Mania D. Sept. 1979 Berlin. From l to r: Bettina Köster, Gudrun Gut, Karin Luner. Track: Herzschlag. Photo: Eva Gößling.
For volume 5 of EB’s Berlin Experiment series, Beate Bartel and Gudrun Gut recall how they became Germany’s first all-girl punk band Mania D.—almost exactly thirty-five years ago, iconic in both style and attitude. While Beate Bartel moved on to deliver a major blueprint for techno and punkish electro culture with Liaisons Dangereuses in the early eighties, Gudrun Gut has constantly and “genially hosted Berlin’s new music scene” (Wire) and accounts for a highly distinguished output as a musician, DJ and label maker. Ever since they first began, the two artists have been collaborating off and on.
Beate Bartel: We had seen each other around. With her yellow overalls and short hair, Gudrun stood out. Back then everybody kind of knew each other. In West Berlin everything happened at the same couple of places between Kreuzberg, Schöneberg, and Charlottenburg, so you were bound to run into each other. Eva Gößling and I found Gudrun so interesting that one night at the SO36 we asked her if she would like to join our new band Mania D.
Gudrun Gut: I was totally up for it!
Beate Bartel: And Gudrun came with Bettina Köster in tow.
Gudrun Gut: Bettina and I ran this store called Eisengrau in Golzstraße. It was a clothing store, but also a hangout for people to exchange ideas and listen to music. There weren’t many places like that in West Berlin. We had a pinball machine that someone had brought round. It was a big, empty store we had painted gray, iron gray. That’s where the name came from [Eisengrau = German for iron gray]. We sold dyed shoes and T-Shirts from New York by Karin Luner, secondhand clothes and Berlin designers like Claudia Skoda and Susanne Wiebe whose clothes we had on commission. Wolfgang Müller sold his fanzines. And out of sheer boredom I put up a knitting machine and designed my own knitwear—lots of gray and colors that didn’t match, weird patterns, simple hems, fringes and those popular multicolored knit pants for men. Later, when Bettina quit, I continued the store with Blixa Bargeld and we also sold the Eisengrau Allstars Tapes, which were live and rehearsal recordings. Unfortunately I don’t have a single one left.
Beate Bartel: I still have some!
Beate Bartel, Berlin, September 1979. CC BY-SA 3.0 Ganskörperfutter
Gudrun Gut: The first Mania D. gig finally took place in September 1979 in Wuppertal, still with Karin Luner. I played the synthesizer, a Korg MS20.
Beate Bartel: At that first show Gudrun and Bettina performed as Eisengrau, Karin Luner was Johnny Bass, and Eva Gößling and I were Mania D. But to simplify matters for the poster we contracted all of the singular agents to Mania D.
Gudrun Gut: After that Karin went to New York, and Eva didn’t stay with us much longer, either. So everything boiled down to the three of us, Bettina, Beate, and me. For a while, there also was Isabel, our front woman. She was a skinhead and looked great. She was so cool. Back then Isabel was in a relationship with Tabea Blumenschein, who later did a lot of work with Die Tödliche Doris. We rehearsed in the basement of Blixa Bargeld’s storefront apartment in Langenscheidtstraße. Blixa wanted to start a band, too, and asked us if we were interested in joining. We said “Sure we do!”
Beate Bartel: Gracious us.
Gudrun Gut: Those were the beginnings of Einstürzende Neubauten.
Beate Bartel: Bettina was actually the first of us Mania D. women to make music with Blixa. One of the first tapes to have been released dates back to 1979, a recording with Blixa, Andrew, Bettina, and Susä. Apparently they already called themselves Einstürzende Neubaute. Gudrun and I joined a little later.
Gudrun Gut: As spontaneously as we came together, we went our separate ways again soon. When I came back from a trip to New York, Bettina and Beate let me know that Mania D. was going to New York.
Beate Bartel: Eva and I were the first to go, and then we called up Bettina and you. Bettina came, but you couldn’t go.
Gudrun Gut: I had only just come back from New York and was still studying art. So they were celebrated as “the first German all-girl punk band” Mania D. without me. We were supposed to play at Martin Kippenberger’s office opening in Berlin with Mania D. though, so Frieder Butzmann, Nancy, and I just formed a new band called Summe über Zukunft at first and later Liebesgier as a substitute for Mania D., who were running around New York City. Then TV people from Holland wanted to do a piece about Liebesgier, and because Frieder was out of town at the time, Blixa filled in for him to do the TV interview. Everything was kind of lax. The most important thing for us was having fun, getting along. We didn’t have a business strategy or anything, like they did in England, where pop music was conquering the world.
Beate Bartel: Also, back then English wasn’t as commonly known as it is now. We spoke little or no English. I remember John Peel futilely calling us at Zossener Straße.
Gudrun Gut: I answered the phone and didn’t understand a word.
Beate Bartel: My phone, at my apartment!
Gudrun Gut: He later made fun of that!
Beate Bartel: I still have the recording of him saying: “If anybody understands English, please tell them to call me back’. And Gudrun was like: “What? Who? I don’t know what you’re saying, bye.”
Gudrun Gut: Even though I always listened to his show. It was a must! There was very little relevant music from the Continent. Apart from CAN, even krautrock often seemed like a failed attempt to imitate American rock music. That’s why the Allied Forces radio programs were such an important information carrier. In Berlin, John Peel was broadcast on the BBC. That’s where I first heard Brian Eno’s No Wave compilation which had a great impact on developments in Berlin. Peel played the stuff we wanted to hear. So we clung to the radio and always taped everything.
Beate Bartel: Getting our hands on those records was not easy.
Gudrun Gut: The most important record dealer was Zensor in Belziger Straße who ordered from America and England and, together with Blue Moon, a fashion store dealing in rockabilly and punk clothing and Doc Martens, went to London once a month to buy clothes and music. There were hardly any clothing stores in West Berlin. That’s why we sewed all our own clothes.
Beate Bartel: I first met Zensor at the flea market in Charlottenburg.
Gudrun Gut: Back then he was still selling records from a vendor’s tray. Among many others, I bought the first Throbbing Gristle album there. And he had those great 7-inches! I also got the first Daniel Miller single (“Warm Leatherette” or “T.V.O.D” – The Normal, April 1978) and the first B-52’s (“Rock Lobster”, 1978) from him. Today a single only serves as promotion for the album. Back then it was a means of communication that managed to connect the most faraway places.
Beate Bartel: He had the heavy shit.
Gudrun Gut: He had the super heavy shit! After the booth at the flea market, he ran the store and later the label Marat Records, both on the Schöneberger Kiez. For a little while, I even worked in the Zensor record store and contributed to the fanzine T4 produced by Zensor, Frieder Butzmann and others. Frieder just recently gave me a video copy of that.
Beate Bartel: Finally, Bettina, and Gudrun regrouped to form Malaria! in 1981 while I started Liaisons Dangereuses with Chrislo Haas.
Gudrun Gut: And pulled “Los Ninos del Parque” out of the hat!
Beate Bartel: For that track, we held a casting to find the right vocals. It turned out to be Krishna Goineau. I knew him from Spain. He was only sixteen at the time.
Gudrun Gut: And then you went to Conny Plank for overdubbing.
Beate Bartel: And mixing.
Gudrun Gut: Beate used to do live mixing for Liaisons Dangereuses, which hardly anybody did.
Beate Bartel: There is nothing more difficult than controlling a Korg MS20 and a sequencer in a live situation, because the tempi constantly drift apart. So to play a live set, you have to find a setup that works. We had the idea of using 4-track tapes with the most important tracks of our songs on them. I could then start them any time I wanted—basically, it was the analogue precursor of Ableton.
Gudrun Gut: I had drawings of all the patches and controller positions for the MS20, but it still sounds different every time. That’s why most bands went with full playback, because it just wasn’t reproducible. But Beate went onstage and did live mixing. In that, she was far ahead of her time.
Beate Bartel: Necessity is the mother of invention. I also had my effects unit plugged into that setup. We always had several copies of our tapes. You can’t run around with just the master, otherwise you have one tape jam and the gig is over.
Gudrun Gut: After Mania D. we had the most intense time with Malaria! We were constantly touring. We performed in New York with Nina Hagen at Studio 54 City and with John Cale at the Mudd Club, and we played with New Order and The Birthday Party.
Beate Bartel: And over and over at SO36.
Gudrun Gut: The Malaria! rehearsal room was just around the corner from the SO at Kottbusser Tor. We shared it with Die Haut, who lived in an apartment in Dresdner Straße together with Birthday Party. There was a second rehearsal room, too. Everything was wildly mixed up there as well. We were forever swapping musicians among each other.
Beate Bartel: And still, people were always asking us as an all-female band: “Why are you only dancing with each other?” We weren’t taken seriously as musicians yet.
Gudrun Gut: With Malaria!, we were always wearing these heavy boots. We were strong women, not delicate fairies, not flute players. We wanted to make a point of that. The hippies did the exact opposite. Although I did knit. But on a knitting machine. That was the slight but significant difference.
Mania D., interviews and live performances, around 1980
Read our evolving archive of Berlin’s musical history by visiting our Berlin Experiment page.
Published June 25, 2014. Words by robertdefcon.