Campino, AKA Andrea Frege, at the Barbie (Eli Revzin)
Campino, AKA Andrea Frege, at the Barbie Photo by Eli Revzin
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On the 20th anniversary of German reunification, earlier this week, the country’s most successful German-singing band did not perform in Berlin, Hamburg or Munich. Die Toten Hosen instead chose to play in Israel for the first time in its 28-year career.

“It’s a special and unique moment, especially for us as a German band. It took us a long time to finally come, and while every time playing in a new country is something special, playing in Israel is really something else,” frontman Campino said to Haaretz. The punk group performed Sunday night at Tel Aviv’s Barby Club to an audience of several hundred that included an 86-year-old Holocaust survivor.

“It was certainly one of those evenings we won’t forget,” Campino said after the show.
The band, which got its start in Dusseldorf in 1982 and whose name means “the dead trousers” in English, could be compared with the Sex Pistols for its rough, unsophisticated style. Die Toten Hosen, which in its early days was known mainly for its crude drinking songs, grew to become a recognized voice on Germany’s cultural stage, despite or perhaps because of its characteristic lack of regard for political correctness.

While retaining its antiestablishment reputation the band has sold more than 15 million albums, charted several number-one hits and won countless national and international awards, including the 1997 World Music Award for Best German Artist.

“We heard Tel Aviv is one of the most exciting cities in the world, and it’s sad and miserable that we haven’t been there before,” said Campino, 48, whose real name is Andreas Frege. “The one thing we already regret is that we can’t afford staying longer than 24 hours because the tour schedule is so tight. It’s ridiculous. But we do hope this will be the teaser for us to say: I’m going to pack my bag and I’m going to come back privately in a few months. As soon as the tour is over and we have a pause, we want to come back and check out the city on our own.”

While a number of native-born Israelis attended Sunday’s show, the audience consisted mainly of German-speakers, including Jewish immigrants and Christian tourists. Minutes after the performance ended, Campino emerged from backstage and began a long conversation with the German-born Holocaust survivor.

The performance, which was recorded by German state television, was part of a tour that also took the group to Jordan, Turkey and Central Asia. “I strongly believe that a boycott [of Israel] would be the wrong signal,” Campino said, adding that the band had been under pressure to cancel the Tel Aviv date. Several popular musicians and bands canceled summer concerts in Israel for political reasons.

“We are not coming to please the government or the establishment,” Campino said. “We’ve always been a band for the youth, for the people who need to be strengthened with music and attitude to go their own way. We definitely think that a lot of people in Israel are not happy with the decisions of the government, and boycotting Israel would be the same as boycotting America just because [President George W.] Bush was there, forgetting that 50 percent of the people there hated him. It’s just not fair and I believe that with a boycott you would hit exactly the wrong people. Also, it’s making yourself more important than you really are,” Campino said, adding, “A rock band shouldn’t misuse a stage to make political statements about the Middle East conflict.”

Indeed, the evening remained entirely apolitical. Die Toten Hosen played its greatest hits in German, including “Alles aus Liebe” and “Zehn kleine Jagermeister,” as well as covering, in English, songs such as The Clash’s “Should I Stay or Should I Go,” Blur’s “Song 2” and giving The Beatles’ “I Feel Fine” a punk makeover.

“We’re not coming here to preach or point fingers or tell the people of Israel what to do,” Campino said. “We just wanted to have a good party with the people here and to show them that we come from Germany with open arms.”