This is the third post focusing on the work of the Stasi – East German secret police, who post Second World War and until the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, ruled the German Democratic Republic (GDR) with an iron fist.
The Stasi aimed for complete surveillance and interfered in every part of the lives of their citizens. This post features an artist who tried to survive amongst the strict rules and regulations of the regime.
Born in 1942, musician Klaus Renft led a band singing about rebellion and hope – the lyrics were scrutinized by the Stasi. The Klaus Renft Combo were popular playing to big crowds in villages as they were banned from playing in most towns – in the end they became too hot to handle for the regime.
In his teenage years his live cover set included Chuck Berry, The Animals, The Beatles and Led Zeppelin who he listened to on western RIAS (Radio in American Sector) – his favourite songs were banned in the east.
Renft was targeted by the Stasi who opened a file on him under the code name ‘Wanderer’. After the Wall came down the files were opened and he applied to see his. One entry included a message from Erich Mielke, head of the Stasi, who asked his officers about the band ‘Why can’t you just grab them ? Why aren’t they liquidated?’
Another complaint about the band from a club owner where they had just played ‘After the end of the concert, approx. forty bottles of red wine were found….it is incomprehensible to us that a musical ensemble should require the consumption of such a quantity of alcohol to attain the right mood’.
There was further complaints about the band on stage announcing to the audience ‘There are people sitting in this room reporting on us’ and ‘You are the audience that will experience the group Renft for the last time because we are about to be banned’.
In 1975 the bands performance licence was not renewed by the Ministry of Culture. The officer told them ‘You are not banned, you simply do not exist’. They had recorded at the only record company in East Germany – AMIGA, but their records disappeared from shops overnight and the band were never played on radio or written about. The record company reprinted its entire catalogue so it could leave them out.
Rumours were put about by the state that the band had split up. They did, but some members, the slightly less political, went on to form a new band, Karussell and recorded Reft songs note for note and changed the lyrics. The manager was a Stasi man.
Renft eventually left for the west where he toured and recorded new material. He ended up working as a sound engineer in a West Berlin theatre. Sadly, Klaus Renft died of cancer aged 64 on 9 October 2006.
Sources: Stasi: The Untold Story of the Secret Police by John O. Koehler
Stasiland: stories from behind the Berlin Wall by Anna Funder.
Fall of the Berlin Wall with John Simpson (BBC documentary).
Behind the Wall (2011) a film by Michael Patrick Kelly.
If you have any stories related to the Berlin Wall or the Stasi don’t hesitate to get in touch.
Gary Alikivi November 2020.