Breiti on 40 years of Toten Hosen: "Our success was far from imaginable"

Die Toten Hosen have been on stage together as a band for exactly 40 years.

Breiti on 40 years of Toten Hosen: "Our success was far from imaginable"

Die Toten Hosen have been on stage together as a band for exactly 40 years. At the time, not only their horrified parents would have believed that the five punk rockers would ever make it this far, but also they themselves guitarist Michael Breitkopf, better known as Breiti.

But against all odds, Die Toten Hosen can now call themselves the longest-lived and most successful German-speaking band in music history. On the occasion of the anniversary celebrations, they not only treat themselves to an extensive retrospective of old hits and new songs, but also an extensive tour. In between, Campino, Andi, Kuddel, Vom and Breiti also take the time for interviews. The latter, for example, speaks to ntv.de about the notorious girl from Rottweil, drug excesses within the band and her love for Argentina.

ntv.de: Are there any plans to look for the girl from Rottweil?

Breiti: We dreamed of meeting her again for a long time, but that never happened. And in reality - I can tell you now - the girl didn't even come from Rottweil. She was the daughter of an innkeeper we stopped at somewhere in Austria on the way to Yugoslavia and all five of us fell in love with her. But we had to keep going and preferred to all get back in the car together, because no one could make up his mind to stay and maybe try his luck there.

40 years Die Toten Hosen! Did you ever think that you would be really grown up, with "normal" hair color and clothes, but above all sober on stage?

In the beginning we didn't think much about the future. Our biggest wish was just to play in this band. We put all our time and energy into it. We wanted to get out of the city, have adventures, play concerts, meet new people. And what would become of it... During the first few years it was beyond our imagination that we would ever be able to make a living with it. Nevertheless, we kept going. We feel very fortunate to be able to say after 40 years that we are still doing this.

If you didn't have a plan or strategy at first, when did you get to the point where you wanted to change something so you could make a living from your music?

In fact, there never was such a point. But more and more people came to the concerts and then the album "A Little Bit of Horror Show" was a big leap, and it was suddenly very successful. That's when we realized that it might work out for a while to make a living from music and, above all, that we could finance our projects with the band.

How did you make money up until then?

We did all sorts of jobs, like sticking posters for concerts by successful bands on site fences. That was illegal and someone always had to watch out for the police coming. At that time, an advertisement cost up to 1000 marks. It was difficult in winter when the temperatures were below zero, because the paste froze immediately. And when you went out in the evening and walked past the pasted areas again, the Ellermann sports studio had very often pasted all the fences with their posters and we were really annoyed. (laughs)

And were you caught by the police?

Nah, we've gotten pretty clever! Campino once fled to a peep show, which they couldn't follow.

You used to drink a lot and take drugs. Was there any pivotal moment when you decided to change your lifestyle?

We were totally hungry for life and wanted to try all drugs - except heroin, we were always smart enough not to do that. It was also a kind of band ritual, we wanted to test boundaries, extend the nights and definitely not miss anything. In the long run there were physical limits that were reached. I had pancreatitis in my early 30s just as a tour was starting. I had to play all the concerts for a week, even though I wasn't feeling well at all and I couldn't eat anything. When you get a warning shot like that, you have to listen to it. The other was experiences like a concert in Zurich that we had to cut short after 20 minutes because we had been partying for 48 hours beforehand. That's the worst thing that can happen to a band, we never wanted to experience that again.

When you look at your earlier interviews now, what goes through your head?

I prefer to live in the present, but when I look at something from the past, it strikes me that the world we were in and the world of television shows often didn't go together at all. Sometimes that was embarrassing, but sometimes there were also bizarre moments that would probably no longer be possible in this form on today's well-planned television.

It is not natural to be as successful as you are for so long. Were there times when it wasn't clear whether your band would survive at all?

Yes, that had to do with the drug use again. At some point it had shifted more into the private sphere and was no longer a group matter. It changes personality over time when you habitually use cocaine. We suddenly had arguments that we had never known before. It was always about what the best idea for a new song is and not who it comes from, it was suddenly very different. That got us to a point where it became imaginable that things might not go on like this forever. We had to get that sorted first.

Older songs of yours like "Wünsch dir was" or "Welcome to Germany" are unfortunately still very up to date. Where do you get the motivation to keep going when the world has changed to the one you used to sing against?

You have to realize that it's not what we might have believed when we were 18 or 20 - this: "If we really put our minds to it, we can change the world" - but that it's a matter of small steps. A lot of patience, persistence, not giving up, so that things don't get worse or improvements can be achieved in small things. It's also not as if the privileges we have in terms of democracy and freedom of expression are God-given and never change. On the contrary: you have to do something for it every day, everyone in their place, according to their possibilities. That's why we still play songs like "Welcome to Germany". We try to get involved and make ourselves useful. Through songs that hopefully will touch a lot of people and give food for thought, in our immediate environment that we might be able to influence, or by supporting organizations like Pro Asyl.

Why is this topic so important to you?

With nine children, my mother's family went through the Nazi dictatorship, war, Russian occupation, expulsion and years of survival in a refugee camp. I grew up with the stories about it, so I became aware of it early on. Those who restrict the rights of refugees ultimately attack the rights of all of us. When our political consciousness awoke, there were still old Nazis everywhere in Germany in important positions - in politics, in the judiciary, in the authorities - who lived their lives as a matter of course and never had to answer for their crimes. That had a big impact on us, as did dealing with Nazi skinheads in the 1980s.

Did you also rebel against a (conservative) parental home?

That didn't happen for me, among other things, because my father died early and it was clear that the family would stick together, no matter what the cost. It was more of a total misunderstanding that clashed between me and my mother. Especially with us and our parents. If you have experienced a war and everything that goes with it, then the Federal Republic of the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s must have seemed like paradise. They couldn't understand our music, our attitude and our problem that we had with this country. That's what caused the generational conflict for us.

It is known from Campino and Andi that their parents had a huge problem with punk and dyed hair and they were even banned from the house because of it. Was it that bad for you too?

Yes of course. My mother always wanted to defend me in front of acquaintances, but for her it was often the very worst thing about how we acted and dressed and what kind of music we played. So I got her in real trouble.

Do you still have stage fright after 40 years?

Oh yeah! I believe that when you no longer have stage fright before a concert, you should think about quitting. Excitement is great and part of it. It's a bit like riding a roller coaster: if you're looking forward to it, it'll be awesome. If you resist it internally, you get sick.

You play songs from other bands just as passionately as your own songs. What's so appealing about that?

For example, we made the album "Learning English" in the 90s, for which we recorded many of the most important punk rock songs for us - always with the person who wrote the song. We had just had our first number one album with "Auf dem Kreuzzug ins Glück". To our own surprise, we were suddenly considered part of the musical establishment and didn't really know how to reconcile that with our roots. This album should be a reorientation. The cover versions had a big meaning for us as a band. Apart from enjoying it and showing respect for the other bands, we also learned a lot because many supposedly simple songs are made much more cleverly than you would think when listening to them.

Speaking of establishment: Old fans often accuse you of being too commercial and not punk anymore. Do you care about criticism like that?

The reproach has accompanied us since we sold more than 1000 copies of our first single. If someone offers constructive criticism, that's fine, we're interested in opinion. But in the end we can only orientate ourselves. We make the songs as they are in us and come out of us. We make them available and in the best of cases they touch a lot of people who sing along to the lyrics at concerts and benefit from them. But not everyone reacts in the same way, so you can't please everyone.

You share a love story with Argentina. You give a lot of concerts there and you recorded songs in Spanish in honor of your fans. Why do you put so much effort there when you also have an active fan base in other countries?

Argentina has been special from the start for various reasons. One reason was the legendary radio presenter Ruso Verea, who, at the suggestion of singer Pil Trafa from the band Los Violadores, played our music even before we traveled there for the first time in 1992. That was a good start. We also had a relationship with the Ramones, who were legends in Argentina and invited us to their official farewell concert in 1996. In addition, Argentines are some of the most informed and interested people in the world. Long before the internet, they knew what we talk about in interviews and what our songs are about because they wanted to get to the bottom of it. They love it when you give it your all on stage because they always give it your all. When an Argentine offers you his friendship, he is your friend, in good times and in bad. And it's the same with her relationship with her favorite band.

There was a long rivalry between you and the doctors - at least the rumors about it were fueled by you too and only died down when your drummer Vom Ritchie was featured in their video for "Noise" last year. So was it all more show?

In the 80s it really was like that because we thought they got involved too early with the youth magazine "Bravo". The reasons are silly and hardly understandable. But the rivalry didn't stop us from talking to them back then either. When Doctors broke up in the early '90s, Campino bet Farin Urlaub that they would get back together before five years were up. They cut up a 1,000-mark note and said: If that's the case, it'll be glued back together and celebrated. It was like that in the end. We've had a good relationship with them for a long time. But it's also fun to leave that a bit vague so that people think there's something there. (laughs)

In contrast to the first question, the last one is meant seriously: Do you still not want to go to paradise?

In a way we have been for many years because we still get to play in this band and we are very thankful for that. This is our paradise.

Linn Penkert spoke to Michael "Breiti" Breitkopf

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