It was the early in the summer of ’12. I had just accepted a position at the Interlochen Arts Academy in northern Michigan, and was hanging out in the US for a few weeks before traveling to South America. One of those nights, while waiting to fall asleep on my good friends Juanita and Jerome Wiley’s couch (they are siblings!) in Arlington, Virginia, I started looking at the top German charts. I do this from time to time, having lived in Germany for a year when I was 7 years old (TCKs and their strange connections, right?!). And at the top of the charts was Die Toten Hosen’s “Tage Wie Diese“. As any good TCK would, I clicked on the YouTube link and immediately fell in love with this human-feel-good-anthem. After listening to it 12 times in a row, I began the exploration of their entire catalog. And what I found was nothing short of outstanding.
I spent that summer in South America listening to them as I reflected on major changes in my life. Not only was their music inspiring and well-put together, but their lyrics are also reflective and speak to the human condition. I know, not everyone speaks German, but that is what Google Translate is for!
They started out as an amateur punk rock outfit back in 1982. The band hails from Düsseldorf, which makes me feel even more connected to them as I lived in Krefeld, which is just 20 km from Düsseldorf. In the weekends, my parents would take the autobahn there and force me to watch another Bollywood film with them. I also became a fan of Fortuna Düsseldorf, even though they play in the Bundesliga2 (second tier of the German football pyramid). Which is why when people ask me what my favorite German team is, they are somewhat surprised that I am not spouting off Bayern or Borussia Dortmund. I’ve never understood people rooting for teams they have no connection to, but that is another essay I will write someday. For now, lets return to Die Toten Hosen (which means “The Dead Pants”, slang in German for boring or nothing happening).
So after starting out in the early 80’s, it was in the 90’s that you saw a true maturation of their music. Great hits followed, such as Steh Auf, and Kein Alkohol. Yes another band that aged well, but what would make them stand out? I think that for us TCKs a good band isn’t just one that plays good music (that never hurts, though!), but one that also stands for something. And Die Toten Hosen isn’t just involved in social issues, but they have also always stood up against xenophobia and racism. They have never been afraid to call out skinheads and criticize them.
They have even taken issue with bands like Rammstein for never speaking up, but instead being quasi-racist and (why mince words?) somewhat fascist. Rammstein, of course, denies all of this and claim have repeatedly claimed that they are not Nazis, even though many critics find their attitudes in line with the Neo-Nazi movements. I am not saying that people should not listen to Rammstein; what we listen to is our own business, but as for me I’d rather listen to music created by people who’s values are at least somewhat in line with my own. For the record, I do own Rammstein’s “Du Has” (single), which I bought years ago on iTunes.
In stark contrast to this, Die Toten Hosen’s Wilkommen in Deutschland (literally “Welcome in Germany”) is an anthem that condemns racism and xenophobia while making an all-call to Germans to reflect upon their own views and be not just a “tolerant”, but to truly welcome those who have immigrated from abroad as they will someday become Germans as well. This stands in stark contrast (again) with Rammstein who have publicly declared that they have no desire to stand up for the rights of anyone. At the end of the day, all Rammstein cares about is selling more records by shocking you with songs about racism, incest, necrophilia, sadomasochism, sexual violence and cannibalism. Shock sells. Doing the right thing may not. Die Toten Hosen lost a lot of fans by standing up against xenophobia, but at the end of the day it is clear to see that they have values that matter, and that they are a band that should always be welcome in the TCK and Global Nomad community.