punk rock

The Making Of History – Ratinger Hof Revisited

Cover of „Ratinger Hof“, published and designed by Ralf Zeigermann, Verlag Robert Wiegner; photo: Verlag Robert WiegnerWhere it all began. A small pub in Düsseldorf was the most important breeding ground of Punk in the Federal Republic of Germany. Now the story is being retold.

“When modes of music change, the laws of the State always change with them,” as Plato observed long ago. Modes of music certainly changed radically in the late 1970s – due to a movement named Punk. And as in every movement, in Punk, too, there were certain places where the change began. Places like CBGB´s in New York and the 100 Club in London. Or Ratinger Hof, the breeding-ground of West-German Punk, an unimposing beer pub in Düsseldorf. Those who were there will never forget it. The first-comers to the right place. There for the Big Bang. The pioneering motif of this popular culture is charged with a romantic, utopian kick by the New York band LCD Soundsystem.

I was there in 1968. I was there at the first Can show in Cologne.
I was there in 1974 at the first Suicide practices in a loft in New York City.
I was there when Captain Beefheart started up his first band.
I was the first guy playing Daft Punk to the rock kids. I played it at CBGB's.
I was there in the Paradise Garage DJ booth with Larry Levan.
I was there in Jamaica during the great sound clashes.
I woke up naked on the beach in Ibiza in 1988.
(LCD Soundsystem, Losing my edge, 2000)

Always there for the Big Bang; ’68 in Cologne with Can, the words Kraut Rock still unknown. ’88 naked on the beach in Ibiza, ecstasy is a state of mind, not a drug, Rave a journal from the sixties. And house? Well, just a house.

The Ratinger Hof - breeding-ground of West-German Punk; Photo: ar/gee gleimIn his hit Losing my edge, from the year 2000, John Murphy from the New York band LCD Soundsystem slips into the role of the eternal checker-hipster. A crown witness of the magical moments, someone who is always there when something exciting happens. He travels to the dream destinations of pop history. And everyone know he’s lying. The guy just can’t have always been in the right hot spot at the right time. A lie that tells the truth about pop, memory and fantasy.

“I was there in Düsseldorf on German History Day, Wire at Ratinger Hof, November 9th, 1978.”

A beer mat as ticket for the concert of WIRE at 9.11.1978; © Collection Lothar LauterbachThis line is missing in Losing my edge. But it could be included, for this was definitely an event that made history. And here, too, many more people were there in retrospect than in reality. On the 40th anniversary of the Reichspogromnacht (“Night of Broken Glass”, the pogrom against Jews throughout Nazi Germany), the English art-punk band Wire played in a pub in Düsseldorf. At that time they were virtually unknown, later they were to be regarded as the pioneers of the new movement. The admission ticket was a beer mat, WIRE written on it with a red marker, beneath it with a blue ball-point pen 9.11.78, 20 Uhr, beneath that a blue stamp: Ratinger Hof, Ratinger Str. 10, 4 Düsseldorf. Of course I was there and I kept the beer mat – everyone else can look it up in a book about Ratinger Hof, edited by Ralf Zeigermann.

The book in the box: „Ratinger Hof“, published and designed by Ralf Zeigermann, Verlag Robert Wiegner; Photo: Verlag Robert WiegnerA picture book with the memories of those who were really there and only realised later that here “Geschichte wird gemacht” (History is being made). This famous line from the biggest hit* by the Düsseldorf band Fehlfarben has, of course, a special relevance here. Fehlfarben’s Thomas Schwebel and Peter Hein, who called himself Janie back then after a Clash song, recall those early days, as do Jürgen Engler, a clever loudmouth, who later struck it rich with the band Die Krupps, Moritz Reichelt, soon to become semi-famous with Der Plan, and Michael Schirner, who was to chalk up a planned and glamorous failure with the concept Advertising is the new punk in the 1980s. Graham Lewis and Colin Newman from Wire also add their recollections. In January 2011 they are once again releasing a new album. Among other Ratinger Hof offshoots who are still active are DAF (Deutsch-Amerikanische Freundschaft) and Die Toten Hosen, long since part of the German rock establishment.

Men tell stories, women make them come true

Legendary nights in the Ratinger Hof; Photo: Ralf ZeigermannMore reliable than the written memories are the photos. They were taken by Richard Gleim and Ralf Zeigermann and by a person who probably played the key role in the Ratinger Hof story: Carmen Knoebel, artist, landlady, d-jane, hobby photographer, who together with “Ingrid Kohlhöfer took over the dilapidated hippie pub in Ratinger Straße in Düsseldorf and transformed it, first into a Mecca of art, and a little later into a Mecca of modern music.” Men tell stories, it’s women who make them come true. Midwives of societal trends who realised that a lick of paint (white?), neon tubes on the low ceiling, a muted TV set above the dance floor and tough, no-nonsense manners would help to turn a shabby hippie bar into the birthplace of the “new movements” (Fehlfarben). Movements that came over from England, reinforced in North-Rhine Westphalia by BFBS (British Forces Broadcasting Service), a soldiers’ radio channel assisting in the birth of insurgency, yet another paradox in the history of the Federal Republic. Streams of metamorphosing information flowed together in Düsseldorf to become a river. In no other city in the Federal Republic was there such productive rivalry between art and pop. Even Joseph Beuys frequented the Ratinger Hof, Jörg Immendorf was one of the regulars; Düsseldorf was not only the stronghold of punk, but also the home of the art movement of painters known as the Junge Wilde. Many were active in both spheres, the Oehlen brothers, for example, or Walter Dahn. The link from art to pop was familiar from English art schools, they too assisted in the birth of insurgency: Beat, Mod, Glam, Punk, New Wave...

Fast-tracked time, too much time

Here history is being made; photo: Ralf ZeigermannThe “semi-official” story is a construction of oral history, myth, lies, contingency. In retrospect Ratinger Hof was the playground of an everyday practice - of which nobody on 9th November 1978 had the least idea that this would go down in history 33 years later. Harry Rag, singer of the then very important band with the telling name of S.Y.P.H., stole his name from a song by the Kinks, the London proto-art-school, petit-bourgeois band. Rag mentions an important factor: time. It was a fast-tracked time in the narrowest of spaces in Ratinger Hof. And they had a lot of time, back then. No means of killing time at home, no screen, no means of killing time en route, no mobile phone. They just had to go there.

“What I miss most is the time – the time I had back then. This ‘available’ time was very important to experience, to enjoy the phenomenon ‘HOF’ in its entire range. The usual Hof evening began for me at 19.00 when it was still fairly empty and gradually the first guests started to appear, everything was still under control, you had your first beer and swapped the latest news about singles, EPs, LPs, concerts, T-shirts, badges, record shops, fanzines, new band projects, song texts or slogans. So every week we checked the in and out status of everything under the sun. This worked pretty well for one to two years.” (Harry Rag, March 2001)

Klaus Walter
 is a radio-DJ and moderator. Since 2008 he has been working as an editor and moderator for Internetradio ByteFM, winner of the Grimme Online-Award in 2009.

Translation: Heather Moers
Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V., Online-Redaktion
February 2011

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