The podcast "My Friend Flea" remembers a dazzling West Berlin boy who could have been a star but didn’t become one. Flea knew everyone in the scene, ran from demo to demo, was already a political songwriter as a child, who appeared on TV and gave interviews. A colorful dog in the Wall city, hero of the leftist student scene. His band Red Steel Braukman was on the verge of a breakthrough, even Sony showed interest, but then Floh disappeared and his story got lost in West Berlin myths. Berlin-based author and journalist Philip Meinhold met Floh in the late 1980s; 30 years later, he traces his friend Floh in his four-part podcast series.
"My friend Floh" – a four-part radioeins podcast series by Philip Meinhold
Where Flea was, there was action, he was cool and knew everyone
West Berlin in the 1980s was manageable, Spandau almost another city, the world ended at Schlesisches Tor. Flea grew up in Wilmersdorf, the middle-class part of the Wall City, but his childhood was shaped by the leftist and anti-authoritarian ideas of 1970s. Parents were called by their first names, instead of going to kindergarten they went to the children’s store, little Florian listened to adults, was interested in politics, wrote songs about things that did not suit him. As a student, he was instinctively drawn to Kreuzberg, where autonomous life raged in the squats and punk clubs.
Where Flea was, there was something going on, he was cool, good looking, always had the guitar case with him, knew everyone and everyone, the bag full of flyers, the next party always on the go. This is how Philip Meinhold remembers Floh. The two saw each other at demos, met at parties. The left-wing student scene in West Berlin in the late 1980s was small, and people were constantly running into each other. They became friends, Meinhold attended the concerts of Flea’s band Red Steel Braukman, it was the musical answer of the Wall City to The Police. They should have been the next big band, the next big thing. There were recordings in the renowned Kreuzberg Tritonus Studio, where also Element of Crime , Die arzte and Einsturzende Neubauten worked. The three guys had a manager, major labels took notice of the go-getting band with the charismatic frontman.
But things did not turn out the way they should have. Flea became anxious, he felt threatened and persecuted, feared being shot on stage. Childhood memories caught up with him. Back when the SEK stood in his children’s room because his mother, who worked as a prop master at the Freie Volksbuhne, didn’t return disused machine guns used in a play to the police station on time. Or when right-wing skinheads distributed wanted posters with a photo of him, when he was only 14, a rebellious left-wing songwriter who was a thorn in the Nazis’ side. Flea feared the fascists and the state, he broke up the band and left the city in a hurry. Then its traces are lost.
Back in 2013, Philip Meinhold published a book in which he returns to the Wall city. In "O Jugend, o West-Berlin" (O Youth, o West-Berlin) he collected reports, essays and columns that recall Eberhard Diepgen, the Deutschlandhalle, visits to the Green Week and the Grips Theater, the Junge Union and Big Sexyland. In the four-part podcast "My friend Flea" he penetrates again into the wall city.
"My friend Floh" is an important document
Meinhold’s podcast is an autobiographically influenced piece of West Berlin history. For as much as Floh may appear in his podcast as the emerging star of his generation, and was certainly an impressive presence in his time – as the memories of his companions, friends, fellow musicians and relatives make clear – he quickly disappeared again from the collective memory of the city. He disappeared permanently because he left so little behind, because he burned out before the breakthrough. If Meinhold hadn’t remembered, Flea, his bright youth and tragic decline, would never have existed for people beyond his immediate circle of the past.
But it’s this "what if" situation that makes the podcast so unique, as a document of the times with the original sounds from the environment of the time and the coherently selected music. But even beyond the West Berlin folklore, the four podcast episodes, stretching over a good two hours, are a universal tale of friendship, creativity, political responsibility and the depths of the human psyche. "My Friend Flea" is an important document, and it would not be surprising if the material soon reached an even wider audience as a series or film. Because tragic heroes exert a tremendous fascination and that was Floh, a tragic hero from the Wall City.
All episodes of Philip Meinhold’s podcast "Mein Freund Floh" are available in the ARD media library.
More West Berlin, more left-wing scene
12 things we miss about West Berlin – from Kranzler to BSC Preuben. Here’s to Kreuzberg in the 1980s: 12 photos of the Wall fringe district and even further back: Historical color photos of Kreuzberg in the 1960s. Squatted Houses in Berlin: Leftist History from Kopi to Rigaer Strabe 94. Punks Not Dead: 12 photos of punks from East and West Berlin. And here we trace a forgotten punk band from 1980s West Berlin: Never Mind Spandau, Here’s The Fuckers.