Angela Merkel Chooses a Punk Song to Bid Farewell to High Office

Nina Hagen's music isn't traditionally performed at state functions

Punk and new wave musician Nina Hagen of Germany. A song of hers has been selected by chancellor Angela Merkel for her outgoing festivities.
Nina Hagen performs on stage during the Almdudler Trachtenpaerchen Ball in Vienna September 9, 2016.
Manfred Schmid/Getty Images

Historically speaking, heads of state and punk bands don’t get along. The reasons for this are fairly easy to understand, and it’s a concept that’s been mined for humor ever so often. (See: SNL‘s “History of Punk” sketch, based around the idea of the angriest man in 1980s punk developing an intense attachment to Margaret Thatcher.) But what happens when a head of state makes a decidedly left-field choice for their farewell music, one that’s more dive bar than “Hail to the Chief”?

That’s what’s taking place right now in Germany. Chancellor Angela Merkel is set to leave office next month after 16 years in her current position. Traditionally, the military gives the outgoing leader a farewell in the form of songs performed by a marching band. As The Guardian reports, one of Merkel’s choices is by none other than Nina Hagen.

For a good overview of Hagen’s career, Pitchfork’s review of her 1982 album NunSexMonkRock offers some clarity on just why her music makes for a surprising pick. In his review, Evan Minsker describes Hagen as “an incomparable performer, a new mother, an activist, a clown, a disciple of Christ, a true believer in UFOs, and without question, a star.”

Writing at Trouser Press, Ira Robbins notes that “[Hagen’s] radical approach to vocal expression is consistently bizarre.” It’s a quality that sounds appealing to many an avant-garde listener — see also: the careers of Tom Waits and Diamanda Galás — but certainly not what you’d expect at a state farewell.

At The Guardian, Philip Oltermann writes that Merkel’s choice of songs will result in Hagen’s “Du hast den Farbfilm vergessen” (You forgot the color film) being played. Oltermann describes it as “an angry lament that admonishes Hagen’s boyfriend Michael for having only taken a black and white film on their holiday to Hiddensee island.”

What does that represent in a political context? One suspects that historians will be debating that for years to come.

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