In 1989 shortly before the fall of the Berlin Wall, Germany was still split into two sectors: the brutally conservative German Democratic Republic (or East Germany), controlled by the Soviet Union, and The Federal Republic of West Germany, controlled by the Allies and split into territories controlled by France, Britain and the United States. The wall built to divide the regimes not only spit the country, it surrounded West Berlin, an area to which many East Germany defectors fled to escape oppressive Soviet rule.
One such migrant was Richard (born Sven) Z. Kruspe. Prior to his escape from East Germany, a 16-year-old Kruspe went on a holiday to Czechoslovakia with some friends. On this trip, he purchased a guitar — at this point still banned in East Germany — despite having no idea how to play it. Shortly after his return home, he met a girl at a campground who insisted he play the guitar for her. Ignoring his claims that he was totally ignorant on the instrument, the girl egged him on so he began aggressively strumming to highlight his technical inadequacy, which inadvertently excited the girl more. His plans to sell the forbidden instrument upon his return home squashed, he spent the next two years practicing daily to build his skills. While the story plays out like some unlikely rock & roll legend, Kruspe confirmed the accuracy of the story via Loudwire in 2014.
In 1985, Kruspe made his way to the more liberal West Berlin and channeled his American-influenced musical tastes (his favorite act was Kiss) into his first band: Orgasm Death Gimmick. Between August 1991 and February 1993, the band released three demos which featured a funk-metal sound popularized by American bands like Faith No More and Red Hot Chili Peppers in the early Nineties. Despite Orgasm Death Gimmick's brief lifespan, its members would retain creative ties to Kruspe throughout the years (drummer Sascha Moser went on to join German indie-rock band Bobo in White Wooden Houses, whose singer Christiane Hebold provided vocals on Sehnsucht's "Engel").
When the Berlin Wall came down in November of 1989, Kruspe moved back to Schwerin in East Germany. Around this time, he lived with Oliver Reidel and Christoph Scheider and realized the music he'd been making with his first band was out of line with his personal preferences. Kruspe wanted something heavier and more machine-like, and after happening to hear Till Lindeman singing while he worked, he convinced the striking Lindeman to join himself and his roommates to form Rammstein. After winning a 1994 Berlin contest in which they received the chance to record a professional demo, the band moved on quickly to making their first studio album, Herzeleid, by early 1995.
Rammstein gained traction quickly and by March 1996, they were performing for an international audience on MTV's "Hanging Out in London." After spending most of that year touring in and around Germany, the band entered the studio again in November to begin sessions on the album that would announce them to the whole world, Sehnsucht. The album's massive single "Du Hast" and its eerily iconic video might remain the most recognizable to casual American fans, but Rammstein's worldwide popularity continues to grow to this day, 21 years after the August 22, 1997 release date. Below, we dig a little deeper into the mythology surrounding the German gods of industrial metal's breakout record.
1. Thanks to Trent Reznor, David Lynch became a Rammstein super fan — and the director slyly shouted out Sehnsucht in his Twin Peaks reboot
American fans of Rammstein owe a huge debt to Reznor's curatorial abilities, as he hand-selected the group to be featured in David Lynch's 1997 neo-noir film Lost Highway. While the two songs Reznor selected appeared on Rammstein's earlier debut album Herzeleid, it introduced fans on this side of the Atlantic to the Neue Deutsche Härte or "New German Hardness" movement and paved the way for Sehnsucht to become an international breakout later that year.
Rammstein's inclusion on the soundtrack left Lynch himself a lifelong fan. When the surrealist director unveiled the long-awaited third season of his cult-classic television show Twin Peaks in 2017, he snuck in a small tribute to Sehnsucht track "Engel" by having his character Gordon Cole whistle the iconic refrain during episode three.
2. The band's obsession with American cinema provided the basis for hit videos "Du Hast" and "Engel"
As a testament to their appreciation of Lynch, the band included a special effect in the "Du Hast" video lifted straight from Lost Highway. A car and small building can be seen exploding backwards at 1:01, a referential nod to a scene Lynch wove throughout the dreamlike film. The cinematic inspiration did not stop with Lynch though: the concept of men in black suits conducting their shady business and, as video director Philipp Stölz describes it, "drawing blood from each other" in a deserted warehouse is a callback to Quentin Tarantino's 1992 American heist flick and directorial debut Reservoir Dogs.
The group's Tarantino love wasn't confined to only Reservoir Dogs. The video for Sehnsucht's lead single "Engel" features heavy-handed references to the Tarantino-written 1996 vampire film From Dusk Till Dawn, directed by Robert Rodriguez. From indulgent bar revelers watching a house band perform while swilling beers to the seductive performance of a snake-charming dancer modeled after Selma Hayek's character in the film, the clip solidifies Rammstein's obsession with Nineties American cinema.
3. The flaming stunt man in the "Du Hast" video came close to severe injury
Rammstein's aesthetic has always involved a pyrotechnic element, and the man on fire near the end of the "Du Hast" video nearly suffered serious consequences when his mesmerizing performance stunned the cast and crew into silence. Sebastian Pfaffenbichler, who also worked with the band on the video for "Engel," relayed the story for the "official making of" documentary.
"There was a big scene — a person on fire. There was a stuntman with an asbestos suit on and flammable materials wrapped around him," Pfaffenbichler recalled. "He was set on fire. Then he had to go through the room — on fire. And (director) Philipp was so fascinated by this performance that he forgot to say 'cut' to the stuntman, and a stuntman just carries on working until someone says 'cut' because he never knows when the end comes ... We all stood there with our mouths open and no one said 'cut, cut.' The stuntman just carried on walking and got hotter and hotter, and then he jumped into a water tub himself."
Luckily the man escaped unharmed — and received a round of applause from the entranced onlookers when he threw himself into the pool.
4. There are six Sehnsucht album covers — and they all owe a debt to the Scorpions' 1982 record Blackout
The album foldout showcases alternate covers (see below), created by prolific Austrian artist Gottfried Helnwein who also worked with the Scorpions on their album Blackout (note the covers' similarities). The art features harshly lit images of each band member in streaked white face paint against a black background. Fetishistic torture devices adorn their heads, from the barbed-wire open-mouth gag on drummer Christoph Scheider to the most popular version featuring blinders and a muzzle on front man Till Lindeman. A Helnwein retrospective featuring the artist's work with Rammstein went on display in 1997 starting at the State Russian Museum in St. Petersburg and eventually made it to such prestigious institutes as SFMOM in San Francisco and LACMA in Los Angeles.
5. A live performance of "Buck Dich" (which translates to "bend over") once got singer Till Lindemann and keyboardist Flake Lorenz arrested
In June 1999, Rammstein performed their infamous fire- and sex-filled show for fans in Worcester, Massachusetts. Known as "the heart of the commonwealth," the quaint New England city had no love for the singer and keyboardist that night after the performers used a fake phallus to simulate anal sex during the raucous "Buck Dich," which translates to "bend over." While the two remained fully clothed during the act, authorities whisked them off to jail on charges of lewd and lascivious behavior. Luckily they were released the following day and continued on to their next tour date in the decidedly less puritanical Toronto.