There was rather more than the standard rendition of “Happy Birthday” when Germany and Myanmar marked 60 years of diplomatic relations in Yangon on 6 December. At the invitation of the German Embassy, Die Toten Hosen gave a free concert to an appreciative audience of 3000 – including Myanmar punks, monks and whole families.
Organised by the German Embassy, the open-air concert was the dazzling highlight to a successful jubilee year. Previously, the two countries’ Presidents had each conducted visits to celebrate 60 years of German-Myanmar relations and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi had travelled to Berlin. The performance by Die Toten Hosen had the slogan “A somewhat different anniversary”.
Somewhat different cultural exchange
The band’s lead singer, Campino, explained his decision to perform in Myanmar to the BILD newspaper:
It was a “now or never” moment. The German Embassy got in touch to ask if we’d think about putting together a somewhat different sort of cultural exchange to celebrate 60 years of diplomatic relations between Germany and Myanmar. We put our feelers out straight away towards the underground and music scene in Yangon, and the response was nothing but positive. We took that as a sign to head for Myanmar.
The punk band arrived a few days before the concert, to get to know the country. Myanmar was almost completely cut off from foreign influences during the decades it spent under a military dictatorship, until it started opening up in 2011. A rock concert would have been impossible during those years, with the output of local music groups subject to harsh censorship. Now, they can take to the stage alongside their German guests.
Monks, punks and families
Before the concert could start, however, the spirits honoured in Myanmar first had to be called on with a request for a successful concert and good weather. With Die Toten Hosen in attendance, Buddhist monks conducted a ceremony with offerings to the spirits at a shrine behind the stage. Successfully, it would seem – as the many people who came saw both those prayers answered.
The wild and wonderful local punk scene shared the park with Myanmar monks, families and fans of Die Toten Hosen who had travelled from Germany specially. They all got in free; Die Toten Hosen took no fee and paid for their own travel and accommodation. The gig had support from the Federal Foreign Office.
The concert itself was a roaring success. Not only were there fans from Myanmar able to sing along to the band’s classic “Eisgekühlter Bommerlunder”in German; front man Campino also tried out the Burmese language at several points in the show. In a homage to the country and its diverse music scene, which was never silenced even under the military dictatorship, Die Toten Hosen played “Yangon calling” as the closing number together with a number of local rock bands. Diplomatic relations made tangible; diplomatic relations you could sing along to – this was certainly a somewhat different birthday party.