By Lukas Gilbert, Hinz&Kunzt
“Yeah, there’s a bit inside of all of us that likes a bit of modelling,” laughs guitarist Jörg whilst posing with his bandmates for photographer Mauricio Bustamante. But it quickly becomes clear that these guys aren’t here for a modelling session. Ear-shattering chords resound through the rehearsal room in Berne.
The band are called Unter Einsatz des Lebens (UEDL), which translates as Committed to Living, and they meet every Thursday to “really rock out,” as bassist and singer Golem puts it. With his long hair and his flamboyant clothes, the 52-year-old looks just like you imagine a rock n’ roller should look.
As well as Golem and Jörg, both Hinz&Kunzt vendors, we have Deerk (lead guitar and vocals) and Duddi (drums). And then there’s Joe, a recent addition to the set-up, and a friend of Golem’s. He helped to convert the cellar, which up to that point “had a kind of 80’s feel,” to something more “cultish,” with flashing LED lights embedded in the walls. He wants to record their songs as well.
The rehearsal room is in the cellar of a little cottage which Golem and Jörg have been renting for a few years from “the world’s best landlords,” who live next door. And they are the world’s best not just because they have no problem living next door to a band, but also because they rent to Jörg and Golem at all. Neither of them had a job for ages, they both had issues with alcohol and Golem also had a problem with hard drugs. Golem has even served time in jail for fare-dodging. He had no home, had slept at friends’ places for years, and neither he nor Jörg had been able to afford a place like this one. But: “The owners wanted to do something good, so they got in touch with Hinz&Kunzt, who liaised with us, and now we live here,” says Jörg.
Jörg and Golem first met in the early 90s. Golem, who had qualified as a cleaner, had at the time set himself up in business making and selling the French “Croque” snacks – his shop was called Croque n’ Roll. Jörg happened to live in the same street as the shop and was a regular customer. They’ve been friends ever since, bound by a common passion for music.
At the beginning of the 2000s, Jörg started working for Hinz&Kunzt, at first as a facilities manager before he moved on to working as part of the distribution team. Golem started selling the magazine a few years later. Croque n’ Roll had gone bust, and Golem had been keeping his head above water by doing odd jobs. It wasn’t long before they got together with other workers at Hinz&Kunzt to form the rock band Restakzent. And since they have been living together, music is ever-present.
“We couldn’t live without music,” says Jörg, who, at the age of 64, is UEDL’s oldest member. Resplendent on his T-shirt is the band name, framed in barbed wire and with the strapline: “Punk Rock since 1981”. Exactly, 1981. In those days, German punk rock was in its infancy and a group of kids who went to school together in Steilshoop formed UEDL. They included Duddi on drums and Deerk on guitar. Because there wasn’t room for Golem in this band, he started his own band, Trubadix. It was a time when lots of bands were starting up, not all of them successful. Although UEDL got off to a good start – the band played a few gigs in and around Hamburg – they soon folded. They moved apart, some of them got jobs, the typical way that many bands end up splitting up. After the end of UEDL, Duddi played for a while with Golem in Trubadix. Many other band projects followed. Who played with whom and when and where, well, not even the band members can quite remember that. But their eyes brighten as they remember gigs played in front of hundreds of people. Then, when these bands all folded, the guys lost touch with one another. As Golem says, “We just ran out of steam.”
Yet, in 2016 Golem bumped into his old mate Duddi while out shopping in Berne. And though they hadn’t seen each other in years, the chemistry was still there. “It’s as if it was meant to be,” says Golem. And, knowing that former UEDL guitarist Deerk was living right round the corner, an idea was born: UEDL needed reviving. But why call it UEDL, of all things? “Music is my life,” Golem says. “So, Committed to Living fits perfectly. And the name sounds good.” And when Golem screams the words of the classic Johnny Thunders song ‘Born to Lose’, you know you are listening to someone who hasn’t exactly lived a straightforward life. But you can also tell that the person singing is full of passion, making music with all his heart, and it makes no difference whether the songs are covers or originals, old or new.
“Music has always kept me together, even when everything else was going wrong,” says Golem. But there had been times when things had got so bad that even he wasn’t able to make music. He had pawned his beloved guitars and basses to finance his drug habit. “That was grim,” he remembers. So being able to rehearse with his old mates, who themselves give back some structure to his life, means the world to him. “It’s just like the old days, when we used to hang out together. Amazing.”
And when they aren’t playing music together, they sit by the fire at home and tell stories from the old days, or in summer they fire up the barbecue. “That’s proper friendship,” Golem tells me. The only people who do suffer are Duddi’s and Deerk’s wives, because this passion costs time. “But as long as we keep it within limits, they put up with it,” laughs Duddi. So, do they have plans for the future? “We don’t want fame,” says Deerk. “But it would be good to make a record, and play the odd gig. Yeah, that would be nice.”
Translated from German by Peter Bone
Read more coverage of #VendorWeek 2020 here