Die Ärzte – ZeiDverschwÄndung
Die Ärzte (German for “The Doctors”) have been around for thirty years. They are one of Germany’s highest grossing live acts — and are virtually unknown in the United States. This lack of recognition is mainly due to the fact that the band’s satirical and provocative songs lose a lot of their wit in translation. Die Ärzte were formed in Berlin in 1982 by singer/guitarist Jan Vetter (alias Farin Urlaub, a pun on the expression “Fahr in Urlaub”, which means to "Go on vacation"), drummer Dirk Felsenheimer (alias Bela B.), and bassist Hans Runge. The trio adopted the name Die Ärzte because no other band's moniker started with the letter Ä. Their goal in forming the band was twofold: they wanted to instill some humor into punk and capture the hearts of millions of girls in the process.
Die Ärzte were on their way to achieving these goals in 1984 with their victory at a local rock contest and the subsequent release of the EP “Uns geht's prima” (“We're Doing Great”). The record brought Die Ärzte to the attention of Columbia Records, which issued the band's debut album. However, creative differences forced Runge's exit prior to the release of Die Ärzte's 1986 breakthrough self-titled effort. The album introduced the distorted guitar sound that would emerge as the band's signature in the years to come while Urlaub's melodies embraced the classic rock & roll influences of his youth, in particular the Beatles.
Die Ärzte made headlines in 1987 when the German Federal Center for Media Harmful to Young Persons blacklisted a number of their most popular songs. Record stores selling their albums were subject to criminal charges and the ban forced the band to remove the offending songs from their live shows. Die Ärzte managed to evade the ban at concerts by playing the music and letting the crowd sing the lyrics. With 1988’s “Das ist nicht die ganze Wahrheit” (“That’s not the Whole Truth”), Die Ärzte broke into the German Top Ten for the first time in their career. However at the peak of their fame they announced plans to dissolve, with a farewell tour yielding a chart-topping live LP.
From 1988 to 1993, Bela and Farin dabbled in smaller bands and decided to make a new start with bassist Rodrigo Gonzalez. Their comeback single “Schrei Nach Liebe” (“Scream for Love”) was their most explicitly political effort to date, a polemic against the growing rise of right-wing extremism and racially motivated violence. “Männer sind Schweine” (“Men are Pigs”), released in 1998, included their first number one German single but, if anything, the record was too successful. Troubled by its mainstream saturation Die Ärzte vowed never to play the song again and the trio spent the remainder of the decade in seclusion.
In 2001, 13 years after their first “last concert”, Die Ärzte sang their second swan song. Shortly afterwards the three were seen again on a reading tour, reciting passages from the first authorized biography, “Ein überdimensionales Meerschwein frisst die Erde auf” (“A Colossal Guinea Pig Devours the Earth”). Over the years the band has displayed a variety of styles and genres in their 25 albums, including punk, death metal, ska, rock 'n' roll, jazz, and country. Die Ärzte have consistently topped their own success from the 80s in sales of records, concert tickets and merchandise, and yet never sold out to consumerism. They’ve given concerts in small clubs under false names (revealing their true identity in advance only to their fan club members) and sold exclusive LPs at their concerts. They’ve proved more than once: “Es gibt nichts Besseres zu tun, als die Die Ärzte zu hören!” (There is nothing better than listening to Die Ärzte).