe ist für alle da [“Love is for Everyone”] tour, overshadowed by the antics of the lunatic Federal Department for Media Harmful to Young Persons, and since 2011, has continued with the Made in Germany tour. The European leg included concerts in London and Moscow, as well as two memorable evenings in Paris in the spring: 17,000 people at the legendary Bercy on both nights, a hall chock-full of young people down in the standing section, with Christine Lagarde-like ladies in business attire and salt-and-pepper gentlemen up in the ranks, leafing through the program like they would at the Comédie-Française. Before that was Russia, Scandinavia, England, Germany. Before that, South America, Mexico City, Monterrey. Masses of people, many of whom had been camping outside the venues for weeks. Rammstein are a universal phenomenon and differ from an artist like Gerhard Richter or a director like Wolfgang Petersen in that they not only rely massively on imagery and sound, but also on the emotional force of the German language that is woven into both. It seems like people are aware of the often remarkably delicate poetry behind the brute facade when they sing along: “doch der Abend wirft ein Tuch aufs Land / Und auf die Wege hinterm Waldesrand.” [“But the evening throws a cloth on the land / And on the pathways behind the edge of the woods”]
During the last two weeks traveling through the South, navigating the choreography of everyday life becomes especially ticklish. The show has been going swimmingly for months now. It has become pure routine for both the musicians and technicians. Flake Lorenz drives the four hours from San Antonio to Houston in a Chevrolet Malibu, because he is sick of being on planes: “I am homesick. Touring is idiotic. Touring is not producing. Touring is reproducing.” Homesick for what? “For Jenny, my wife. For the kids. For my village in Brandenburg. That type of stuff.” Another thing one learns in the days surrounding Rammstein’s explosive shows: As reliably as the band moves its fans, they are equally unable to live with the burden of having moved them. When one of them stares at you in the street, at a restaurant, the hotel, what to do? In front of a hotel in California, Arizona, or Texas, how are you supposed to – keycard already in hand – keep a promise you made in a song years ago?
Furthermore, the musicians spend most of their days in transit: Take off in the Falcon 9-seater, arrive at the airport, get into the van, get out of the van, into the hotel, out of the ho- tel, to the venue, show, after show party, leave the venue. As Paul Landers explains: “Humans need two to three days to adapt to a place. When you don’t have that time, you go nuts. The body always travels ahead of the soul.” Flake tells me he used to keep a tally on the compliments American fans give him in front of hotels. At its top: “You are awesome.” Second place: “You are fuckin’ awesome.” In San Antonio, Landers races from the River Walk back into the Mokara Hotel after a trip to the supermarket. They want to know what is in his paper bag. “Wait,” calls Landers as he disappears into the elevator. He emails a photo from his room. It shows red wine, garlic, dark bread, and salami. He writes: “Nothing cooked, nothing fried, no waiter, no people. Fantastic. Best, Paul.”
“What do I miss? Silence,” says Oliver Riedel at the Shorebreak Hotel in Huntington Beach, “Before the concerts, I sit in the stadium showers and play flamenco on my acoustic guitar. Good acoustics. That is how I pick myself up, so to say. The hotels and restaurants are the worst. Everywhere there’s drum’n’bass, house, it’s all rattling, buzzing, chirping, looping. You can dance your way through these hotels, from your room through the hallway, the elevator, past the breakfast hall, and through the lobby out onto the street. Spinning around, bobbing your head, clapping your hands, grooving out. The horror.”
The show in San Antonio is the second to last. Backstage, one cowers in this salad of iron, cables, and props again. And then, all of a sudden, it is less intimidating than it is touching. All this schlepping! Into the arena. Out of the arena. Can it be? Six Germans in their 40s carrying a steel cauldron on stage night after night, so they can simmer the skinny one with horn-rim glasses? These props are silly viewed from the back. They begin to glow in the web of the production on stage at 9 PM, as if someone has breathed a soul into them. On each of these nights, it only takes a few minutes until one is thrashing in the net of this musical theater. And part of it is that song with the pot. “Mein Teil,” cannibalism in Rotenburg, not entirely unfunny, sprinkled with these bitter, big lines: “ein Schrei wird zum Himmel fahren / schneidet sich durch Engelsscharen / Vom Wolkendach fällt Federfleisch / Auf meine Kindheit mit Gekreisch.” [“A scream will shoot up to the sky / Cut through clusters of angels / From heaven falls feathered flesh / Onto my childhood, madly squealing”]
“At some point, we gave up on German journalists and interviews,” says Christoph Schneider at the Palomar Hotel in Dallas, “German journalists want musicians to be one with their music and lyrics. Which is why most German music journalists look like the bands they worship, and the worshipped bands look like the journalists who worship them. There is this concurrence that surely is somewhat comfortable. But Rammstein has always been about roleplay. Who even looks like Till on stage? For this show now, we march in above the crowd’s heads, with the flags, the torches. We creep across the bridge like beaten dogs back to the center of the hall mid-show. Finally, at the end of the show, we bid farewell to the audience from that bridge. A triptych: Mania, mocking mania, goodbye. German critics only see flags and torches. It’s enough for them to throw fits like a principal. Of course we also found it funny after a while.”
Rammstein’s last encore is sex tourism, as told through the banger that is “Pussy,” containing a depraved German’s battle cry – “I can’t get laid in Germany” – on his way to cloud nine: “Schnaps im Kopf / Du holde Braut / Steck Brat- wurst in Dein Sauerkraut.” [“Head full of schnapps / You fair maiden / Plant a bratwurst in your sauerkraut”]
Did I hear that right?
Are they stupid?
He, who fails to take the Russian sá-um, the deeper meaning, into account here too misses out, even if this is the middle of Texas.
Alma, 23, born in Mexico, and her husband John, born in Texas, sit on the terrace of Rita’s on the River, a bar in San Antonio. She is strikingly beautiful, drinks Bud Light, and wears a Rammstein t-shirt: “I am not going to tell you my real name, and I will not tell you how long we drove, John and I, to come see the show tonight. I came to Texas illegally from Mexico a few years ago. They treat me like dirt here. On the other hand, you have opportunity here. Do you know T. C. Boyle’s América? Everything in it is true. Rammstein, I think, make music for people who live by their own rules, for fighters. In Mexico, they are popular like no other band. I love when Till sings ‘Amerika.’ There is a lot of rage and also a lot of humor in it, don’t you think? When he sings: ‘Wir bilden einen lieben Reigen / Die Freiheit spielt auf allen Geigen.’ [“We form a lovely roundel / Every violin playing freedom”] Tonight, I will sing along to it extra loud. My dad is here now, too. For years, I didn’t see him. It broke my heart. We are all going to the concert together tonight. I believe it will be the most beautiful night of my life. Now I’m tearing up, sorry. Us Mexican chicas are a little sentimental.”
The crew, they are more than 60 people, are joined every night by 150 locals of each respective city for installation and dismantling. Every show ends around 11 PM, then the locals descend upon the metropolis like iron-eaters. If you peeked into the arena at 12:30 AM, you would find it empty. One is reminded of Marion Brasch’s Ab jetzt ist Ruhe [“Silence from Now On”], a novel about a Jewish emigrant family in the GDR. It is one of the most restless and therefore also most beautiful books in a long time, an East German blues. Bitter, comic, really pretty terrific. Christoph Schneider reads it by the pool and is far gone. Flake Lorenz read it before him, “devoured it.” In the book, there is a dialogue between Marion Brasch’s brother, the author Thomas Brasch, and Heiner Müller. Heiner Müller asks the expatriate Thomas Brasch why he lives in the West now, and he replies: “In the East, walls were made from concrete. In the West, they are rubber.” One thinks of Paul Landers and his words on the East and the West: Back then, everything was dirty, now everything is oily.
“The GDR showed solidarity with us Chileans,” says band and production assistant Paulo San Martin backstage at the Denver Coliseum, “My parents fled Santiago with me in September 1973. I was seven. Pinochet had staged a coup. Some of my family members were kidnapped, others killed on the spot. In 1978, I started the fifth grade in Prenzlauer Berg. There, I suddenly sat next to Flake. So, I’ve known him for 34 years. We always hung out in the same spots together: Tacheles on Oranienburger, Eimer on Rosenthaler, obviously at Schönhauser 5. I love Flake. He is the finest friend one could wish for. I only do this job for Rammstein. I wouldn’t do it for any other band. It is a family thing.”
In the end, after the ballad “Ohne Dich,” the musicians stand in front of shaken Texans at Houston’s Toyota Center. Till Lindemann, who up until now had not spoken a word to the audience during all these nights here in America, says only: “Ladies and gentlemen, Rammstein. Thank you.”
“I’ve been on the road with many bands,” says tour manager Heike Krämer backstage at the Toyota Center in Houston, “Is Rammstein special? Absolutely. I won’t say anything else. Just this: They hold doors open for women. Got it?”
After the last show, Till Lindemann stands in the catacombs in his black bathrobe, across from Richard Kruspe. Lindemann holds a beer, Kruspe a cigarette. Lindemann’s right hand is badly swollen, his forehead bleeding. Eyeliner runs down his cheeks. Tomorrow at noon, it is back to Berlin. Some of the band’s members are headed straight to the Baltic Sea. Kids. Wives. Silence. What is Flake planning? “Zilch.” Kruspe? He is already planning his return to America.
Lindemann will first of all piece together the book for his grandson. He is obsessed with this thing. Right before my deadline, he emails me a picture from Berlin. It shows a big, hand-bound, dark blue picture book. Its cover is his drawing of a child with a dragon, beside it a mouse, and below it Lindemann’s title, dedicated to his grandson: Dear Fritz, Take My Hand.
Döblin writes the following lines about Franz Biberkopf, and they surely are among the best ever written in the German language: “In the end, we see the man at Alexanderplatz again, significantly changed, battered, but still bent into shape.”