It Could Have Happened Anywhere

Heinrich Dubel on Adalbertstraße, Berlin 1981. Image courtesy of Heinrich Dubel Medien und Verlagsservice

Heinrich Dubel on a personal transformation through punk in Hannover, 1975.

Translation by Thomas Lovegrove

I was 14 years old in November 1975, when The Sex Pistols made their debut at St Martins School of Art and Design in London. My look at the time consisted of no-brand studded jeans, or black cords, a blue Navy pullover worn over a plaid shirt, and a shabby black nappa-leather jacket, two sizes too big. I also had a hooded sweatshirt. You could get those back then, too. However, I can’t remember them being that common, or where I got the bright yellow example that I was so proud of. 

The older youths, hanging out at the kiosk on the street corner, wore flares with fox tails on the belt and cowboy-style half-length boots with angled heels. The kids who I hung out with in our area wore chunky Seventies shoes with thick soles and beaded jewellery seams, or clogs in summer. Admittedly, I also had a pair of clogs in fake crocodile skin, and with thick copper-coloured studs around them. But after I had seen Stanley Kubrick’s “A Clockwork Orange” at the cinema, I practically only wore black US combat boots on my feet. It certainly wasn’t stylish, but it made a statement: on the whole, my appearance was more like that of a worker, or one of the sub-proletariat in my area, and not one of the “yobs”, as we called the youths hanging out on the corner.

It was down to the disco at the weekend, where I was regularly turned away at the door. Not because I was too young, but because I wasn’t wearing the right clothes. I solved the problem with a pair of quite tight-fitting wine-coloured cords, half-boots with brass fittings on the toes and heel, and a gold-coloured shirt with an iridescent black pattern on that I considered “baroque”. 

I found myself on the verge of a new era, but I didn’t know it at the time. And it would only be much later that I became aware of just how radical this would turn out to be. On one hand, the boys still asked the girls to dance in an extremely old-fashioned way. There was fawning, flirting, and the sending of missaries, who rushed here and there between the tables and the dancefloor. At the same time there were already those who unceremoniously disappeared to the toilets, for bouts of sex and drugtaking. This was outrageous, and could prompt weeks of discussion. 

One night something strange happened. The DJ announced (at the time, the individual tracks were partly still introduced) that he was going to play a totally new, red-hot record, with a style of music that “we had never heard before… namely… PUNK!” – then it was “Ça Plane Pour Moi” by Plastic Bertrand, which became an instant favourite and was thereafter played every night. There was much dancing to this record, but not in… well… the classic disco dance style, but instead something like a clumsy proto-pogo, which developed entirely organically.

The transition from disco to punk was easy. I explained quite simply that I would now be A Punk. For 50 Deutschmarks, I bought a green-black, waist-length leather jacket from a co-worker, which her boyfriend had decreed to be too old-fashioned. I sewed on to the jacket safety pins and brass chains from the hardware shop. It would be my most important possession in the next two years. Even the wine-coloured cords were now properly put to use, equipped with homemade “bondage” applications. 

Those who were regarded as posers were known as “disco punks”, which irritated me at first. However, it was not about the origin of individuals coming from the disco scene, but about what kind of clothes they wore and if they were punk fashion – whether the clothes had been bought, or whether they were tatty or homemade 1. However, this category applied only to boys. Punk girls were allowed to make themselves prettier, it was even expected. The more down-at-heel, the more rancid the guy, the more spectacular the girl. 2 

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