Krautrock's Godfather: Udo Lindenberg

written on 09/11/2020
by Jutta Triebe

In 2019, this German Rock legend received Germany’s Federal Cross of Merit, 1st class before the Day of German Unity .

Born in Gronau (Westphalia) on 17 May 1946 Udo Gerhard Lindenberg, like many other war children, left home at an early age.

He became a waiter in Düsseldorf and at the age of 17, ended up in Libya where he played with well-known Jazz musicians in clubs at the Wheelus US Air Force Base near Tripoli.

On his return, he began studying at the Westphalian School for Music in Münster. In 1969 he founded his first band “Free Orbit” while working with many other bands and as a studio and guest musician.

His career developed slowly until the album Andrea Doria (named after an Italian cruiser) which brought the commercial breakthrough with the hits ‘Alles Klar auf der Andrea Doria’ and ‘Cello’.

In 1973, Lindenberg went on tour for the first time with his newly founded Panikorchester. This band became Udo’s “Gang and Family” until today.

Lindenberg's brash way of telling everyday stories and his extraordinary feeling for language made the difference; one of the few songs in English is ‘Germans’ (lyrics).

On the album ‘Ball Pompös’ he managed to bring contemporary social phenomena into focus in his song lyrics by using puns.

An example of this is the song ‘Sorry, just a vacuum’, which satirically illuminates certain behaviours of youth culture. His texts full of biting social criticism are nevertheless so subtle that they do not attack, but encourage.

In 1983 the song 'Sonderzug nach Pankow', an adaptation of Harry Warren's 'Chattanooga Choo Choo', was his greatest commercial success to date and sparked a discussion in the government of the GDR, as Lindenberg clearly expressed his wish to be allowed to perform in the GDR ("All the Hit song monkeys are allowed to sing ..."). 

After  years of waiting, the GDR finally invited Udo Lindenberg to play four of his songs as part of a peace concert with artists from all over the world in the ‘Palace of the Republic’ in East Berlin on October 25, 1983.

His 15-minute appearance there was extensively monitored by the GDR secret service, the Ministry for State Security. In 2015 a documentary was created based on the subsequently disclosed  ‘Stasi folders’.

Udo did explore other music genres as well. In 1988 Lindenberg dedicated a record to his mother Hermine, with songs from 1929 to 1988. This record also contains Marlene Dietrich's last audio recording from 1987.

A bit later he did the same for his father Gustav and in 1989 he published his first autobiography ‘El Panico’. 

The same year Udo Lindenberg became the first rock musician to be awarded the ‘Germany’s Federal Cross of Merit on a long ribbon’.

But Udo is not just a brilliant musician, he also is an actor (‘Nordsee ist Mordsee’ (1976 ) and ‘Panische Zeiten’ (1980)) and an author (he even designed a comic: Keine Panik, die Legende lebt! - Der Comic).

In the nineties he started to show off as a pop art painter. Since 1996 his works are regularly shown and books about it are published.

Udos 'Likörelle' - paintings coloured using alcoholic beverages - are just as bizarre as the 'Ejaculator', where the canvas is splashed with the help of a drum kit.

Udo Lindenberg received 31 awards in total, but has given back as well. In 2006, Udo Lindenberg established a cultural and political foundation, the ‘Udo Lindenberg Stiftung’. It promotes young writers and musicians through competitions in order to “look for new ways against marching along in the crowd, to write provocatively and not to adapt to the superstar junk”, says Lindenberg.

According to their own statement, the ULS wants to "support national and international cultural-political activities and stand by the weaker people in the world through humanitarian and social projects". 

To complete the picture: In 2010, the Federal Ministry of Finance issued two special stamps designed by Udo Lindenberg; In 2011, the musical ‘Hinterm Horizont’ with songs by Lindenberg premiered in Berlin; in 2014 the shipping company TUI Cruises organised a cruise called ‘Rockliner’ with Udo Lindenberg, on which he performed with guest musicians.

For the 70th anniversary of the national daily newspaper “Die Welt”, a special edition illustrated by Lindenberg was published on April 2nd, 2016.

On March 19, 2018, Udo Lindenberg opened the permanent exhibition ‘Panik City’ in Hamburg. The so-called ‘Udo Lindenberg Experience’ is an interactive exhibition about Lindenberg's life. In addition to videos and exhibits, the visitor can record on of their own songs in a simulated recording studio and draw ‘Likörelle’ with tablets.

In mid-January 2020, the film biography “Lindenberg! Do your thing” premiered which focuses on the beginning of Lindenberg's career.

Even now at age 74, Udo doesn’t stop. He is still doing concerts, recording new songs I love it: turning my lyrics into grand visuals, and is more active than ever, always close to the breath of time in ‘the land of poets and thinkers’.

Udo’s March 2020 message on InstagramIch bleib zuhause. Fuck the virus. – I Stay at home. Fuck the virus.”

Udo Lindenberg on youtube and spotify

Poto 1: ©Tine Acke, Photo 2: ©Heinrich Klaffs, Photo 3: Piano Piano!, Photo 5: ©Plydor Island , Photo 7: ©Tine Acke, Photo 8: ©