Die Toten Hosen
Starting their career in the early 1980s, Die Toten Hosen (DTH) have become one of Germans best-known punk rock bands. They also enjoy an international reputation, e.g. in South America, Australia and even in the United States, and have heavily influenced German punk and pop music.
In 1982, during the downturn of the first German punk movement, which had reached its peak in the late 1970s, DTH published their debut singles “Wir sind bereit” and “Reisefieber”. At that time, the band consisted of Andreas Frege (a.k.a. Campino) on vocals, Andreas Meurer (a.k.a. Andi) on bass, Andreas von Holst (a.k.a. Kuddel), Michael Breitkopf (a.k.a. Breiti) and Walter November on guitars, and Klaus Dieter (a.k.a. Trini) Trimpop on drums. Their early songwriting was very much influenced by the sounds of bands like Slade, Chelsea, Peter and the Test Tube Babies and Motorhead. In the fall of 1982, DTH headed for their first tour through Germany and, in the following year, after Walter had left the band, the remaining five recorded their third single, “Bommerlunder”, which is still one of their best-known and most popular tunes today. After that, and in spite of financial bottlenecks, the band recorded their first LP called “Opel Gang”, which turned out to be an unexpected success and certainly marked the beginning of the band’s rise to being one of the most successful German punk bands ever.
In 1984, backed up by the success of “Opel Gang” and endorsements of the German Goethe Institute, DTH toured France. Later that year, they were invited to the legendary John-Peel-Show at the BBC in London, which certainly contributed to their growing international popularity. After they had recorded and released their second LP “Unter falscher Flagge”, they started their second tour through Germany to promote the album in May 1985. At the end of that year, Trini Trimpop left the band to work for the management instead, and, shortly afterwards, Wolfgang Rohde (a.k.a. Woelli) took over his position as the drummer of the band. The band’s third album, “Damenwahl”, appeared in May 1986, and only a year later, DTH began recording their fourth album, “Never mind the Hosen – here’s the Roten Rosen”, which comprised 12 cover versions of more or less well-known songs from Germany’s Top-Tens.
In 1988, DTH entered the theatre stage and appeared in the performance of “Clockwork Orange” in the Federal Theatre of Bonn. The band provided the play’s title song “Hier kommt Alex”, which became another of their best-known songs. Only two years later, after an extraordinarily long tour through Germany, Switzerland and Austria, the band released their sixth LP, the double album “Kreuzzug ins Glück”, in May 1990. Despite the popularity that their single “Hier kommt Alex” had already brought about two years earlier, this album marked the final breakthrough of DTH, who, after eight years of band history, eventually became a big event. “I came to Germany expecting to see a small German punk band in a tiny smoke-filled German club”, an English journalist wrote in an article published in the magazine Kerrang, “[i]nstead I witnessed a great rock band in a gigantic, packed arena!”
Though there were, to be sure, still a number of cheery sing-alongs in their repertoire at that time, the band’s political commitment had grown stronger by the end of the 1980s, which was eventually reflected in their songwriting, which was no longer characterized by simply structured melodies and rather light-hearted, nonsensical lyrics, but rather by complex musical arrangements and more profound lyrics expressing social criticism. In December 1992, DTH released one of their most political songs called “Sascha, ein aufrechter Deutscher”, which directly commented on the increasing right-wing tendencies in Germany at that time. Immediately after its release, the Republican Party of Germany unsuccessfully attempted to ban the song from public radio, and, in order to drive their point home, DTH published the lyrics of the song in a number of prestigious German newspapers.
In 1993, the band released their longplayer “Kauf mich” and their first “Best of” album called “Reich & Sexy”, which was published both in a German and an English version (“Love, Peace & Money”), consisting of 20 songs from nine albums. The popularity of the band increased continuously: three of their albums were in the charts at the same time, over 200,000 people joined their 24 concerts that year, and in September 1994, they started a world tour, which, besides Europe, South America and Japan, also covered the United States, where they played as supporting act for Green Day. Their album “Opium für’s Volk” (1996) contained the band’s first Number One in the German single charts: “Zehn kleine Jaegermeister”. Another highlight of the band’s career, which once more underlined their national and international reputation, was their support of the Ramones at their farewell concert at the River Plate Stadium in Buenos Aires, Argentina in 1996.
After almost 15 years of band history and a continuous growth of popularity, which no one had ever expected, DTH eventually decided that it was high time they wrote down all their experiences on the road and published their autobiography, entitled “Bis zum bitteren Ende”, in 1997. Two years later, the band recorded their album “Unsterblich”, which definitely marked a change in the band’s musical style, as the songs were heavily influenced by the German singer and songwriter Funny van Dannen and also employed classical elements, swing and sounds from the sixties. The video to the fourth single taken out from the album (“Warum werde ich nicht satt”) was directed by Wim Wenders. The same year, the band’s drummer, who had long been suffering from a lumbar disc problem, was replaced by his long-standing drum tech, Vom Richie.
After Campino had recovered from a ligament injury, which he had sustained at the Whitsun Rock am Ring concert in 2000, DTH toured with AC/DC through Germany in 2001, followed by another trip to the Americas – this time, the band opted for Cuba. Meanwhile, back home, their favourite local soccer club, Fortuna Düsseldorf, was in dire need of a new sponsor, and the band decided to support the team from 2001 to 2003. Their sixteenth album, “Auswärtsspiel”, was released in January 2002 and immediately entered Germany’s Top Ten as Number One. The German Rolling Stone pointed out that “some of the songs are among the best – and roughest, tracks ever recorded by the band”. The second Best-of album, “Reich & Sexy II – Die fetten Jahre”, appeared in November that year, together with a DVD featuring 28 video clips covering the years from 1982 to 2002.
With their four-track-EP “Friss oder Stirb”, which was released in February 2004, DTH returned to a more aggressive musical style. The video production to one of the songs on the EP, “Ich bin die Sehnsucht in Dir”, was captured in a sixteen-episode mini-series broadcasted on MTV, which was supposed to provide insight into the everyday life of the band. October 2004 saw the release of their new album, “Zurück zum Glück”, which continued the aggressive tone of the “Friss oder Stirb”-EP. The last gig of the following tour, which took place in Berlin at the very end of that year, was spontaneously turned into a charity concert dedicated to the victims of the Tsunami flood in South East Asia which had struck a few days before. Charity continued in 2005, when DTH participated in the Live 8 concerts organized by Bob Geldof in Edinburgh and Berlin. Yet, the definite highlight of that year was their MTV-Unplugged session at the Burgtheather in Vienna, which finally rounded off their record of success. Though 2006 started with a band holiday of sorts, it seems that, after more than two decades, DTH are by no means planning to quit the stage.
Job, Bertram (ed.). 1997. Bis zum bitteren Ende. Die Toten Hosen erzählen ihre Geschichte. Köln: Kiepenheuer & Witsch.
Müller, Andrea. 1996. Die Toten Hosen. Punkrock made in Germany. Düsseldorf: ECON Verlag.
 literally “The Dead Trousers”; “tote Hose” is a German expression which could be translated as “to be lifeless”, “to be boring”, or “to be a washout”.
© Martin Butler 2006