Friday November 16, 2007
For a generation growing up under the shadow of the Nazis, the 1960s
was always going to be about more than putting flowers in your hair.
West Germany hippie revolution, complete with free love, communal
living and loud rock music - albeit filtered through a Teutonically
serious sensibility. It's all encapsulated in a new German film,
Eight Miles High, the story of a stunningly beautiful icon of
rebellion called Uschi Obermaier. Obermaier had famous lovers (Mick
Jagger and Keith Richards), a high-profile career (as a frequently
nude model) and a lifestyle that epitomised the dreams of a
generation (commune-dweller, groupie, naked person, nomadic hippie).
"She was the most spectacularly sexy girl I think I've ever
encountered," remembers the American writer Glenn O'Brien, a former
boyfriend, and one guesses that part of Obermaier's appeal is her
very non-Teutonic refusal to take anything too seriously.
Obermaier was a brief inhabitant of Berlin's Kommune 1, an
alternative hippie encampment that, for all of its free love, doesn't
really sound like it was much fun. There were no doors on the
lavatories (modesty while crapping being viewed as a bourgeois
conceit) and all telephone conversations were run through a
loudspeaker to ensure no secrets were kept. Everyone slept in one
room on mattresses on the floor, which meant that if one stoned
hippie was in the mood for a rambling monologue on the tenets of
Maoism everyone had to endure it. And for all its proclaimed freedom
Kommune 1 had a lot in common with the working methods of the Stasi
on the other side of the Berlin Wall: even letters home had to be
approved by Kommune consent.
Obermaier came into this world as a teenage runaway from a dull
village near Munich, having already achieved a degree of notoriety
for posing nude on the cover of Stern magazine. Her love of the good
life didn't go down too well with her fellow comrades: "The fact that
I smoked menthol cigarettes meant that I was playing into the hands
of the Imperialists," she remembers. Nonetheless a touch of radical
chic worked wonders for the model's profile: Obermaier and her
right-on boyfriend Rainer Langhans became the pin-up couple of the
revolutionary left; Germany's own John and Yoko.
Whether due to increased police hostility, association with violent
radical groups such as Baader-Meinhof or a lack of make-up remover in
the bathroom, life in Kommune 1 got too much for Obermaier. After a
stint as a full-time groupie, a flirtation with acting and an
unspecified role in the underground rock band Amon Düül II she took
off on an interminable hippie trail with her new man, a former pimp,
bar-owner and general bad egg Dieter Bockhorn. Ten years of traveling
the world in a customised bus together ended abruptly when Bockhorn
drove a motorbike into the back of a lorry in 1983. He was killed instantly.
Obermaier now lives as a recluse in Topanga Canyon in California, but
in the mother country her fame has never been higher. Eight Miles
High was a hit when it came out earlier this year and High Times, the
biography on which it is based is a bestseller. At a time when Angela
Merkel is arranging for the release of the remaining jailed
Baader-Meinhof members, Obermaier has remained a photogenic symbol of
the new freedom Germany has come to define itself by. "We won," says
Rainer Langham today. "Society is freer, women are equal and children
are allowed to contradict their parents."
Perhaps Obermaier's objective was less political: by having a good
time (almost) all of the time, she showed by example that one could
be a hippie and still have a door on the lavatory.
· Eight Miles High opens the German Film Festival (Friday 23 to
November 29) at the Curzon Soho, London W1