The Berlin Wall was difficult to cross physically, but some West Berlin radio signals got through. Starting in the late 1970s, East Berlin youths started hearing a new form of music—punk—played by Western bands such as the Sex Pistols. In a strictly regimented society such as East Germany, the kids inspired by this new music and the radical style that went with it represented a baffling and threatening form of social nonconformity. Mohr's book (originally published last year in German) chronicles the revolutionary movement that grew up around the East German punk—a movement pushed more and more into direct antigovernment action by the activities of the state itself, as punks were targeted by police spies, arrested, interrogated, and imprisoned for simply expressing anti-authoritarian points of view. Mohr highlights the unique elements of the East German punk scene compared to the more familiar American and British narratives: a recurring theme is how, in contrast to the Sex Pistols' "No Future" slogan, punks felt oppressed by "too much future" in East Germany's overplanned society that offered youths no say in their mandated lives. A surprising element to the story is the unexpected alliance between the Lutheran church and the punk movement, as the church's "open work" missionary outreach efforts provided punk activists with sanctuaries to meet and organize as antigovernment efforts grew closer to a boiling point. British narrator Matthew Lloyd Davies's reading is personal, warm, and passionate as he reads a story full of individual threads and snippets of oral history. VERDICT Readers of punk histories like Legs McNeil's Please Kill Me and John Doe's Under the Big Black Sun will find this title an exciting new perspective of Eastern bloc punk during the Cold War. ["Mohr pens an inspiring history of a punk scene that literally tore down a symbol of division and oppression. An excellent companion to Paul Hockenos's Berlin Calling": LJ 8/18 review of the Alginquin hc.] —Jason Puckett, Georgia State Univ. Lib., Atlanta
…[a] riveting and inspiring history of punk's hard-fought struggle in East Germany…The book chronicles, with cinematic detail, the commitment and defiance required of East German punks as they were forced to navigate constant police harassment and repression.
The New York Times Book Review - Alan Light
In this lively narrative, music journalist and former Berlin DJ Mohr takes readers on a profanity-laden, up-close-and-personal tour of the punk rock scene of 1980s East Germany. He follows notable figures in the scene—“Major” (who was 15 in 1977 when she became, in Mohr’s retelling, the first punk in East Germany), “A-Micha,” “Colonel,” “Pankow,” “Chaos,” “Otze,” and others—and their associated bands as they evolve from a handful of disaffected youths influenced by outside radio and bootleg Sex Pistols albums to a relentless movement of politically minded revolutionaries determined to change a corrupt system from within. Mohr makes clear the punks weren’t seeking a reunited Germany, just an East Germany where they’d be free to express themselves, yet their movement contributed to the fall of the Berlin Wall. He chronicles the ongoing clashes between the East German authorities and several microgenerations of punks, describing a compelling war of subversion, persistence, attrition, and defiance, where every act meant to crush spirits and enforce conformity only helped to fan the rebellious flames. The short chapters and punchy prose, coupled with thorough research, give the reader a front-row seat to the events of the ’80s. This take on punk evolution is engaging, enlightening, and well worth checking out. Agent: Anna Stein, ICM Partners. (Sept.)
[A] riveting and inspiring history of punk’s hard-fought struggle in East Germany. The book chronicles, with cinematic detail, the commitment and defiance required of East German punks as they were forced to navigate constant police harassment and repression.” —
“A thrilling and essential social history that details the rebellious youth movement that helped change the world.” — The New York Times Book Review “ Rolling Stone Burning Down the Haus deftly chronicles the formation of East Germany’s punk scene within a fragmented country under constant monitoring by a secret police agency, the Stasi. This is a work that encapsulates a particular musical world but, more crucially, shows how the society around it shaped the scene in idiosyncratic ways.” — “Wildly entertaining . . . A thrilling tale . . . A joy in the way it brings back punk’s fury and high stakes.” — Pitchfork “Gripping.” — Vogue “The new book Billboard Burning Down the Haus fastidiously traces the self-discovery of punks in the socialist dictatorship of East Germany, and the violence and repression they endured on the way to freedom.” — NPR “ Burning Down the Haus is a gripping, powerful story of self-expression in the face of adversity . . . We can see echoes of the time it describes in groups like Pussy Riot, who risk imprisonment and possible assassination in President Vladimir Putin’s Russia. The story of East German punk is one of rock and roll’s greatest unheard tales of courage. Or it was until Tim Mohr came along.” — “Remarkable . . . revelatory . . . amazing.” — The Houston Chronicle “Original and inspiring . . . Mr. Mohr has written an important work of Cold War cultural history.” — Longreads “Mohr takes readers on a fascinating trip through the 1980s, focusing on East German teenagers that embraced the punk lifestyle and ultimately would play a role in the fall of the Berlin Wall. Mohr is a great storyteller and manages to make history read like you are there directly witnessing it.” The Wall Street Journal — “What makes this book such a fascinating read is that Mohr has recreated the period almost as an oral history . . . it also brings the era and the reality of the times to life beautifully. The Hype Magazine Burning Down the Haus not only dispels the myth that the West and capitalism were responsible for bringing down the Berlin Wall, it also provides the example of how the oppressed can effect change from the bottom up – something as pertinent today as it was in East Germany in the 80s. This is a beautifully written and important book about the power of ordinary people to make a difference and how punk is more than just a type of music.” — Blogcritics.com “Mohr pens an inspiring history of a punk scene that literally tore down a symbol of division and oppression.” — “Lively . . . Compelling . . . A front-row seat to the events of the ’80s. This take on punk evolution is engaging, enlightening, and well worth checking out.” — Library Journal “Translator, editor, and former Berlin DJ Mohr energetically details the origins of East German punks . . . Mohr tells a frantic and exciting true story of music versus dictatorship, and the infamous wall it helped bring down.” — Publishers Weekly, starred review “An appealing, lively cultural history worth reading in an era of corporate punk nostalgia.” — Booklist, starred review “Incendiary . . . Compulsively readable and beautifully researched, Kirkus Reviews Burning Down the Haus records the critical role that punks played in the German resistance movements of the 1980s, up to and beyond the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 . . . inspiring.” — “Mohr takes readers on a fascinating trip through the 1980s, focusing on East German teenagers that embraced the punk lifestyle and ultimately would play a role in the fall of the Berlin Wall. Mohr is a great storyteller and manages to make history read like you are there directly witnessing it.” BookPage — The Hype Magazine “ Burning Down the Haus stands as a testament to the DIY ethos as a response to oppression, which, in this day and age, may be exactly what American society needs.” — “ Harvard Crimson Burning Down the Haus is not just an immersion into the punk rock scene of East Berlin, it’s the story of the cultural and political battles that have shaped the world we live in today. Tim Mohr delivers the soundtrack for the revolution that we’ve all been waiting for.” —DW Gibson, author of “In East Germany, where non-conformity meant jail time, punks’ ripped clothes and spiked hair were a show of courage and defiance. Squatting in derelict apartments and burning their lyrics before the secret police could get ahold of them, these teenagers wrote the soundtrack for a rebellion that helped bring down the Berlin Wall. Tim Mohr tells the story of their DIY revolution with the thoroughness of a historian and the panache of a cultural insider. The Edge Becomes the Center: An Oral History of Gentrification in the Twenty-First Century Burning Down the Haus is a riveting cultural history that also serves as a rallying call against authoritarianism everywhere.” —Ruth Franklin, author of the NBCC Award-winning “Equal parts terrifying and exhilarating, Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life Burning Down the Haus is a fabulously alive history of punk rock behind the Iron Curtain, where simply dressing like a punk could get you hauled in by Stasi, the dreaded East German secret police. Mohr ties the fearless music-driven resistance to authoritarianism and mass surveillance in the 1980s to our current fraught times, showing how even the most formidable forms of oppression can be shaken by highly motivated, creative kids with riotous rage and a driving beat. A thrilling, inspiring read.” —Rob Spillman, editor of “You say you want a revolution? Tim Mohr’s spellbinding Tin House and author of All Tomorrow’s Parties Burning Down the Haus reveals how a bunch of young East German punks in the 1980s made their wild music into a clarion loud enough to topple the Berlin Wall. With a sharp eye for the prosaic brutality of the repressive state and an ear locked on the furies in the music, Mohr has crafted an unforgettable story that is part cultural history, part political thriller and entirely true.” —Peter Ames Carlin, author of “Berlin has always been a crazy city, and a dramatic stage for the epic struggle between powerful ideological forces and the individual desire to be free. In case you weren’t sure just how political music, fashion, and a certain attitude can be: read this book. Homeward Bound: The Life of Paul Simon Burning Down the Haus is wonderful.” — Norman Ohler, author of “This is a crazily inspiring, strange, beautiful story that deserves to be remembered, and Mohr is a wonderfully compassionate writer. What a combination!” — Blitzed Johann Hari, “The best punk book since New York Times bestselling author of Chasing the Scream and Lost Connections Please Kill Me.” —Legs McNeil, author of “Tim Mohr’s book details a fascinating period of time in the history of punk music. I am so glad he documented that moment in history for punk rock and for the world.” — Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk Greg Graffin, singer/songwriter for Bad Religion and author of “The true story of how teenage kicks turned into political opposition. With meticulous research and impassioned prose, Tim Mohr brings to life the saga of a bunch of East German punk rock kids who broke the state that wanted to break them. A book to warm an old punk’s heart.” Population Wars and Anarchy Evolution —Claire Dederer, author of “A wonderful book.” Love and Trouble PRAISE FOR THE GERMAN EDITION OF BURNING DOWN THE HAUS “A historical drama that takes your breath away.” —Berliner Zeitung —Neustadt-Gefluester (Dresden) “Mohr digs into the subject of East German punk like nobody before.” “Cinematic...Makes the reader feel a witness to the events . . . A lively, enthralling adventure story; the tone combines a dramatic Hollywood epic with a meticulous documentary.” —Rolling Stone Germany — “You get taken in quickly, and just as quickly you have a lively image of the situation . . . The storytelling style is like having a movie in your head.” Falter (Vienna) —Lutz Schramm (German radio personality) “A wonderful, atmospheric look at a hidden world.” —Classic Rock
Whether it's Duff McKagan's memoir, It's So Easy, or Paul Stanley's confessional Face the Music, Mohr is famous for helping rock stars articulate the lurid, gory details of their lives. Here, the author turns his attention from the Sunset Strip to the gray, dull streets of East Germany and political liberation, beginning in the late 1970s and paralleling the uprising of the punk rock revolution with a political awakening among the city's disaffected youth. Amid constant arrests, government surveillance, and beatings in the street, the East Germans found a common rallying cry in the growling voice of the Sex Pistols. Mohr shows how these influences from across the sea transformed into a specific political expression under an oppressive regime. The music was a reason to organize—that organization sparked a movement culminating in the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989. VERDICT Mohr pens an inspiring history of a punk scene that literally tore down a symbol of division and oppression. An excellent companion to Paul Hockenos's Berlin Calling. [See Prepub Alert, 4/30/18.]—Joshua Finnell, Colgate Univ., Hamilton, NY
How a forbidden punk-rock underground fomented rebellion against totalitarian East Germany.A translator and former Playboy staff editor and club DJ in Berlin, Mohr carefully documents a rousing, little-known Cold War story, showing how alternative culture developed in the Eastern Bloc in a similarly grass-roots fashion as elsewhere but for greater stakes. "The ethos of East Berlin punk," he writes, "infused the city with a radical egalitarianism and a DIY approach to maintaining independence." But during the 1980s, homegrown punks were seen as both a nuisance and threat, worthy of repression. Based in part on interviews with survivors, Mohr ably documents how regional small-scale punk scenes grew and connected nonetheless. From the start, he notes, "groups of punks started to attract attention from security forces everywhere they went." East Germany provides a vivid backdrop to the narrative. Conformity to state-supervised existence was enforced by surveillance and informants, so punks' embrace of abrasive music and fashion was inherently political. As the author memorializes one uncompromising early punk, "he had always hated the way his whole life was predetermined by the state." Despite Stasi harassment and harsh prison sentences for "antisocial" acts including graffiti and subversive lyrics, punks made common cause with socially conscious churches and developed illicit performance and taping networks. Despite the state's hostility, the punk movement was thus well-positioned to contribute to the civil unrest that fueled the Eastern Bloc's unexpected collapse. Mohr closes by documenting how the initial punk squatters blossomed into a mass movement that helped preserve East Berlin's dilapidated architecture. "Eastern bands," he writes, "died off quickly after the fall of the Wall….For Eastern punks, the original enemy had been vanquished." The author dives deep into a chronology of the ferocious early bands and committed scenesters whose rebellion carried steep risks. His writing focuses on their experiences and stays attuned to the punk ethos, only occasionally becoming rant-y or rambling.An appealing, lively cultural history worth reading in an era of corporate punk nostalgia.