Unfairly dismissed in their native England as new romantic fop-pop, former Mute label stalwarts Depeche Mode have built up one of the most musically influential and obsessive fan bases almost everywhere else in the world. Particularly in Berlin and the former East Germany, the band has spawned a unique kind of faith and devotion, from DM-themed BDSM parties to the world’s largest archive of band memorabilia. In a country where rock and roll was officially defined as a capitalist plot to corrupt working class youth, Depeche Mode’s apolitical stance translated into real, subcultural capital. It’s a reason why their alternative cultural hegemony continues today amongst the pale and Prussian. And we have the Stasi files to prove it. This is the first installment of a six-part series, click here for more.
Saturday 10:10 am, Chemnitz: Sebastian Oertel – Depeche Mode Fanclub, Chemnitz
Six years ago I was a cook in a family-run restaurant here in Chemnitz. This small place was actually where I did my apprenticeship; a place I had worked at for more than thirteen years since I was sixteen years old. In 2006, I suddenly found myself on the path towards a nervous breakdown, as I was under immense amounts of pressure to work increasingly longer hours, with more responsibility, and not enough co-workers. I’m too young to remember, but I don’t think these same kinds of work conditions existed during the GDR, back when the city was still known as Karl-Marx-Stadt. Anyhow, the kitchen was destroying me, both mentally and physically, and I fell into a very serious depression. I was just a fading light. I had no self-confidence. I didn’t even open my mouth when something was wrong. This was when I withdrew from my friends and family and lived in my own world. I didn’t want to live anymore. You see, it’s not that I didn’t like life, but rather just that I didn’t have any future perspectives. I felt like I had no way out. This is when I started listening to Depeche Mode more intensely and spending my free time analyzing the lyrics. I found so many thoughts and feelings that reflected my own—passages that were so expressive with such remarkably accurate descriptions of my own personal dead end.
Songs like “Insight”, and “When The Body Speaks” saved my life. Luckily, I’ve also had an extremely good relationship with my family, and my father is actually a pastor. He wasn’t always one though. In the GDR he was a mechanic for construction equipment and couldn’t have cared less about the church. Then he met my mother while vacationing at a Free German Trade Union Federation campsite and his life changed. Through acquaintances they both got involved in the church and found God. My father then decided to study theology at night school and very shortly after the Wall came down, he changed occupations completely. So when I got up the courage to tell him that I was teetering on the edge, he truly helped me see the light at the end of the tunnel. He accompanied me on my path towards regeneration. I spoke with him at length about the individual biographies of Martin Gore, Andrew Fletcher and Dave Gahan, looking into the band history and reading the books, finding out that the band members themselves were all suffering in one form or another—from depression, alcoholism, drug addiction, suicidal tendencies. I could identify with all of it, even if alcohol and drugs weren’t my problem. I’m not sure the band biography was so fascinating for my father, but I think he was better able to understand me.
In my opinion, Depeche Mode makes some of the darkest music in the world and in certain situations it can really bring you down. But it’s a dark place you go to by choice, and that’s what gave me incredible strength. Listening to the band today still gives me strength, while still somehow reminding me of a period in my life that was absolutely rock bottom. But it also reminds me of moving beyond that period, and discovering the like-minded souls here in the fan club in Chemnitz. This is a city that for the past few years was known for having the lowest birth rate in the world. In Germany it’s now known for having one of the biggest and most active DM fan clubs. I’m not a crazy teenager anymore, but Depeche Mode is still something I think about every day. Here in Chemnitz, the fan club is integral to almost all of my close friendships. It’s very, very deep and emotional.