In the afternoon, Funder calls Klaus and asks to come over. By 6 pm, the two friends are on their third beer. Klaus Jentzsch, Funder thinks, is a familiar figure for many East Germans—the “bad boy of East German rock’n’roll.” He began playing American music, such as Chuck Berry, and later did covers of the Beatles and Led Zeppelin. Many of the records were banned. However, Klaus’s band also performed its own music, often for crowds of tens of thousands.
Klaus Jentzsch was a troublesome figure for the East Germans: he was extremely popular with the public, but he represented Western capitalist culture. In short, he was living proof of the West’s superiority to the East, at least regarding entertainment and art, which never conform well to authoritarian standards.
For decades, East German musicians needed a license to perform music. In the 1970s, Klaus’s band’s license expired, and when they tried to renew it, they were told that they’d insulted the working classes of Berlin too many times. Later on, Klaus was allowed to read the Stasi’s file on him, and in it he discovered that the government hated his profanity and heavy drinking. At the licensing hearing, Klaus was told, “you no longer exist.” His music was no longer played or sold in stores. For years, Klaus worked in West Berlin as a “sound-man in the theater.” After the fall of the Berlin Wall, though, he discovered that his band had become a cult phenomenon in East Germany.
While Klaus doesn’t say so explicitly, it’s strongly implied that his license wasn’t renewed because the East German state resented his performances of British and American songs—these songs were, by their very nature, symbols of defiance and rebellion. But, like many musicians who were banned in East Germany (Frank Zappa and David Bowie are other examples), Klaus eventually became a cult figure.
Several members of Klaus’s band died of a mysterious form of cancer, as did several other dissidents and critics of the state. Later, it was revealed that the Stasi used irradiated pins, tags, and pellets to trace dissidents and, it’s entirely possible, to slowly murder them. When Funder asks Klaus about this atrocity, he just says, “I think the Stasi people have been punished enough.” Later that night, Klaus sings a sad, beautiful song about “the walls of Cell 307 in Hohenschönhausen.” Back in her apartment, Funder imagines Klaus “in his room, singing himself happy.”
This passage contains what is potentially some of the most horrifying information in the whole book: the Stasi deliberately poisoned musicians for daring to play certain pieces of music. Yet after this shocking revelation, the chapter ends with the beautiful, transcendent image of Klaus, alone but happy, overcoming his sadness and loss through the power of music.