#25: Rowdys

To mark 30 years of reunification, we're giving you 30 key German phrases that charted Germany's Cold War division and reunification. Today: Rowdys

Punk youth at a 1985 concert in Plänterwald, East Berlin.<br><br>
Punk youth at a 1985 concert in Plänterwald, East Berlin.

Berlin-East Germany did Denglish too. A prime example was Rowdys, a catch-all term police and the Stasi used to describe potentially violent youth who refused to conform: punks, Heavys, skinheads and so on. Rowdys were anti-social youngsters said to be under the influence of Western rock music.

Interestingly, use of the word Rowdy  in German predates the GDR by decades and was first mentioned in the Duden, Germany's equivalent of the OED, in 1887.

But the concept took on legal significance in East Germany, where Rowdytum was a crime as defined per a 1968 law that stipulated that "those who participate in a group which, out of disregard for the public order or the rules of socialist communal life, commits violent acts, threats or crude insults towards persons or malicious damage of things or facilities, will be sentenced up to five years in prison."

By the mid-1980s, a significant neo-Nazi scene had developed in the country, but the authorities played it down. According to the state's narrative, fascist tendencies had long been banished.

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In 1987, a group of skinheads famously attacked the audience of a punk concert in Zionskirche in Mitte (a gathering point for the East German resistance) where West Berlin band Element of Crime had been playing, screaming "Sieg Heil!" and "Jews out of German churches!" A handful of skinheads were charged with Rowdytum. An official document described the perpetrators as "Rowdys with fascist vocabulary".

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