Germans have something of a reputation for being tight-laced and sticklers for the rules, and in fairness there’s more than a kernel of truth to this stereotype. It might come as a surprise then that Germany has also produced so many extraordinary rock stars, with all the reckless swagger that title implies. German rock music first came into its own around the 1960s, and from there came wave after wave of great German rock music: krautrock, Neue Deutsche Welle (German new wave), heavy metal, punk and Neue Deutsche Härte (new German hardness). From across this esteemed history, here is our choice of some of the best German rock bands ever to have graced the stage.
The members of Rammstein have undoubtedly been the kings of German rock music for the last quarter of a century. The band was born in 1994, in freshly-reunited Berlin, but their roots were formed in the Ostrock (East rock) scene of the former GDR. This is where some of the band members cut their teeth in punk rock bands like Feeling B and First Arsch. In the 90s they became the pioneers of Neue Deutsche Härte or NDH music, the metal genre that succeeded punk rock as the leading rock genre of 1990s Germany. Though the band has often courted controversy, especially as their stage aesthetic can give the mistaken impression that they are a right-wing band, with its interesting industrial sound, decades of consistent innovation and stunning pyrotechnic showmanship, Rammstein has become one of the few German rock bands that have made a deep and lasting impression on the international rock scene with German-language songs like “Mein Herz brennt”, “Du hast” and “Sonne”.
With their long hair, leather pants and gale-force guitar solos, Scorpions, a band formed in Hanover in 1965, ascended to the heights of the 80s hard rock scene, and took their place in halls of fame alongside bands like Guns N’ Roses, Mötley Crüe, Def Leppard, Metallica and Whitesnake. At their peak they were undoubtedly the best known German rock band in the world. Their 1984 hit “Rock You Like a Hurricane” is among the most famous hard rock songs of all time. Although Scorpions may have cemented their place in rock history with harsh vocals backed by raging guitar solos, it was their gentle power ballad “‘Wind Of Change”, considered by many as the anthem to the fall of the Iron Curtain, that became the pinnacle of their rock legacy. After over fifty years of performance, the members of Scorpions are still going strong in their 70s.
3. Die Ärzte
For forty years, Die Ärzte have been a pillar of the German punk rock scene. First formed in Berlin, the band has varied much in its style over the course of a long career studded with breaks and breakups. This hugely successful band has distinguished itself with its unique distorted guitar sounds and a staunch resistance to the consumerism of the music industry, which is considered by fans to be the true sign of punk rock authenticity. Although Die Ärzte have long been among the most successful of Germany’s rock bands, they are little known outside of the German-speaking world. The sharp wit and political polemic contained in their lyrics lose much of their impact when translated and taken out of the German context. This makes Die Ärzte gems of rock music that one has to dive into German language and society to truly appreciate.
The Beatsteaks are amongst the most famous alternative rock bands to have emerged from the post-reunification period. In 1996, the newly formed Beatsteaks won a competition in SO36, a staple of the music scene in Berlin’s Kreuzberg district, and was given the chance to open for the Sex Pistols when they were on tour in Berlin, giving the Beatsteaks their first taste of fame in the German rock scene. However, it was not until their later breakthrough album Smack Smash that they became consistent German chart-hitters with songs like “I Don’t Care As Long As You Sing”, “Let Me In” and “Hand in Hand”.
5. Tokio Hotel
From its foundation by four teenagers from Magdeburg in the year 2001, Tokio Hotel has become a force to be reckoned with even in the international charts. It was in 2005 with the overwhelming success of their first single, “Durch den Monsun”, also performed in English as “Through the Monsoon”, that the band rose to international fame. They have since released several successful albums in both English and German, such as Humanoid (2009), Kings of Suburbia (2009) and Dream Machine (2017). And even after twenty years they show no signs of slowing down.
Listening to the wind of change
Exploring the great music of these iconic fixtures of the German rock music scene can be a great way to explore German language and culture so be sure to give their hits a try! If you’re a fan of German rock there are also plenty of new and upcoming bands following in the footsteps of these giants, so be sure to keep an eye to the charts and watch out for local live performances.
Leona has her roots in the South of Ireland, where she grew up on her family farm. She went on to study World Politics at Leiden University College, The Hague and then completed her MPhil in International History at Trinity College Dublin. Leona has now settled in Berlin, having fallen in love with the city. In her spare time she is working on perfecting her German in anticipation of her doctoral studies, during which she plans to study modern German social history. Her hobbies include bouldering, dancing and reading a healthy mix of history books and corny fantasy fiction. You can find more info about her on LinkedIn.