Did you know..? A glimpse into Carmen Knoebel’s legacy
The founder of the iconic Düsseldorf night club Ratinger Hof recalls her encounter with art and punk
It is a comforting and wondrous thing to listen to people share what they have experienced in their lives. We do it via podcasts, or audiobooks, see it in documentaries and in this instance through the Audioarchiv Kunst recording in which Carmen Knoebel talks about her childhood, her first contact with the art world, and the start of the legendary Ratinger Hof (one of Germany’s most important punk bars).
Coming to Düsseldorf as a studied technical draughtswoman in her late teens, Carmen Knoebel soon made contact with the local music and art scene, which appealed to her much more than „any bureaucratic existence“. As a Saxon, born in 1944 and having fled to Berlin with her mother at the age of 6, she learned to be independent fast and earned her own living as a draughtswoman. In the evenings she would hang out at the music clubs and artists bars, and be around artists such as Dieter Fittes, the Imis (her later husband Imi Knoebel and his inseparable friend Rainer Giese, who both took on the name Imi), Blinky Palermo, Norbert Tadeusz, Anatol (Herzfeld), Katharina Sieverding, Ingrid Kohlhöfer – some of the most significant artists of the era.
It was visiting an exhibition in Berlin in 1966/67 (most probably Grafische Cabinet René Block) which she remembers as a key moment with art. She saw a woman wrapped in cellophane, bare-breasted, sitting on a staircase and playing the cello. That moment she realized the spectrum modern art could have and was captivated.
“I stood there and said to myself: I can accept that. I can work with that. If the mind goes that far, then I have to open my head for it.”
One day Konrad Fischer asked her to work at his gallery, recognizing her good taste for art. She took the opportunity and combined her gallery work with a second job at the legendary Spoerri in Düsseldorf. The otherwise quiet and mostly empty bar, soon became a success, the week Carmen brought her records, playing Jimmy Hendrix, the Velvet Underground, the Doors, Captain Beefheart and many more.
„Even the Imis would sometimes come and grab their beer from the tray, disappear and never pay and I thought, well, one day I’m going to get them!“
After the initially bumpy start, Carmen and Imi Knoebel came together in 1971, the same time she realized that she had to focus on one thing: opening her own bar! Together with Ingrid Kohlhöfer, they took over a small bar called Domino and, with the help of Palermo and Imi, renovated it with red walls, neon lights and a loud sound system. The artists from the fine arts academy would be regulars, as well as the young Kraftwerk crew.
In 1974 her first daughter Olga was born, as they were venturing on even bigger projects with her new bar the Ratinger Hof.
Imi painted the surfaces of the tables and Johannes Stüttgen dressed up the counter with paintings of a tiger and a panther and the bar’s motto: “Either you are hot or cold, the lukewarm ones the Lord will spit out of his mouth”, a quote by Jerry Lee Lewis.
Inspired by the work of Dan Flavin, Carmen decided to rework the interior of the Ratinger Hof in a very minimal look. White walls with bright, colourful neon lights illuminated the room. “At the beginning, no one dared to go in because it was so bright.’ One had to be self-confident, dancing and drinking in this space. And those were the people they wanted.
The local Punk scene valued the Ratinger Hof, as Carmen and her team were the best critics.
They recognized that they were doing something different in the otherwise conservative Düsseldorf, and for Carmen “Punk had something to do with the mind. It wasn’t a look, but the conversations, what people had in their heads.”
Bringing in established bands from home and abroad, Carmen turned the Ratinger Hof into a booming place where punk and the art scene merged, with bands such as Red Krayola or Pere Ubu, and artists like Thomas Ruff and Markus Oehlen.
The first concerts however were quite improvised – stages were often built roughly by putting tables together. One day the band Wire entered the club with their huge entourage and, after looking around at the unusual set-up, announced they would not play in such a location.
Carmen took them to the pizza place next door, sat them down and explained to them how they operated, what their crowd was like and promised them: “If you give it a try and have the concert here, it will be an unforgettable one. And that’s how it was”.
- From: AUDIOARCHIV KUNST. Stimmen zu den Anfängen der zeitgenössichen Kunst im Rheinland
- Head image: Concert of Pere Ubu at Ratinger Hof, 1978, © Carmen Knoebel