People who travel long distances and pay money for rock music festivals usually want to know in advance who’s playing. But the lineup for Jamel rockt den Förster in northeastern Germany is kept top secret. The audience only finds out when the bands take the stage. And tickets have sold out for 11 years.
The biggest stars are the organizers, Birgit and Horst Lohmeyer. Begun in 2007, the two-day festival was their response to discovering that the 40-person village where they lived was increasingly being settled by neo-Nazis and others with far-right views.
“If you get up every morning and know that you’re not wanted or liked, you need help and you’re happy that there are people who support you,” Laura, a 27-year-old who made the 540-kilometer (325-mile) trip from Cologne, told DW. “That’s why we’re here.”
The Lohmeyers have not only raised their voices in protest: They’ve literally pumped up the volume. The music in Jamel consists of rap, power pop and punk – but the bands who play here all like it loud.
“It would be utopian to think that we could change the demographic structure with a cultural or political event,” Birgit told DW. “Our motivation at the start was that we noticed there was almost no resistance. So we thought we should at least sensitize the public to the fact that Nazis specifically target certain areas of our society.”
About a thousand music fans, many of whom are part of the antifa scene, spend the two days camping out on the Lohmeyers’ extended back lawn. Over the years, the event has become very popular among German-language rock bands.
In 2015, the Lohmeyers’ barn was burned down in an unsolved act of arson. The lead singer of Die Toten Hosen, Germany’s most popular fun-punk group, immediately volunteered to play the festival. By then, rocking Jamel had become part of any self-respecting leftist German band’s résumé.
“It feels good to support the Lohmeyers, who for the rest of the year have to put up with their neighbors and are sometimes verbally attacked,” said Thomas Wenzel, who plays bass in Hamburg’s Die Sterne, one of the groups in this year’s lineup. “I imagine it must be pretty oppressive to live here. I think it’s important that we and other bands show up and turn the tables a bit.”
Those neighbors were nowhere to be seen on Friday, the first day of the festival, but a Nazi wall mural in town leaves no doubt about what atmosphere prevails in Jamel. The only election placards on the streets are those of the anti-immigrant, anti-EU Alternative for Germany. This is far-right country – with no political opposition on the horizon, except for the Lohmeyers.
A middle-aged couple from the nearby town of Grevesmühlen attended the event for the first time this year to “see what all the fuss is about.” The woman said Jamel was not as bad as its reputation – but added that they usually drive around the town rather than through it. She didn’t want to give her name for publication and looked around a bit nervously, as though someone might be listening in from behind the blinds of the houses in the village.
Power of pop
If there were any people lurking behind the blinds, they were not able to go to bed early. The music kicked off with the punk band Zaunpfahl from Rostock – perhaps fittingly given that it’s the 25th anniversary of right-wing extremist attacks on an apartment building housing foreign workers and asylum applicants there.
Zaunpfahl was followed by the Cologne hip-hop trio Gold Roger, who spun a number of amusing and nimble-tongued rhymes about neo-Nazi idiocy; Die Sterne, core members of the Hamburger Schule music movement; and the rap-rock crossover group Kraftklub, who kept the crowd amused with anecdotes about right-wing extremists in their hometown, the eastern city of Chemnitz.
The bands had an easy audience. The crowd clapped along, chanted “Nazis out” and even took off and waved their shirts on command – but stopped short of following Kraftklub frontman Felix Brummer’s none-too-serious exhortations to throw away their mobile phones. The first night of the festival concluded with a performance by Hamburg punk rock band Slime, who go all the way back to 1979 and are something like Germany’s version of The Clash.
For an hour, the spirit, though not the singing and songwriting ability, of Joe Strummer lived on in this stretch of the formerly communist part of Germany. The crowd, which ranged in age from very young children with the parents to people even older than the members of Slime, seemed to enjoy all of the bands regardless of musical style. Can merely enjoying some loud music really be an effective form of protest against right-wing extremism? The thousand people who spent a couple of pleasant late summer nights in Jamel thought so.
And the Lohmeyers obviously derive strength from the fans’ support. When asked her favorite memory from 11 years of this one-of-a-kind festival, Birgit said it was the concert by Die Toten Hosen.
“It ended with (singer) Campino asking me and Horst to come up on stage with them, and we saw a whole sea of banners and euphoric faces of people applauding us,” Lohmeyer said. “It was wonderful to feel how much strength there was in people’s support for our cause here.”
The name Jamel rockt den Förster hardly trips off the tongue, but the two-day celebration of music and protest against Nazis in a northeastern German village has become a cultural institution. Here are some of this year’s highlights.
The festival is the brainchild of Horst and Birgit Lohmeyer, who were dismayed to learn that many of the 40 other inhabitants of their village were right-wing extremists. So, for two nights every summer, those bad neighbors are kept awake by some very loud music.
There’s a lot of punk music at the Jamel festival, but this years lineup – which, as always, was kept top secret – was surprisingly diverse. Gold Roger are a hip-hop outfit from Cologne with a fast-talking frontman.
Not surprisingly, the Lohmeyers’ neighbors tend to keep a low profile when the festival is on. The crowd in Jamel makes no secret of where their political sympathies lie and would probably not give right-wing parties and their followers a very warm welcome.
One of the top acts book for the 2017 festival were the veteran Hamburg power poppers Die Sterne (The Stars). They played a mix or newer material and popular favorites that helped establish the musical style known as the Hamburger Schule (Hamburg School).
The act that drew the most lively response from the crowd on Friday night was Kraftklub, from Chemnitz in eastern Germany. Frontman Felix Brummer even did a bit of crowd surfing in what was a very dynamic show.
The festival is now entering its second decade and shows no signs of slowing down. Bands are eager to play it, and music fans are eager to get tickets even though they don’t know in advance which groups will be appearing. All of that makes for a unique festival experience.