Punk photo archive “Punkfoto.de documents the events of that time”

Hanover, 1983 – in front: Karl Nagel
Hanover, 1983 – in front: Karl Nagel | Photo (detail): © punkfoto.de

The punk movement that began in the early 1970s is still alive and kicking on Punkfoto.de. Featuring more than 13,000 photographs, the portal – which is operated by Karl Nagel – depicts a rebellious youth culture, as we discover in our interview.

What inspired you to create Punkfoto.de?

As I published punk fanzines in the 1980s, I already had a pretty good collection of photographs. For a book about the punk movement that I then began writing in the 1990s, I scanned the photo albums of my old friends into my computer. In 2007 I published the pictures on my website Karlnagel.de, which met with a fairly good response. Punkfoto.de followed in 2010 because more and more people offered me the chance to use their pictures. It was all too much work for me, so I needed to automate the website; now people can upload their photos themselves.

The archive is quite substantial, with more than 13,000 images posted by around 1,700 members. How is the website kept up-to-date?

I am a software developer and created the site myself. I incorporated its various functions and manage it myself.

“I find it fascinating to be a part of history myself”

It seems as if you established Punkfoto.de more or less by chance. What significance does the portal have for you these days?

Karl Nagel, operator of punkfoto.de, 2014 Karl Nagel, operator of punkfoto.de, 2014 | © Karl Nagel If you look at the pictures, you will see that I went around with brightly coloured sticking-up hair for quite some time myself. In fact, I still know a lot of the people from back then. What is more, ever since my childhood I have always been interested in historical connections, and continue to devour history books even today. So I also find it fascinating to be a part of history myself and to present all the things that we did in the 1980s and 1990s in such a way that the people involved can get in touch with each other via the website. Punkfoto.de documents the events of that time. It is not a question of glorifying the past, but I do not want to let it go by uncommented either.

How do you decide which photographs to publish and which not to?

I have set a limit of the year 2000 – the pictures must have been taken before that point. The website also focuses on the German punk movement, in both East and West. The idea is for people to be able to pinpoint themselves within this historical context. That’s why there are only a few international photographs: Punkfoto.de would become overly confusing if I allowed even more.

How do the people involved in the punk movement at the time respond to the website? Not all of them will still be proud to have once been a punk.

Most think it’s great and only a small majority have a problem with it. Since the website has been up and running, only around a dozen people have wanted their photographs to be taken down again – which of course is done immediately, without any complications.

Everyone wanted to portray themselves as real hardnuts

  • Wuppertal, 1982 – Punk-Treffen im Juli © punkfoto.de, Foto: Archivar/Axel Dehler
    Wuppertal, 1982 – Punk-Treffen im Juli
  • Hannover, 1983 © punkfoto.de, Foto: Michael Zielke
    Hannover, 1983
  • Berlin (Ost), 1983: Bandauftritt Internationale Müllabfuhr © punkfoto.de, Foto: Bambino
    Berlin (Ost), 1983: Bandauftritt Internationale Müllabfuhr
  • Düsseldorf, 1983: Die Toten Hosen im Konzert © punkfoto.de, Foto: Richard Gleim
    Düsseldorf, 1983: Die Toten Hosen im Konzert
  • Düsseldorf, 1983 - Pogo beim Konzert der Toten Hosen © punkfoto.de, Foto: Richard Gleim
    Düsseldorf, 1983 - Pogo beim Konzert der Toten Hosen
  • Hannover, 1983 – vorne: Karl Nagel © punkfoto.de
    Hannover, 1983 – vorne: Karl Nagel
  • Hannover, 1984 – Parteitag © punkfoto.de, Foto: Archivar/Axel Dehler
    Hannover, 1984 – Parteitag
  • Cover des „Falschmelder“-Fanzines Nr.3/1983 © punkfoto.de, Foto: Günter Gruse
    Cover des „Falschmelder“-Fanzines Nr.3/1983
  • Leipzig, 1987 © punkfoto.de, Foto: Bambino
    Leipzig, 1987
  • Berlin (Ost), 1987 – Konzert in der Erlöserkirche © punkfoto.de, Foto: Bambino
    Berlin (Ost), 1987 – Konzert in der Erlöserkirche
  • Hannover, 2006 © punkfoto.de, Foto: Paul M. Berger
    Hannover, 2006
What sort of scenes are presented on Punkfoto.de?

Lots of drinking and partying, lots of hanging around together, run-ins with the police or skinheads, lots of making music and concerts. One really important setting is the bedrooms punks had when they were still living at home with their parents – some photos were actually taken there, some even together with the punk’s parents. The pictures taken by professional photographers involve a lot of posing, as everyone wanted to portray themselves as real hardnuts. The pictures people took in their bedrooms at home have an entirely different character: they are much more naive and friendly, but also more authentic.

How did punks in East Germany differ from those in the West?

To be a punk in East Germany, you had to be willing to face far more serious consequences. For instance, I know from a member of the Leipzig punk scene back then that nearly all the punks from the first generation ended up in prison sooner or later. They were under enormous pressure from the state.

As regards the situation in West Germany: in one post on your blog “Karl Nagel … brain regain” you ask whether the youth magazine “Bravo” helped spawn German street punk. What is that all about?

People who got involved with the punk movement on a cultural level, as artists or musicians for example, came into contact with the movement in other ways – through visits to England perhaps, or through music magazines. The tougher elements in the movement, however, that is to say the punks who hung around on street corners and got into fights, did in fact in many cases firstread about the punk movement in Bravo. It is simply a fact that the media often create situations by reporting on them.

A few decades on, how do you yourself view the punk movement now?

Personally speaking, the punk movement actually saved my life, whereas it was just the opposite for others. Before becoming a punk I was passive and felt that my life was dictated by other people. I drifted through business school and qualified as an industrial clerk simply to have something to do that was better than getting a job. Punk for me was an act of liberation and the perfect opportunity finally to find out what I really wanted to do with my life. This was not without its forfeits, but I have not the least regrets about what I did. Being a punk changed me completely.

Karl Nagel, born in 1960 as Peter Altenburg, describes himself as a “master of chaos”, a writer of trash literature and an archaeologist at Punkfoto.de. From the early 1980s, he initiated and organized punk get-togethers and concerts in his home town of Wuppertal, as well as the “chaos days” in Hanover. He sang in various bands and is currently a member of Kein Hass da. Nagel was the “candidate for chancellor” of the Anarchist Pogo Party of Germany (APPD) in the 1998 elections to the German Bundestag. Comics have played a key role in his life: he has published various magazines and from 2005-2010 ran the Alligator Farm studio.