Terrorism and krautrock in postwar Germany

by Christos Minos

Translation: Alexandros Mantas

At the end of the 1960s Germany was meant to be shocked by the activity of the far-left group of RAF and the way of the German perception about rock music, in other words the legendary krautrock. Many people think that a revolutionary era gives birth to music that belongs to it. The intention of this article is not to link arbitrarily terrorism to music. Even though the best part of the krautrock musicians came from leftwing backgrounds, they had absolutely nothing to do with the violence that RAF exerted, but it is no coincidence that the golden era of krautrock coincides with the most turbulent period of the modern German history. Even though Amon Düül II that are presented below were linked in various ways with RAF, they had nothing to do with armed violence, after all the bond between the two of them has been blown out of proportion. The intention then is to highlight the shades of a turbulent era which was linked like no other in the 20th century with the chimerical visions of the –granted, vague- “to-change this-world” motto.

West Germany at the fall of the 1960s

In the prosperous W. Germany of the 1960s, the memory of Nazism and its crimes that cannot be simply swept under the carpet seemed to begin to fade by the older generations that were now in accord with the over-consuming lifestyle and they were keen on detaching themselves from war’s notorious past. The American way of life, which had taken hold of the German society, had diverted the interest of the majority of the people from politics and matters of ideology.

The arrest of the ill-famed Eichmann and his trial in Israel brought back to the fore the atrocity of the Holocaust and the Nazi crimes. Intellectuals, including Grass and Xambermas, revealed through their works the wounds that Nazism inflicted on the body of the German society. More radical ones would discern the phenomenon of selective memory in the entire Bonn Republic: a western capitalist establishment that cultivated indifference towards the history of the nation to ensure its affluence via consumerism, going hand-in-hand with the USA, as well as the anti-communist hatred. Mai_68_debut_d'une_lutte_prolongeeThey also held the view that the Left had been cast out by an authoritarian regime that was hostile towards any ideological premise that could potentially undermine the ostensible prosperity of its citizens, usually by targeting people with “dangerous” ideas. The appointment of Georg Kiesinger (a former member of the Nazi party) as a Chancellor added to the fear that spoke of shameless cynicism from the German democracy which was not yet done with its Nazi past, since the state apparatus was manned by a number of ex-Nazis.

During the same time, the world was suffering from incidents that would make their mark on contemporary history. The Vietnam War would smear the image of America, lifting off the liberal cloak that draped it. The guerilla leader Ernesto “Che” Guevara was murdered in Bolivia. The French May of 1968 would turn out to be a milestone for the European youth and the riots from the students would spark the outbreak of European youth against an aged regime. The same year, the Prague Spring would be tainted by the Soviet invasion.

In the wake of these events, the young people of Germany would finally get motivated, especially the students who would try to channel protest into creativity: they would either become active in the political arena or they would engage themselves in arts and rock music or they would turn to the armed fight, resorting with no second thought to violence in order to pursue their revolutionary visions.

The Baader Meinhof Complex

On October 18, 1977 the German authorities announce the death of Andreas Baader, Jan-Carl Raspe and Gudrun Ensslin who were imprisoned with charges of terrorism offences and were kept in the so-called white cells in the prison of Stammheim. Their death was concluded as suicide. Irmgard Möller, who was the only survivor from the suicides of that night, disputed the findings of the authorities (according to which she tried to put an end to her life by using a knife). The existence of many blank spots in the case (like where did they get the guns from to carry out the suicide pact) rouse complaints whose target was the German state as the responsible for the death of the masterminds of the organization. Just like Meinhof’s death two years before, whose suicide left many questions unanswered, most of the people made mention of a vindictive stance from the state whose intention was to wipe out these dangerous disturbers of the civil peace.


During the 1960s, riots broke out in West Berlin including an attack at the American Embassy. The young students began to form political entities, just like Kommune 1 which was created in West Berlin and it would not take too long to show its nonconformist disposition by issuing a proclamation applauding the attack at a mall in Belgium that claimed many lives, urging the Germans to do the same (the German justice took exception to this and sued them, but everyone was declared innocent). The situation came to a head when Rudi Dutschke (a short-lived member of Kommune 1), a vehement supporter of the student movement, was nearly killed by the mentally defective Nazi sympathizer Josef Bachmann. Raging protests broke out anew and Meinhof called people to resist through the column of her magazine. A week before, Baader, Ensslin and two other people had set a department store in Frankfurt on fire and they were arrested shortly after.

Baader, who had violated his probation, was arrested and imprisoned anew. Meinhof, who had resigned from the magazine she was working at, would assist him to escape, an act that would change her life for ever. To this day, psychologists and censors of public life have attempted to put their finger on how an acknowledged journalist of the left and mother of two children was converted to an active member of RAF. Not long after that, the manifesto (a fiery denunciation of capitalism and imperialism) of the group was issued where its name was announced: Red Army Faction and its acronym RAF. Both nod to the nightmarish enemies of Nazi Germany, namely the British RAF that raided mercilessly the German cities and the Red Army that crashed the German one.

Influenced by Che (whose tactic was to give fights mainly in the countryside), they would seek to take the armed revolutionary fight to the urban centres, provided that they would inspire other revolutionary groups with their enterprises. They believed that the conditions were rife for the fall of capitalism in a western country and its collapse would be sped up if they coordinated (at the same time, the Red Brigades were formed in Italy that would follow a similar tactic). Bank robberies, policemen’s murders, bomb attacks… RAF was denting the peace in West Germany and the authorities intensified the investigations. Horst Herold, who was responsible to track down and terminate RAF, aided by technology began to amass a huge volume of data, intruding the private life of thousands of civilians until he achieved his goal: the arrest of Baadar, Meinhof and other members of the group. During the presidency of the social democrat Willy Brandt, a decree was issued that forbade people who were considered to have radical views, especially if they were members of such parties, to work as civil servants.

Ο Jean-Paul Sartre επισκέπτεται τον Andreas Baader
Jean-Paul Sartre visits Andreas Baader

When they were transported to the infamous cells of Stammheim, they went through tortures similar to these displayed in The Clockwork Orange according to their lawyers. They went on hunger strikes. At the same time, the Munich Massacre (where eleven Israeli athletes were killed) which was conducted by the Palestinian group Black September, was associated with RAF. Also, due to the prison conditions, it was decided to call upon a popular person, the intellectual Jean-Paul Sartre to step in and meet Baader in order to get across the demands of the prisoners to the wide public. The meeting illustrated the unbridged gap between the young Baader who was making up for the theoretical gaps in his mind with action and the aged philosopher who was in disagreement with the practices of the group, their hoary demands and, above all, the violence that was not befitting to the German left. Sartre’s stance was in step with the official line of the left which was keeping its distance from RAF, denouncing its actions, which was a mutual feeling after all if we consider the fact that the members of RAF were skeptical of the radicalism that the communist parties demonstrated, which since they were consumed by the system were not proponents of its toppling.

The trial of the members began amidst protests and was turned into a daily parody due to the attitude of the accused who were mocking the judges and were insisting on better living conditions. Meinhof committed suicide under ambiguous circumstances and the morale of the prisoners was constantly waning.


The kidnapping of Hanns Martin Schleyer, an executive of Daimler-Benz, inaugurated the “German Autumn” with the kidnappers, members of RAF, asking for the release of their imprisoned comrades. After numerous turnarounds of the authorities, the dead body of the kidnapped was found in a deserted car. An even more impressive attempt of claiming back the prisoners followed up by hijacking a Lufthansa airplane with the demand of exchanging the hostages with the prisoners in Stammheim. After a brief odyssey the hijacking came to an end with the release of the hostages and the death of three hijackers (only Souhaila Andrawes survived) as a result of the raid of the German Federal Police. The same night, the three remaining members of RAF “committed suicide”…

After the death of the three founding members, RAF was regrouped and carried on its operations which were fizzling out with the passage of time until the fall of the Soviet Union (sources speak of clandestine funding of the organization from the USSR). On April 13th, 1992 an out-of-character communiqué was sent to Agence France-Presse office in Bonn, announcing the denunciation of violence in return to the release of the prisoners of RAF. Some sporadic attacks that followed up are held as the lingering swan song of RAF and terror over Europe.

The krautrock of Amon Düül II

In the beginning of the 1960s, the American culture swept over W. Germany which was caught in the middle between the famous consumer goods and the cultural product of rock n’ roll which was instantly embraced.

A special case was the rock band Monks, one of the very first of the country which was formed by soldiers of an American base that released one and only album entitled Black Μonk Τime which shocked the audience. It featured primitive and harsh garage rock that was shifting effortlessly through various rhythms, ending up sounding wacky for the time. The fact that the Americans were well aware that it was unlikely that their music would cross the borders of the country they were living in, liberated them from compromises of any kind. Unwilling to give in to the formulas of the time, they opted to go against the grain and their lyrics, when they made any sense, were genuinely biting against their own country. The impact of his cult album, thanks to its anti-conformist attitude, would influence heavily a musical genre that would come into being a few years later: krautrock.

At the time, the genius German composer Stockhausen was on the crest of his wave having earned respect from many directions for his radical outings. rx_a_LIFO_Stockhausen_1The album Kontanke which was released in 1960 took everyone by storm with its unprecedented electronic sounds (seven solid years before synthesizer arrived on the scene). The groundbreaking Hymnen would also be a huge source of influence and inspiration and would establish him as the mentor of a number of German musicians. The decision of this great musician to give lectures about experimental music in the USA which were attended by bands like Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane, and the fact that he in return would attend a gig of the latter, for which he pronounced himself impressed, made many soon-to-be krautock musicians, who not long before thumbed their nose at rock, to reevaluate. Irmin Schmidt and Holger Czukay, students of Stockhausen, would form Can along with Michael Karoli, guitarist and student of the latter who riveted him with his rendition of I Am The Warlus. Another event that stirred the elite and rock became acceptable was Lennon’s marriage to the artist Yoko Ono whose work was very appealing to the intellectual youths (The Beatles had played live in Hamburg in 1965 electrifying the audience).

At the end of the 1960s the rock music was marching through West Germany as native bands began to imitate foreign ones, achieving quite a success. In stark contrast to this success, there was a musical tendency that was not keen on being defined by what was happening abroad, instead the search of new forms of expression and the development of a distinctive style was the priority in this turbulent world. The events of 1968 added up to the cry of a new future, not only with regard to music, but the world as a whole. The same year the Essener Sontag Festival, a massive rock music festival, took place which included Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention and Ed Sanders in the bill that would influence drastically the krautrock musicians. At the same festival would also play a band that went under the name of Amon Düül and, to the surprise of the promoters, when the day of the gig had come, they announced the split of the band in two groups: the first one would preserve the name Amon Düül and the second one would simply tag the number II to the original monicker. Odd choices for an uncommonly odd group…

To begin with, the unusual name is a combination of the Egyptian deity Amon (or Amun, Amun-Ra) and an element called Dyl borrowed from the self-created mythology of The Ceyleib People in their album Tanyet (a psychedelic band whose influence on krautock was immense) and which was formed into the German-sounding Düül. Amon Düül were a commune based in Munich in accord with the zeitgeist of the times. The band consisted of grown-ups (and, occasionally, their children), restless artistically and, above all, politically aware, with their mind set to reject the typical patriarchal family structure and live collectively in a totally free environment. They were on intimate terms with the corresponding commune of Berlin, out of which would emerge members of RAF which, as we are about to see, would breathe down Amon Düül’s neck in various ways. In the context of the glorification of absolute freedom that permeated the commune, all of its members with no exception would, if they knew how to play music, participate in musical events and free gigs. This, by default, lack of professionalism, as well as the regime of joint ownership that was in force would result in the departure of the musicians that meant business (Chris Carter was the first to leave and form Amon Düül II that would overshadow the other Düül).

Amon DuulThe original Amon Düül group released the album Psychedelic Underground in 1969 and legend has it that it was recorded within a two-day bender, which makes absolute sense to anyone who has listened to it: a psychedelic orgy whose cohesion is not its strength. The same legend goes that within these two days the material for the two subsequent albums was conceived! The term krautrock was floated due to this album with the strange song titles. Coined by British music journalists who based on the title Mama Düül und Ihre Sauerkrautband Spielt Auf christened this sound krautrock (the word kraut was a term for a German soldier for the two world wars). This label was considered as disparaging by the German musicians and totally out of place with the revolution that this music was brewing (Faust’s option to release a tune entitled krautrock is ironical). After the seventies, the term faded into oblivion. Krautock was incorporated and dissolved in progressive rock until Julian Cope published the book Krautrocksampler in 1995 reviving and absolving it of its negative connotations.

Musicians themselves were leaning towards the term “kosmische musik”, thought up by Edgar Froese of Tangerine Dream which was bang on the button illustrating the spirit of this music and the people who gave birth to it. The idealism of the time was imbuing the youths with lofty ideas, to change the world with the only weapon in their possession: music. Undoubtedly, the term krautrock falls short of describing a movement that spawned revolutionary bands which were so different from one another: From Amon Düül II to Can to Tangerine Dream and Kraftwerk. This movement did not simply contribute to the renaissance of rock exclusively.Phallus Dei The insatiable longing for experimentation provided a new perception for music as a whole.

Amon Düül II also released their debut album Phallus Dei in 1969 via Atlantic Records. Having delved into the style of Pink Floyd and Jefferson Airplane, the band produced an inconceivable psychedelic album, mystical and strangely overwhelming because of its avant-garde aesthetic. Otherworldly male vocals singing in German, incredible guitar jamming, folk melodies (thanks to Chris Karrer’s violin), sitar tinges and astonishing drumming (there are guest appearances from Christian Burchard and Holger Trülzsch of Embryo and Popol Vuh respectively). The title-tack “Phallus of God” (what a title!) stands out as the best piece: a psychedelic Dionysian hymn where the quirky noises in the intro don’t give an inkling of the guitar orgy that segues into an enticing tribal rhythm and the melodies of the violin with ethereal female vocals round off the album majestically. A genuine epic!

Amon Düül II also released their debut album Phallus Dei in 1969 via Atlantic Records. Having delved into the style of Pink Floyd and Jefferson Airplane, the band produced an inconceivable psychedelic album, mystical and strangely overwhelming because of its avant-garde aesthetic. Otherworldly male vocals singing in German, incredible guitar jamming, folk melodies (thanks to Chris Karrer’s violin), sitar tinges and astonishing drumming (there are guest appearances from Christian Burchard and Holger Trülzsch of Embryo and Popol Vuh respectively). The title-tack “Phallus of God” (what a title!) stands out as the best piece: a psychedelic Dionysian hymn where the quirky noises in the intro don’t give an inkling of the guitar orgy that segues into an enticing tribal rhythm and the melodies of the violin with ethereal female vocals round off the album majestically. A genuine epic!


Yet Amon Düül II were still plagued by exogenous agents. While the band members carried on living in a commune, they kept on attracting people that were related to RAF. Renate Knaup said that the police raided once their place. They had information that a member of RAF was currently in the house who, according to Renate, had no involvement with the organization, he merely maintained a relationship with a girl who belonged to RAF. She stated that Bader and Meinhof sought refuge at the commune even though Chris Κarrer maintained that he hadn’t twigged who they were. Renate denied this, saying she was terrified because she would have to co-exist with two wanted individuals. Amon Düül II had never political bonds with RAF, but the police had other views on that matter and the band was always in their crosshairs. Renate also recalls that the band had paid a visit to the commune of Berlin for a gig and at some point the police raided the building infuriating the band and the audience.

To return to the music, Phallus Dei became quite a success in W. Germany but not in England where the headquarters of Atlantic were. Nevertheless, the label, which had already signed Can, didn’t stop believing in the band and continued to ladle its support and the band released their second album Yeti. The fact that the album was somewhat overdue along with the praise that Hawkwind heaped on them, declaring themselves as fans (on the heels of Yeti the bass player Dave Anderson would join them) stirred the interest for this new band. Yeti that hit the racks in 1970 justified their label and the entire underground movement embraced the album which became the cornerstone of the newly fledged krautrock. John Peel pronounced himself impressed and when he presented the album on his show, Amon Düül II became know to England.

The first thing about Yeti that leaps to the eye is its now classic cover. The artistic photo of Falk Rogner that depicts an androgynous figure brandishing a scythe which recalls the grim reaper, illustrates the spirit of the German youths: the dark past that swings torturingly over our head should be destroyed and replaced by forgotten values and new ideals. The person of the photo is Wolfgang Kriske (an old member of the commune) who two months after the photo shooting was found dead due to drug abuse. The band paid tribute to his memory and immortalized him by putting his figure on the cover.

In Yeti, Amon Düül II chose the use of English language for their songs. The traits of the band, that is the psychedelic sound, folk influences and unrestrained experimentation, are honed to perfection in this double LP, while the voice of Renate Knaup takes a more active role. The medley of Soap Rock Opera introduces the listener to the psychedelic trip the band takes them where the second part Halluzination Guillotine stands out with its transcendental solo. The band’s intention to explore various directions is evident as for instance in She Came Through the Chimey where the folk violin features or Cerberus with its ethnic rhythms or the gutsy riff-driven Archangel Thunderbird (perhaps the record’s most acknowledged song) or Eye Of Shaking King with its insane guitar work that could easily be a Hendrix’s song… Yet the crowning achievement of the album is the title-track, Yeti improvisation. Divided in three parts, this nearly 25-minute song is the epitome of komische musik, the glorification of genuine improvisation. Yeti makes you experience the spasms of the psychedelic trip that the band collectively was immersed in. Nightmarish, but simultaneously dreamy, it could be the soundtrack of a Hunter S. Thompson’s obscure book… The album is bookended by Sandoz in the Rain where they reunite with the members of Amon Düül.

After Yeti, there would be line-up changes whose impact was evident on their next album Dance of the Lemmings, an uneven album where Memorial Church stands out. Equally uneven was Carnival in Babylon. Wolf City that followed it up is probably their last essential record. The band now embraces pure prog rock, the compositions are more conventional without taking the edge off the quality of the compositions. From then on, their albums kept sliding to mediocrity that bore little resemblance to their glorious past. Their cathode course coincided with (or kicked off?) the decadence of krautrock.


Krautrock was the main reason of the revitalization of music in the 1970s, it influenced artists of the caliber of Bowie and Eno, it became the precursor of future musical genres and up to this day the word krautrock is a synonym to trailblazing. From Can and Tangerine Dream that tasted world-wide success to more obscure bands like Guru Guru or Cosmic Jokers, Amon Düül, according to Julian Cope, were the most representative band of krautrock. This assembly of the young musicians delineated like no other the “agony of post-war world”: the revolutionary point where you stand between two eras, the one of post-war euphoria and the other that questioned it. Their albums, aside their unquestionable artistic value, summarize all the dreams and hopes of their generation that are still pertinent to this day.


Tony Judt – Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945\
Mark Mazower – Dark Continent: Europe’s 20th Century
Tom Vague – Televisionaries:  The Red Army Faction Story 1963 – 1993
Julian Cope – Krautrocksampler: One Head’s Guide to the Great Kosmische Musik – 1968 Onwards
David Stubbs – Future Days: Krautrock and the Building of Modern Germany


Krautrock – The Rebirth of Germany – BBC documentary (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lnMhkkgWpG4&t=3294s)
The Baader Meinhof Complex (2008) directed by Uli Edel

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply