Jeff Hayton, "Culture from the Slums: Punk Rock in East and West Germany" (Oxford UP, 2022)

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Jeff Hayton's book Culture from the Slums: Punk Rock in East and West Germany (Oxford UP, 2022) is a cultural history of punk in Germany. The manuscript tracks “the advent and growth of punk in divided Germany during the 1970s and 1980s, and the social and political responses to the subculture” (23). These decades witnessed an explosion of alternative culture across divided Germany, and punk was a critical constituent of this movement. For young Germans at the time, punk appealed to those gravitating toward individual and cultural experimentation rooted in notions of authenticity—endeavors considered to be more “real” and “genuine.” Punk, however, was a foreign import and the way Germans in both East and West adapted it to their own local needs, and the divergent, yet surprisingly connected history of punk in both Germanies tell us much about German history and society in the 1980s. Culture from the Slums makes two broad claims. First, Hayton argues “punk was a medium for alternative living and a motor for social change.” (8) Much more than simply a waypoint on the narrative of progress that supposedly led from 1968 towards unification and beyond, it was an important social and musical movement. Second, through a comparative analysis of the subculture, Hayton argues that punk helps explain why West Germany flourished and why East Germany collapsed.

Punk by the 1980s ceased to function as an instrument of difference in the west as it entered the mainstream, but the DDR never was able to control punk. Hayton examines the roles which punk played in German politics, society, and culture, and how German contexts transformed punk. Put differently: this study is about punk in Germany, and Germany in punk” (9) Culture from the Slums suggests that the ideas, practices, and communities which came out of Punk transformed both German societies along more diverse and ultimately democratic lines. The book is an important contribution to the growing scholarship of punk, which so far has been overwhelmingly focused on Anglo-American developments. Using a wealth of previously untapped archival documentation, the book integrates punk culture and music subculture into broader narratives of postwar inquiry and explains how punk rock shaped a divided Germany in the 1970s and 1980s.

Ran Zwigenberg is an associate professor at Pennsylvania State University.

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