Here and abroad, their talent has made them Berlin’s biggest stars.
ELLEN ALLIEN, DJ, designer, label boss
Ellen Allien is considerably more than a DJ, and perhaps a little less than one, too. The native Berliner, now 42, is one of the most anticipated DJs on the international touring scene, runs the Bpitch Control label and has done much to further the profiles of some of progressive techno’s biggest names, such as Kiki, Apparat and Tobias Freund, the latter two of whom made substantial musical contributions on Allien’s own albums, 2003’s Berlinette and last year’s Dust. She also runs her own fashion imprint and markets a line of DJ bags (for €150+) and various other nicknacks.
Through these activities and the force of her personality, Allien (whose birthname is Fraatz) has come to represent Berlin techno to the world outside that relatively hermetically sealed bubble that is the local electronic music scene. This, despite the fact that she has no trademark sound – she’ll skip from minimal to acid to pure pop vocal moves depending on the project – other than a general tastefulness. Her greatest talent may be that of a scenester, and we mean that in the very best sense: a connector and facilitator who can help others realize their vision under her designer cloak. She’s able to draw upon experience and relationships that go back to her E-Werk days and before. In addition to maintaining an impeccable roster, she gets things done. And this, in Berlin, is real power. -D. Strauss
CHRISTA WOLF, novelist
Christa Wolf is one of the most important and fascinating writers to have emerged in Germany in the past century and the 81-year-old is credited with giving a voice to the people of the East with her literature. Never far from controversy, Wolf both informed for the Stasi and was monitored by them. Her life often gave rise to this problematic placement. She wrote passionately about the East but was appreciated in the West, and she spent time on both sides of the Iron Curtain.
In 1962, Wolf’s family settled in Kleinmachnow, a suburb between Berlin and Potsdam, before she moved to her East Berlin home in 1976. Her view of the city has charted its development from a uniquely Eastern perspective, both before and after the fall of the Wall. Her works, including Der geteilte Himmel (The Divided Heaven) and Was bleibt (What Remains), have been lauded the world over, and in 2002 she received the first Deutscher Bücherpreis, which recognized her lifetime achievement.
Ultimately, it was her proud Ossi voice that made her a role model for many former Easterners who were coming to terms with their position in a West-dominated nation state. In Berlin, her refreshing honesty and subjectivity gave Germans a unique but integral perspective on reunification, and her views were vital in the opening up and development of the city. The rights of women to equality is one of the most consistent themes in Wolf’s work, and her courage to publish these convictions in novels like Cassandra under the ruling SED (communist) party have made her a role model not just for Ossis, but for all women. -Nic Stone
NINA HAGEN, pop star, punk, icon
That she’s something between a pixie and a banshee is fitting for Ost-meets-West icon Nina Hagen. Born in East Berlin, she emigrated to the West in 1976, crooning to the Volk in her first band at age 16. But it wasn’t until punk that her soprano shrieks were heard over the German border and across the Atlantic. Thirty years hence, the 56-year-old is Germany’s longest-reigning viable icon. The aggression of punk turned into the flamboyance of pop, even if the star wasn’t as bright elsewhere as it has been in Germany. Her quicksilver persona and singular outlook took shape as rubber-faced outbursts about masturbation, UFOs, animal rights and her spiritual connection to a dead Kurt Cobain. A great fan of East Berlin football team FC Union, in 1998 she recorded “Eisern Union”, the official club anthem. She made a splash in 2009 with her appearance in a PETA commercial alongside Pamela Anderson, Andy Dick and Steve-O as her faux-leather wearing punk rock self. Her most recent and perhaps most questionable turn is as a born-again Christian. Whether her new evangelical avant-garde persona still influences remains to be seen. She’s currently in the process of creating a new album, hopefully a holy high note. -Walter Crasshole
SASCHA WALTZ, choreographer
Now a must-see choreographer, Sasha Waltz launched her impressive career in Berlin, which has remained the main stage of her mainfold accomplishments, both artistic and institutional. After leaving her native Karlsruhe to study dance in Amsterdam and New York, she moved on to Berlin and founded the independent company Sasha Waltz & Guests and later, the sophiensæle in Mitte, with the help of her now-husband Jochen Sandig. In 2005, she moved her company from the Schaubühne in Charlottenburg to Friedrichshain’s Radial System V. Her later works have been more international in scope, with the Dialogue 09 projects examining both Berlin’s renovated Neues Museum and the new museum for contemporary art in Rome. The 48-year-old’s next premiere will continue her recent emphasis on operatic works, with a production of Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas at the Waldbühne in August. -Summer Banks
Only in Berlin could someone like Peaches have risen to the stature of international sexual sovereign. Berlin’s free-for-all decadent spirit found a perfect analog in her gender-bending libidinous liveliness and gave the 44-year-old electro rocker a launching pad to unleash her orgasmic output all over the world. Heir to Debbie Harry and Joan Jett, Peaches is among that pantheon of rocker women who are immortally cool. Based in the German capital since the start of this decade, the Canadian-born electro prince/ss is partially responsible for a new generation’s awareness of post-Wall Berlin; not since Nick Cave have so many people around the world buzzed about “that artist in Berlin”. From her first album The Teaches of Peaches to her new turn as a sexualized ingénue in her own theatrical productions (Peaches Christ Superstar, Peaches Does Herself, among others), Peaches sees Berlin as her audience and the world as her stage. -Walter Crasshole
HERTA MÜLLER, writer, Nobel-prize winner
One of only 12 women to have ever won the Nobel Prize for literature, Romanian-born Berliner Herta Müller was bestowed the honour in 2009. It took many by surprise, despite her long and distinguished career as a novelist, poet and essayist. Her novel Niederungen, an uncensored edition of which was published in Germany in 1984, openly and heavily criticised the Communist Ceauçescu dictatorship of Romania and the persecution of the country’s German minority, leading to death threats and a travel ban being placed upon her. Three years later she managed to flee Romania to West Berlin, where she lives to this day. In the years since, the 57-year-old has published numerous influential and brave works, giving a voice to the dispossessed and winning countless plaudits and a long list of humanitarian and literary awards. -Alex Eccleston
FATMIRE BAJRAMAJ, footballer
Since tranferring to 1.FFC Turbine Potsdam from Duisburg in 2009, the fearless attacking midfielder Fatmire “Lira” Bajramaj has been a Bundesliga winner, a European Champions League winner and was recently named runner-up Women’s World Footballer of the Year. At only 22 years old, she is as representative of the strengths and contradictions of today’s Hauptstadt-Frauen as anybody and, as such, is a huge influence and role model. Born to ethnic Albanian parents in Kosovo, her family had to flee the war when she was a child. She is a practicing Muslim and talks freely about her experiences of vilification and integration in her life story My Goal in Life – from Refugee to World Champion, published in 2009. When her national team walks out to defend their World Cup title this summer at the Olympiastadion, it will be as representatives of the new Germany and Bajramaj will be the star of the show. -Jacob Sweetman