A singer without guardian angel

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Andreas Dresen, who is steadily building up a filmography of highly regarded independent films, in my opinion he is arguably the most talented and innovative director currently at work in Germany and has already picked up many prizes in a relatively short career. His directing credits include Cloud 8, Summer in Berlin, Grill point and Night Shapes. His film Stopped on Track premiered at the Un Certain Regard section at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival, where it won the Prize of Un Certain Regard. Dresen is known for his realistic style, which gives his films a semi-documentary feel. He works very team oriented and heavily uses improvisation. In 2013 he was a member of the jury at the 63th Berlin International film festival.

His new movie has just been released in August under title Gundermann. After reading his resume and some critics, reviews of his new work I became curious of his new film, especially because he promised to his fans that he didn’t have any East German “eastalgy” (nostalgy). However his film deals with the real life story of an East German singer and writer Gerhard Gundermann and his struggles with music, life as a coal miner and his dealings with the secret police (STASI) of the GDR.

The singer

Gerhard Gundermann, who generally performed as simply Gundi (February 21, 1955 – June 21, 1998), was a German singer-songwriter and rock musician. An excavator operator, his musical career began in the former East Germany, where he became known for his clever, often melancholy lyrics imbued with social commentary. After German reunification, he became especially popular among former East Germans who felt disenfranchised in the reunited country.

Born in Weimar, Gundermann moved with his family to Hoyerswerda in 1967. After completing his secondary education, he studied for a year at the military academy in  Löbau, but was expelled in 1975, after which he was forced to seek work in the coal mining area of the today’s Brandenburg. In 1976 he began night school, and was recruited by the East German secret police, the Stasi (codename “Grigori”). In 1977 he applied to join the ruling party, the SED, but was asked to leave the following year (after expressing contrary opinions), although this was reduced to a “strong rebuke” after he appealed. In 1983 he married Conny. The following year he was again expelled from the party and also from the Stasi.

Gundermann’s first appearances as a singer-songwriter came in 1986, and a year later he won the grand prize and a recording contract in the East German national song contest. His first LP Männer, Frauen und Maschinen (Men, Women, and Machines) appeared in 1988, but in contrast to his solo acoustic performances it was a rock record with a backing band, with up tempo numbers like “Halte durch” (Keep Up). It included an ode to his hometown, Hoyerswerda, “Hoy Woy.”

After the fall of the Berlin Wall, Gundermann ran unsuccessfully for a seat in the Volkskammer in the March 1990 elections, running for the leftist alliance Aktionsbündnis Vereinigte Linke.

Gundermann lived an ascetic lifestyle, eschewing alcohol, drugs, and smoking and was a committed vegetarian. However, he was a workaholic, and slept little; besides a full recording and performing schedule, Gundermann continued to work operating a giant excavator, digging up seams of brown coal; he was worried that his music would lose its authenticity if it became his sole way of life. Perhaps because of overwork, Gundermann died of a stroke on June 21, 1998 at the age of 43 at his home in Spreetal. He left behind four children. What was shocking that after his death followed that of his friend and collaborator Tamara Danz, also 43, by less than two years.

PS: What a coincidence that Gundermann is a perennial, aromatic evergreen creeper of the mint family Lamiaceae. It is commonly known as ground-ivy, gill-over-the-ground, creeping charlie, alehoof, tunhoof, catsfoot, field balm, and run-away-robin. It is also sometimes known as creeping jenny, but that name more common.

 

 

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