13 Best Fashion Looks From 80s Berlin Cult Heroes, As Chosen By Ilse Ruppert

When it comes to West Berlin in the '80s, photographer Ilse Ruppert saw it all. Here, she shares the best looks and shots from her incredible archive.

Almost 40 years later, and we are still chasing the romance and nonchalant cool of West-Berlin in the ‘80s. It was a time when the parties were underground, the drugs were good and Nick Cave was just your arrogant next door neighbour with a gun. We still look back on a time we didn’t experience with a sort of nostalgia, watching Wenders’ “Wings of Desire” and listening to The Birthday Party, Nina Hagen and Malaria. The influence of 80s Berlin is evident from a quick glance at the Berghain queue on any given weekend — you are bound to see an array of Blixa Bargeld-esque leather get-ups and eyeliner inspired by Nina Hagen.

The Neu Deutsche Welle movement formed Berlin as we know it — and photographer Ilse Ruppert captured the epoch in all its glory. Her historical photographs are incredibly seductive, appeasing all of our Berlin fantasies that vanished with the Iron Curtain. Ruppert explains the fatal attraction; she recalls that Berlin “was surrounded by a wall with Russian Military pointing their Kalashnikovs at the city”. They called the border “the deathstrip”. “The state of post-war disrepair created a weird atmosphere. West Berlin was excessive, edgy and had a sexiness about it. You could live how you wanted. Nobody bothered you. West Berlin had a special and unique legal status. The clubs and bars were limitless and always open. The place was swarmed with artists from all over Germany and the whole world. The population consisted of the Turkish community, the elderly, the artists, the punks, the squatters, the alternative crowd and young people from all over Germany and elsewhere. Rent was low, life was cheap, and so were the drugs.”

As she fell deeper into the scene, she found herself “fascinated with the energy of all people involved in the music business. Something extraordinary was happening — and I was given the privilege of capturing it. A new pop culture was emerging. Kill the Hippies now! Punk was like an explosion in my brain. Suddenly everything was possible, even for me, an autodidact in every way. I loved the anti-culture, the punk lifestyle, the attitude, the drugs and the parties. I loved the chaos! Everything was chaos.” We asked Ruppert to compile a list of some of her favourite Berlin photographs. Intriguingly, it is easy to view Ruppert’s shots as an archive for the beginning of some of Berlin’s prevailing signature looks.

Chris Dreier and David Reeves Perform in the Window of the Oranienbar, Kreuzberg, 1984

Nina Hagen, Berlin Wall, 1981

“After shooting the tour poster for her French tour, Nina  followed me to the Berlin wall and posed for some more photographs. I did not know it at the time, But Nina had left the GDR and her family in 1976, before she became a star in the West. So the wall obviously had a very personal meaning for her.”

Nick Cave, The Birthday Party In Concert, 1981

Wolfgang Müller, 1984

“I took this shot of Wolfgang Müller on a party on a ship in West-Berlin, 1984. Müller was the  founder of performance art and music group Die Tödliche Doris. He sits across from warmhearted call boy Detlev and next to the burlesque dancer Valerie Caris Ruhnke and artist Reinhard Wilhelmi.”

Manon P. Duursma, Beate Bartels, Gudrun Gut, Matador, 1982

Christiane F. 1983

 “A shot I took of Christiane in character during the shooting of the film, Decoder. Christiane F was a heroin junkie from the age of twelve. She was put in the spotlight in her early teens during the late `70s, after a series of interviews about her life as a teen prostitute and West Berlin`s drug scene. This led to a top-selling book and a film (“Christiane F. – Wir Kinder vom Bahnhof Zoo”) based on her memoirs. Her intriguing story, as well as her great looks instantly turned her into a media darling, and a kind of controversial heroin-chic celebrity.”

Inga Humpe & Her Sister Annette, 1984

Ralf Richter, 1984

“Ralf Richter was famed for the German epic war film, “Das Boot”. This was taken at a bar in West Berlin 1984.”

Claudia Skoda, Kreuzberg, 1984

“Fashion designer Claudia Skoda, between her husband and her boyfriend in her loft in Kreuzberg. The floor was a collage installed for Skoda by the artist, Martin Kippenberger.”

Joy Ryder, 1982

Blixa Bargeld, 1984

“A picture of Bargeld, from Cult band Einstuerzende Neubauten, at TV-Producer Jörg Hoppe’s birthday bash. Hoppe’s party was held on a ship on the river Spree.”

East Berlin Punk, 1982

“In the summer of 1982 we would go to this squatted apartment in East Berlin, Prenzlauer Berg to meet other punks. Just like in any given squat in West-Berlin — there was graffiti on the walls and dirty toilets. The punks were cooly dressed in workers mesh t-shirts which they had spray painted. I was impressed.”

East Berlin Punks, 1982

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