1968 in West Germany
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Introduction to 1968
The why of the events happening in 1968 has been debated over the past years. Several individual building blocks came together that year. One is that Europe had to do with an unusual surge in births after WW2, creating a large age demographic that were teenagers by the time 1960 came knocking. Second was the new awareness that for the parents the happiness of their children was important to others. Also the lowering of the threshold for a higher (public) education (Universities became accesable for much larger group) played a part. Technical innovations also were of influence. TV formed a window to the World previous generations did not have. TV also brought events like the Vietnam War and public events like the Civil Rights March to the living room. Cheap recordplayers offered the opportunity for musical artists to reach out to an enormous audience. Add that to growing unemployment and economical difficulties and you’ll have the ingredients for revolution

What was it all about in West Germany

Somewhere around 1965 German students realized that the Wirtschaftwunder had an ending. They started to turn against the, in their eyes, authoritarianism and hypocrisy of the German government added with dealing with Germany's and their parents' National Socialist past and open critique against the the horrible conditions in the Third World, especcially the war in Vietnam. The German Emergency Acts, which would allow the government to limit civil rights in the case of an emergency (meaning restrict freedom of movement and to limit privacy and confidentiality of telecommunications correspondence) were the trigger for students to start protesting in 1966. Demonstrations, sit-ins and other protest actions were arranged by the students and their organizations (e.g. the Sozialistischer Deutscher Studentenbund or SDS with Rudi Dutschke as prominent spokesman). The governement over-reacted with financial threats and police force. In Berlin a group within the SDS started a politically-motivated commune. They believed the nuclear family was the cause for fascism and therefore a commune where men and women live in independence of each other so that could develop freely as people was the solution. And so in January 1967 Kommune 1 (with 9 persons) was a fact. On June 2, 1967 the conflict with the state would finally escalate. Students had organized demonstrations against the official visit by the Shah of Iran. In their opinion, the German government was demonstrating a positive attitude towards a dictatorial government that was suppressing and torturing its own people. During the first demonstration in front of the Opera House, which the Shah was visiting, the police of Berlin and the Iranian service attacked the protestors. In the turmoil, the unarmed student Benno Ohnesorg was killed. The spirit of the students in Berlin spread across the whole country. In autumn 1967 there were organized protest groups at nearly all universities in Germany. In the following months some of the largest and most brutal demonstrations in the history of the German republic happened. At Easter 1968, there was an attempted assassination on Rudi Dutschke who was dubbed public enemy by the newspaper Bild. Outraged the revolt against the government reached its climax in May 1968. Students, schoolchildren and members of workers' unions formed a group of 80,000 people who demonstrated in the capital Bonn against the emergency legislature. Without much result, the law passed the Bundestag later that month.

The impact in music

Inspired by the Kommune 1 ideas the brothers Ulrich and Peter Leopold began their own radical political art commune in Munich. The commune had a very liberal attitude to artistic freedom and named themselves Amon Düül (Partly after the Egyptian Sun God Amon and partly after the Turkish fictive character Düül). The band’s final act was at the Internationale Essener Song-Tage (IEST). This manifestation (losely based on the Monterey festival) was held in Essen from 25 to 29 September 1968. It was not designed primarily as a pop festival, but also incorporated schlager, folk music, political songs, but also cabaret and mixed media events as cultural forms of social reality of the present Federal Republic. It was Europe’s first big festival and, in retrospect, is largely considered the birth of independent German rock music. As said it turned out to be Amon Düül’s swansong, Peter based Amon Düül II just prior to it. Other young German acts performing there were Guru Guru and Tangerine Dream (amongst others). But from there on the acts sprung up everywhere. In Berlin Hans-Joachim Roedelius and Conrad Schnitzler based the Zodiak Free Arts Lab which would play a key role in the development of the Kosmische Musik scène (read our feature on 'the history of electronic music in Europe' for more info). The music was fusion of jazz, free-jazz, rock, psychedelia and the electronic avant-garde and partly also sung in German. Bands like Can, Popol Vuh, Tangerine Dream, Faust, Ash Ra Tempel and Kraftwerk are amongst the more well-known of the many that originate in this timeframe. In the UK the scène was picked up by the New Musical Express and Melody Maker and dubbed ‘Krautrock’ inspired by a track by Amon Düül called ‘Mama Düül und Ihre Sauerkrautband Spielt Auf’. In Germany the bands felt pigeon-holed and tended to eschew the term. .

What happened next?

Although the students failed in their initial ideas the effects of the student movement can still be traced in current Germany. The upcoming for the Green party is one of the most obvious. Environmentalism and anti-nationalism became fundamental values among left-wing Germans. In 1979 the Greens were able to reach the 5% minimum required to obtain parliamentary seats in the Bremen state election, and with the foundation of the national party in 1980 developed into one of the most politically successful green movements in the world.
Another side effect of the student movement was the emancipation of women in Germany. Through their political work women came to the opinion that they were being suppressed by a patriarchal society and that they thus had to change this condition. A more violent result was the founding of the Rote Armee Fraktion (RAF) which was active from 1968, carrying out a succession of terrorist attacks in West Germany during the 1970s. Even in the 1990s attacks were still being committed under the name "RAF". The last action took place in 1993 and in 1998 the group announced it was giving up its activities.

Musically the foundations lain in the late sixties turned to be of invaluable influence to the Continental European (prog)rockscene. In larger sense the German music scene evolved during the seventies with it's own signature, mixing rock, schlager, jazz and pop.. Main character in that would be Udo Lindenberg. He in return was coached by jazzrock artist Klaus Doldinger (Udo played drums in Doldinger's band Passport in 1971) to start recording in German. And Doldinger in return hung around Munich in the late sixties when Amon Düül was doing it's thing. Linderberg's example would soon be followed by other artists like Rio Reiser.