Polish Bands in the GDR

The rock group "Rote Gitarren"; 1980 in East Berlin
The rock group "Rote Gitarren"; 1980 in East Berlin Back (l. to r.): Bernard Dornowski (guitar, vocals), Seweryn Krajewski (keyboard, guitar, vocals), Jan Pospieszalski (bass guitar, vocals). Front: Jerzy Skrzypczyk (drums, vocals).

In 1970 the band “Czerwone Gitary” (Red Guitars) gave their first concert in the GDR. One year previously, in January 1969, they had been awarded a prize for the bestselling LP in Poland at the “Midem” in Cannes, at that time the largest music fair in the world. (The Beatles were awarded the prize in the same year for their bestselling record in Great Britain.) The prize for the “Red Guitars” also made them a name in the GDR. In 1970 the GDR label AMIGA brought out their LP “Warszawa”. The cover was simultaneously a sort of birth certificate in Germany, for next to the name “Czerwone Gitary” was the German translation of the name of the band “Rote Gitarren” in large letters.

From then onwards the rock and pop music group appeared under the name “Rote Gitarren” in German-speaking countries. It was not long before they became stars in the GDR. Soon they were singing in German. It was a real piece of luck for the band that they were able to work with the songwriter Ingeburg Branoner, whose brilliant German translations of the Polish texts made them eminently singable. The AMIGA label placed great value on correct pronunciation and insisted that the musicians practice German phonetics. This was not easy even though it proved worthwhile in the end. After the success of their album “Warszawa”. ALBA brought out the next “Roten Gitarren” album just one year later in 1971. The disc was called “Consuela” and was in German. The musicians were enthusiastically greeted by their German fans. Their concerts were sell-outs and the band was a popular act in GDR television. Twice in succession the “Roten Gitarren” won the main prize in the show “Once Year”, a cult programme in the GDR – in 1970 with the song “The Mountains and Woods are Burning” (Płoną góry, płoną lasy) and in 1973 with “White Boat” (Trzecia miłość - żagle). This song was to become one of the band’s best-known songs and a “must” at every show.

Along with the album “Rote Gitarren” (AMIGA 1978) the band sold over a million records and cassettes in the GDR in the 1970s and early 1980s. In the 80s, however, things quietened down around the band, at least in the GDR, but in Poland they remained as active and creative as before. That said, the alleged closeness of some of the musicians to Lech Wałęsa and Solidarność caused the staff of the GDR artists’ agency to call upon the Polish artists’ agency to prevent any future recordings by the “Rote Gitarren” from being released in the GDR. Since 1957 the state agency “Pagart” had been managing all Polish artists, handling all contracts, determining fees, and also deciding which artists would be allowed to play abroad. Without the backing of “Pagart” it was impossible for Polish musicians to have an international career. And if you fell out of favour with “Pagart” you soon came under fire in Poland. There was a similar agency in the GDR called “The GDR Artists’ Agency”. Both agencies were still collaborating in the 1990s until they finally collapsed with the dissolution of “real existing Socialism”.

Although the GDR ceased to exist after the fall of the Wall the “Red Guitars” continued to flourish. Even when the singer Seweryn Krajewski left the band they still remained a major force in Poland because they found a worthy successor in Mieczysław Wądołowski, and succeeded in revitalising themselves. In Germany the band remained as active as ever, as shown by the sell-out concerts in the East. In 1996 their album “The best of” (Wodini / BuschFunk) was issued in Germany. This was followed in 2005 by “The Major Successes” (Sechzehnzehn / BuschFunk), in 2009 by “White Boat -  their Greatest Hits” and once more in 2009 their first album with new songs in German, called “Lost Heart”

Media library
  • 01 Die Rockgruppe Rote Gitarren

    Die Rockgruppe Rote Gitarren aus dem Jahr 1980 in Berlin (Ost).
  • 02 Die Rockgruppe Rote Gitarren

    Die Rockgruppe Rote Gitarren aus dem Jahr 1980 in Berlin (Ost).
  • Rote Gitarren - Hörspiel von "COSMO Radio po polsku"

    In Zusammenarbeit mit "COSMO Radio po polsku" präsentieren wir Hörspiele zu ausgewählten Themen unseres Portals.