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Berlin Krautrock exhibition celebrates groundbreaking genre | Exhibitions

A motley train of shaggy-haired musicians is gliding into the future on a hastily sketched highway, brandishing bongos, vegetables and flaming guitars.

The poster for a 1971 gig by German-English-Swiss trio Brainticket, on display at Berlin’s small Bröhan Museum until 24 April, visually sums up the essence of a German musical movement so forward-looking at its height, its country of origin is only now starting to recognise its legacy.

The Krautrock Posters exhibition is a belated homage to the experimental soundscapes crafted in the late 1960s and early 1970s by bands like Neu!, Can, Guru Guru, Amon Düül II and Kraftwerk, who were channelling their classical training into rock music and novel electronic gadgets.

Three Nights Jürgen Spohn 1969 poster
Photograph: Sammlung Popdom Siekmann

The 40 posters on display span the scene’s roots in the counterculture moment of 1968, where some bands were mere support acts for earnest political debates; to the more playful reflections on national cultural identity of the late 70s and early 80s. In a poster for a 1975 Kraftwerk concert, the road to the future is a German autobahn populated by Volkswagen Beetles.

“Krautrock was an emancipatory moment for German musicians,” said curator Gerd Siekmann, who attended his first gig by the band Birth Control as a 13-year-old in 1972. “For the first time they were liberating themselves from the monotony of traditional schlager music, while also breaking free of merely imitating the sounds of American jazz or English beat bands.”

If Krautrock was a revolution, however, it also passed much of Germany by at the time, and was quickly semi-forgotten. The Bröhan show is the first exhibition in the country dedicated specifically to a German underground music scene that was first recognised as a coherent movement by the British music press.

“Krautrock” is not a term that can be found on any of the posters in the show, which instead advertise “underground sounds”, “transcendental music” or “creative rock”. A slang word used by British and American soldiers for German troops during the second world war, the term originally had belittling undertones. But it gained an appreciative meaning after finding earnest champions in radio DJ John Peel and enthusiastic followers in musicians including David Bowie and Brian Eno.

Most of the vintage krautrock posters Siekmann sells via his online shop these days, he said, are bought by fans outside Germany. The first definitive history of the movement, Krautrocksampler, was written by British writer Julian Cope in 1995.

Part of the reason, Siekmann suggested, may be that the German pioneers did not care too much that at the time they were making musical history. Many of the bands he contacted to build his collection had simply not kept any merchandise from the period. “They were simply too focused on looking to the future rather than thinking about the present,” he said.

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