To say that actress Johanna Wokalek is accomplished is an understatement. The award-winning actress has made a name for herself in film but also on the stage in both theater and opera. She’s portrayed everyone from a woman impersonating a man who becomes pope to an international terrorist. With all of that range and variety, Wokalek is the perfect actor to help guide German learners. So this month, let’s learn German with the films of Johanna Wokalek!
While every month I highlight a different musical act that performs in the German language, I can’t say that I’m always a big fan of each month’s artist. This month is a little different. Einstürzende Neubauten is, without a doubt, the first German band that I ever really discovered and have been my favorite band, regardless of language, for many years now. While it’s often easy to label musicians as “rock” or “pop,” it’s a little more difficult for Neubauten. At times their music can be noisy and bordering on performance art while other tracks can be decidedly mainstream. But it’s always on their own terms. That means, among other things, unconventional instruments. This month, let’s learn German with the music of Einstürzende Neubauten!
About Einstürzende Neubauten
Einstürzende Neubauten was formed in 1980 in then-West Berlin, Germany. The early years saw a number of changes in members but the standard line-up for those earliest years is Blixa Bargeld, NU Unruh, Alexander Hacke, Mark Chung, and FM Einheit. The group’s name translates in English to “Collapsing New Buildings.” The name is a reference to the “new,” cheaper, weaker post-war buildings that were constructed across the country.
It was under this initial line-up that the group released six albums: Kollaps, Zeichnungen des Patienten O.T., Halber Mensch, Fünf auf der nach oben offenen Richterskala, Haus der Lüge, Tabula Rasa, and Ende Neu. The albums are noisy experiments that can be melodic at the most unexpected of times. The title track from Halber Mensch, for example, features ghostly chanting while “Morning Dew” (from 1987’s Fünf auf der nach oben offenen Richterskala) is delicate but edgy. (“Morning Dew” is actually of cover of folk singer Bonnie Dobson although it was the Grateful Dead who popularized the song.)
A “New” Neubauten
Around the mid-1990s, Neubauten’s lineup had a few changes. Chung and Einheit left, making way in 1997 for what would become, seemingly, the permanent lineup which still exists today. Bargeld, Unruh, Hacke, plus guitarist Jochen Arbeit and percussionist Rudolf Moser.
Since then, the group has released four full-length albums: Silence is Sexy, Perpetuum Mobile, Alles wieder offen, as well as the World War I concept album Lament. The “new” Neubauten is perhaps less noisy than the original, but the focus and rejection of rules is still alive and well. They even have a greatest hits album!
While not all of Neubauten’s lyrics are in German, a significant portion of them are. Bargeld’s lyrics are like poetry matched only by his trademark piercing scream that is, in a way, an instrument itself.
While Hacke generally can be found behind a bass guitar and Arbeit with an electric guitar, that’s about all that’s “normal” with Neubauten’s instrumentation. The band frequently utilize instruments of their own making, whether that be using a plastic barrel or plastic gas cans. Moser’s drum kit, in particular, features sheet metal “drums,” pieces of cut aluminum suspended like cymbals on stands, and an electrified spring. On Lament, Hacke transforms crutches into a musical instrument while Moser performs on (empty) ammunition shells.
Another staple of the band’s toolbox is a jet turbine which they play (carefully) as it spins with wooden or metal drumsticks for a unique and special sound. Listening to Neubauten’s music is fascinating but watching them transform these ordinary objects into some musical is captivating.
The Supporter Project
Long before crowdfunding was a household word, Neubauten were pioneers in the concept. In the early 2000s, eschewing support of a traditional record label, the band turned to their fans. The supporter project allows fans access to the band through their creative process. Supporters had access to benefits like webcasts and a web forum. Just this spring, the band rebooted the supporter project and are currently working on new material. I know I’ve been enjoying and looking forward to each webcast!
Looking for another Ohrwurm to help you learn German? Check out previously featured musicians and bands!
Photo by Mote Sinabel. This post contains affiliate links.
German filmmaker Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck is a unique case. His debut full-length feature film won countless awards internationally, including an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. With the acclaim, came Hollywood and off he went. Where some filmmakers are prolific, Donnersmarck is far more selective. So this month, let’s get to know Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck and practice German with film!
Perhaps there’s no more consistent musician than MC Fitti. With his baseball cap, sunglasses, and a bushy beard, the rapper is instantly recognizable. It’s a hip hop uniform of sorts. Much like his image, Fitti’s music is similarly constant: easy going and laid back party anthems matched with colorful music videos that are graphic and silly. He isn’t pondering any deep or serious philosophical issues with his music. But, as the saying goes, he’s laughing all the way to the bank. This month, let’s learn German with the music of rapper MC Fitti!
Actress Miriam Stein is barely in her 30s but she already has more than two dozen acting credits to her name. Famous for her award-winning performances on both television and film, Stein can move audiences in dramas or comedies. So this month, let’s get to know Miriam Stein and practice German with film!
Ordinarily, you do not associate adjectives such as visual, colorful, and physical with music. Or, at least, not initially. But the women of Berlin pop group Laing are as much a visual performance as they are a musical group for your ears. The group’s videos are humorous, tongue-in-cheek, and carefully crafted. Their music, meanwhile, is just as thoughtfully created with a light and easygoing feel but it is no laughing matter! So this month let’s learning German with the music of pop group Laing!
From writing to directing, Till Franzen does a little bit of it all. The filmmaker has worked in both film and television, bringing to life tales of mystery, intrigue, and family dramas. Franzen’s serial thrillers keep viewers tuning in. Get to know Franzen better and practice the German language with film!
It’s difficult to write about an artist (of any kind: from the performing arts to music and everything in between) without making comparisons. But for Berlin rapper Prinz Pi, it is not so straightforward. Sure, every artist has their own style but it seems a little more difficult to put Prinz Pi in a stylistic box. It is likely better that you listen to his music and make the decision for yourself. So this month I am highlighting Prinz Pi for learning German with music!
There is nothing the music industry and its audience love more than a singer who goes by a single name. Cher! Madonna! Prince! German singer Lary fits into that category but she does it on her own terms, just likes those other veritable one name juggernauts. Labeling Lary a “popstar” seems accurate but probably gives the wrong impression. This is not your run of the mill bubblegum pop music. Lary is dark and sultry, strong and gritty. Are you intrigued yet to find out and hear more? This month, let’s practice German with the music of pop R&B singer Lary.
With roles like Ronnie, the gangster who is after Moritz Bleibtreu‘s Manni in 1998’s Run Lola Run, and as a leader in an alt-right political party on the second season of television series Berlin Station, you may already be familiar with Heino Ferch. But there are many major roles in German-speaking films and television productions starring Ferch. This month, let’s learn German with the films of Heino Ferch!
In 2013, Vienna, Austria’s Bilderbuch burst onto the music scene with their instantly catchy, remarkably memorable track “Maschin.” It was the band‘s performance of that very track on German television that first caught my attention and helped make them one of my favorite bands (German language or otherwise). But the band aren’t new; in fact, the four-piece released their debut album (Nelken & Schillinge) a decade ago in 2009. For anyone looking to learn German with music, Bilderbuch is a great choice. Their music is fun, infectious, and smart. This month, let’s learn German with the music of Bilderbuch!
Get to Know Austrian Band Bilderbuch
Bilderbuch dates to 2005, when Maurice Ernst (vocals, guitar), Peter Horazdovsky (bass), Andreas Födinger (drums), and Klemens Kranawetter (guitar) formed the band as teenagers. Kranawetter and then Födinger later left the band. Guitarist extraordinaire Michael Krammer, with his Keith Richards-like swagger, joined Ernst and Horazdovsky in 2008 while four years later drummer Philipp “Pille” Scheibl came on board.
Bilderbuch are most simply described as a rock band, but that’s an oversimplification. The band’s earliest records — 2009’s Nelken & Schillinge and 2011’s Die Pest im Piemont — are largely indie rock records. Singles like “Calypso” and, in particular, “Kopf ab” are speeding rock tracks while “Ein Boot für uns” captures attention with its disjointed rhythm and chanting chorus.
By 2013, now older and with the addition of Pille, the band began going in a slightly different direction. That year the band released the EP Feinste Seide as a sort of teaser. The six-track recording shows the band branching out. The title track sees Ernst, confident and full of bravado, essentially rapping. But it was “Maschin,” and its music video, that really shot Bilderbuch onto the German language music scene. A mix of electronics and guitars, the track is unforgettable with its catchy chorus.
By this point, guitar-led indie rock was no longer the right description for Bilderbuch. Now the band is experimental, adventurous, and intentionally artsy. They’re here to party, but there is a focus and a goal, too.
Using the momentum from their Feinste Seide EP, Bilderbuch’s next release was the album Schick Shock from 2015. The album went to number one in their native Austria and broke the top 15 in Germany. It saw the return of favorites like “Maschin” as well as somewhat new tracks pushing the limits like “OM” and “Willkommen im Dschungel.” Two years later, the band followed it up with the album Magic Life. The recording picks up where Schick Shock left off. It’s fun, sometimes exaggerated but never taking itself too seriously. Ernst himself exudes the confidence, spirit, and energy of Bowie, Falco, and Prince.
No one could ever accuse Bilderbuch of being unambitious. And with the release of two albums, only months apart in late 2018 and early 2019, Bilderbuch has made it clear they’re here to stay. In December the group put out mea culpa while in February they released the psychedelic-leaning Vernissage My Heart. Bilderbuch is still progressing with their sound but at their core, they’re still the same band. Singles like “LED go” are sure to get stuck in your head while the music video, which brings a group of billiard balls to life, has the humorous take you’d expect from the band. Elsewhere Bilderbuch continues to challenge fans and push themselves with tracks like the memorable falsetto of “Frisbee.”
And never shy about making a thought-provoking statement, the band recently embarked on Europa 22, a website allowing fans to create a virtual EU passport for “a life without borders.” Encouraging fans to share their passport on social media, the campaign was a huge success seeing not just young fans but also politicians participating.
With six albums under their belts, countless singles, and music videos, there’s never been a better time to familiarize yourself with Bilderbuch. And why not learn German, too, while you’re at it?
Looking for another Ohrwurm to help you learn German? Check out previously featured musicians and bands!
Photo by Hendrik-Schneider. This post contains affiliate links.