Nina Hagen Biography

Catharina Hagen, 11 March 1955, East Berlin, Germany. After her parents divorced in 1957, Hagen was raised in a suburb in the eastern bloc by her actress mother and her stepfather, dissident poet and songwriter Wolf Biermann. In 1964, she joined the Thalmann-Pioneers, a Communist youth organization and, four years later, the Freie Deutsche Jugend - from which she was excluded for her hand in a demonstration (instigated by Biermann) against the participation of East German militia in the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia. On failing a 1972 entrance test for a Berlin-Schönweide drama college, she sang a mixture of blues and soul with a Polish outfit for several months prior to enrolment at the Studio Für Unterhaltungsmusik (Studio For Popular Music) where she was an outstanding student. For a few years, she toured East Germany as featured vocalist with the Alfons-Wonneberg-Orchester before fronting Automobil and then Fritzens Dampferband (Fred’s Steamboat Band) but when Biermann was expelled from Soviet territory in 1976, she followed him to West Germany where her worth as an entertainer was sufficiently known for a recording contract to be offered. Her imagination captured by punk, she flew to London where she and Ari-Up of the Slits collaborated on a number of songs. On returning to Germany, she formed the Nina Hagen Band with former members of Lok Kreuzberg - Bernhard Potschka (guitar) and Manfred Praeker (bass) - plus Herwig Mitteregger (drums) and Reinhold Heil (keyboards). Released in 1979, ‘African Reggae’ was enough of a ‘turntable hit’ to bring Hagen a cult following - particularly in Australia - that grew steadily during the 80s. She relocated to New York to pursue a solo career, recording her first English language album, the quasi-religious Nunsexmonkrock. 1984’s Fearless was produced by Giorgio Moroder and included the disco hit ‘New York New York’.

During the late 80s Hagen’s career faltered outside her native Germany, with a number of ill-advised recordings on the Phonogram Records label. One oddity was the Punk Wedding EP, a four song ‘celebration’ of Hagen’s 1987 marriage. Relocating to Paris in 1989 she overhauled her image with the help of designer Jean-Paul Gautier, and returned to her musical roots with a series snappy, punk-influenced albums. Already a veteran of German underground film and cable television, Hagen popped up on UK television in 1998 as the host of a weekly science fiction show on the Sci-Fi Channel. Hagen’s long-standing interest in India was reflected on the following year’s Om Namah Shivay!, half of the profits from which went towards charitable causes.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.