Sound piece produced for the exhibition poliflur 0101 in an abandoned greenhouse. There were wild growing tobacco plant – remainders of expired EU-subsidies for cultivating tobacco. Machorka is a negative term which is no longer used for (Russian) Tobacco.
poliflur0101, an exhibition in a greenhouse in Berlin-Lichtenberg, September–November 2007, curated by Anke Westermann
The greenhouse had once been used for growing tobacco. Tobacco plants were growing wild all over the grounds and inside the greenhouse itself.
My grandfather always smoked, and I was reminded of the word machorka, which in our family referred to bad, stinky tobacco, the kind people grew illegally after the war in Poland and in Germany, in allotment gardens and along railroad embankments. When I began to research the origins of the word machorka (a Russian tobacco strain derived from the wild species Nicotiana rustica), I was amazed that no one I knew was familiar with the term.
Then I came across the website of Dieter Schönefeld, who had posted a collection of songs there including one called “Machorka.” Schönefeld told me a very moving story from the Cold War era. I included it in an audio piece, along with Schönefeld’s singing and music by Nicolas Liucci-Goutnikov.
Excerpted transcript from the audio piece “Machorka”:
Schönefeld himself had studied information technology in Dresden from 1963 to 1969. He and a few of his school friends had internships in East Berlin during the fall semester of 1967–68. At this time they got to know a couple of students from the Freie Universität in West Berlin, with whom they had a number of “slightly covert” meetings. During this period they changed the lyrics of “Machorka,” which was well known in Dresden at that time, to the current version.
In the original version of the song, which Schönefeld and I referred to in our correspondence as “the Dresden version,” the refrain goes: “Machorka, machorka, give it to us, without it we just can’t keep up.” The song describes conditions of such scarcity that a dog is roasted on a spit, and it mentions brother countries such as Poland, Slovakia and Uruguay, where the cry for machorka is also supposedly heard, again because of general hardship and the lack of better tobacco.
However, thanks to the 1968 student protests, the Russian invasion of Prague and a fellow student’s failed attempt to escape to the West, Schönefeld and his group sang together only rarely.
In those days, said Schönefeld in response to my further inquiries, many cabaret acts, plays and movies attempted to view and portray the GDR in a critical light.
I realize that I still have almost no idea what it really meant for this country to be divided.