Since the end of World War Two, the U.S. military has had thousands of troops stationed in Germany, many of them in Berlin. That occupation peaked in the 1980s, when Cold War tensions in divided Germany were high. These young G.I.s, who were mostly there as deterrents and didn't do much in the way of actual fighting, naturally went out a lot. Berlin's famous nightlife scene provided plenty of distraction. But the music, highly electronic and experimental at a time when most Americans were listening to Styx and REO Speedwagon, must have seemed quite foreign. So the German musicians and club owners adapted their offerings a bit to appeal more to Americans, whose tastes the Germans acquired themselves by listening to radio broadcasts from the U.S. military base. The Americans, for their part, got accustomed to the uniquely German club scene. What resulted was a fusion the Germans referred to as "Ami-Club."
Now Berlin DJs are trying to bring back the Ami-Club scene of the 1980s. That revival movement is the occasion for Josie Le Blond's exhaustive history of Ami-Club in Der Spiegel. Le Blond traces "the assimilation of American soul, funk, R&B and disco into the West German music scene in the final decade of the Cold War," which she says "revolutionized West German music."
[Berlin DJs Daniel] Best and [Kalle] Kuts believe the new sounds of the GI club scene helped to set the course of West German popular music. "I can still remember when Eric B. & Rakim's track 'Paid in Full' first came out in 1987. It was one of the songs that started the whole new school hip hop movement and I heard it first in Chic," Kuts told SPIEGEL ONLINE. He claims American influences can be seen in the music of the Neue Deutsche Welle (a German music genre often translated as "New German Wave") as well as modern German hip hop, dance and electronic music.
"A lot of DJs and musicians have been influenced in their later work by going to those clubs and listening to AFN radio, just like Daniel and I," explains Kuts. He points out that big names associated with Germany's 1990s hip hop explosion, such as Advanced Chemistry from Heidelberg or Die Fantastischen Vier from Stuttgart, came out of cities once home to large concentrations of US troops.
Le Blond calls the Ami-Club scene an "ethnic melting pot" that "has been "ignored by social historians ... despite the significant role they played in shaping modern West German music." But the clubs didn't just affect American soldiers and German locals. There was--and remains--a large immigrant population in Germany that was also added in to the melting pot. For those newcomers to Germany, the U.S. troops, many of them African-American, were the only people of color outside their own immigrant community. This, says Le Blond, helped integrate the Afro-German community, which had been otherwise estranged from Germany's relatively homogeneous society.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.