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17. June 2011
Marie Biermann is one of singer-songwriter Wolf Biermann's ten children. She has just released an album where she sings her father's lyrics. We met Biermann – who is from Hamburg – for a cup of tea and spoke about Berlin, the meaning of voice and her famous father's shadow.
You're currently visiting Berlin. What meaning does this city hold for you personally?
My soul is caught up in Berlin. My father spent a long and significant amount of time in Berlin. My mom's from Friedrichshain. Some of my nine siblings live here.
Do you come over a lot?
About once a month. There was a time, around 1997, where I really fell in love with Berlin. That was when the area around Oranienstraße, Chausseestrane and Friedrichstraße started to liven up – I was already 18 and could get into all of the clubs and bars and I was very excited about that. I was still going to school but I came to Berlin every week. I lived here for a year, too, but after that I realized that my place is definitely in Hamburg.
What did you miss?
I missed the homeliness of Hamburg, the familiarity. Berlin is very un-homely. It's great for a couple of days but if you live here, it's easy to fall into a hole. And I definitely didn't fare so well with the notorious "Berliner Winter".
You sound disillusioned.
Well, I had dreams of the Big City. I thought that I would move to Berlin and everything would work out somehow. But it didn't. There weren't many jobs for me in Berlin. I do movie dubs and voice-overs for commercials and Hamburg just has more to offer in that scene. But I've had all kinds of side jobs.
I was a chubby model once.
That's probably not the most official term to describe it...
Yes, most people would probably call it “oversized model” or a “size 40 plus”. Anything past size 36 or 38 counts as overweight in the modelling business. I personally don't accept that opinion. But about ten years ago, I had a couple of modelling jobs, mostly for those catalogues that come with your standard women's magazines.
What other jobs did you have?
I did a lot of cleaning, I cleaned sun blinds at doctor's offices. That was probably the worst job I've had, even professional cleaning ladies try to avoid it. But I also did telefone marketing for a while. It's where I learned to train my voice. I've always loved to work with my voice.
Where can we hear your voice?
I do a lot of computer games and I'm also the voice of a major German supermarket. A commercial voice-over is so different from your natural voice – there's about 60 percent more air in it. Computer game voices are very americanized, they sound like they're out of a sitcom. But if you don't overexaggerate, people will think there's something wrong with the game.
You're also a singer.
Yes, I'm what you would call an “interpreter”. I look for songs that seem like they could have originated in my own heart. I'm just not a writer. For a long time, I thought that I wasn't a real singer because I didn't write my own lyrics. It seems like everyone's a singer-songwriter nowadays. A lot of people think that that's real and credible. But that's not true. The biggest singers of our time didn't write their own lyrics. And it's not like you'd expect an actor to write his own screenplay. Because an actor just executes what someone else has written. And that's what I do – I “execute” other people's songs and poems.
On your album “Marie singt Biermann”, you only sing your father's songs.
I found what I was always looking for in my father's lyrics. It's a language I grew up with. I just like his songs the best. They're brilliant chansons in a powerful German language.
What are your father's songs about?
The old issues: love's pleasures and sorrows. I feel like that's what it's always about. But there's another block of sea shanties and Hamburg pub songs - they're crude, beguiling and sensual, but also pretty saucy at times. And there are a couple of soft ballads, very classical.
Does being constantly associated with your famous father bother you?
It's both a blessing and a curse. It always was and it always will be. I identify with him and “Marie singt Biermann” is a tribute to my father. I always wanted to sing his songs and I couldn't do it in my early 20's because I wasn't mature enough. I had to become a different, older self to be able to approach his lyrics. A lot of people have asked me if it's really the best thing to start with your own father's lyrics on your debut album. I actually see it as a liberation.
Do you have personal feelings towards the GDR? Your father was an important figure, but you never lived there yourself.
Of course I never had to fight the same demons my father fought forty years ago, so I don't have that much to do with it. But it would be wrong to say that I'm completely oblivious. I happen to be the daughter of a man with a complex East /West history. And everytime I come to Berlin, I realize that this was a dictatorship until very recently.