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Gammler was a derogatory term for young people deviating from the social norm , which was used in the old Federal Republic as well as in the GDR and Austria . Those labeled in this way usually had long hair and were dressed in jeans and parkas . They adopted the term bum as a self-designation. The initially " hippie subculture" lost its independent movement character from 1968, when stylistic elements of "gammeln" such as idleness , long hair, drug consumption and the preference for rock and folk music found their way into mass culture.

Origin of the term

According to the Duden, gammeln means “ getting old”, derived from the Low German gammelen . Since the mid-1950s, "gammeln" was also used for "reduced pace of movement" and "meaningless occupation". Thus in Küppers dictionary of German slang that "bum" since 1955 "be slow active" in the sense of is in use. In 1959 the magazine Twen said: “Gammeln is the favorite word of this generation.” It is unclear who first used the term and when to describe youth culture. It appeared in the press for the first time in 1963 and increasingly from 1965 as a term for such young people.


“Gammler” were characterized by an emphatic rejection of bourgeois norms and ways of life, for example through refusal to consume and the rejection of regulated employment or an appearance that is considered well-groomed. The most important external distinguishing feature was long hair. Especially male bums offered such a strong contrast to the short hairstyle customary at the time. Strong social pressure to conform was in effect until the 1960s . Yet presented dissenters for the predominant majority of the population, especially in post-fascist and noticeable of military dominated values companies such as the German one provocation represents and had especially in the provincial environment in a difficult position. Accordingly, bum mainly held on in the centers of large cities, in which developed certain locations as meeting points for this subculture.

Two thirds of the bums were registered as pupils or students, the typical age was between 16 and 21, only 5% were 25 years or older. Men were clearly in the majority and 82% came from the middle class and middle-class families.

The composition of the subculture results in great differences in motivation. There were “city bums” or “leisure and weekend bums” who only went to the scene meeting places at the end of the day and at the weekend and adapted themselves to the group on the outside. In the morning they went back to university , training or work. Others got out during the holidays or for a few summer months and temporarily joined the scene, with a specific exit date in the background. Only the smaller part of the bums were "permanent bums" who had broken off all central bridges to bourgeois society. Police reports assign the last group, which attracted attention through frequent minor crimes and did not see itself as a culture of protest, often to the tramp and anti-social scene .

According to popular opinion, living was often only covered by casual work and making music in public. In general, they were critical of social norms, but were mostly characterized by their rejection of political interventions. On the other hand, the Provos movement first developed in the Netherlands from 1965 onwards , carrying out political actions - for example squatting - with an anarchist background.

According to Walter Hollstein , bums were young people “who consciously evade the conformity of life”. The West Berlin Interior Authority determined that the young people named in this way usually had a place of residence and were doing regular work. Their behavior is not due to the fact that they are "work-shy", rather their leisure behavior is an expression of the protest against existing social norms. West Berlin was also to a certain extent a stronghold of the bums, as young men residing there were not called up for military service, so that men of the Bundeswehr who were critical of the military could avoid moving there in good time.

In an expert report, the Lower Saxony Ministry of the Interior gave them a favorable social prognosis based on their education and origin and described Gammler as “often spiritually open-minded, sometimes intellectual” and “often at work” and “only gamming in their free time”. Detlef Siegfried cites “Gammler” as an example of a “privatist subculture”, a term that was coined by Helmut Kentler's early analysis of subcultures .

Reaction from society and media


In the Federal Republic of Germany , “bums” became an object of media coverage in the mid-1960s, similar to the “ thugs ” a decade earlier, although their supporters were only estimated at a few thousand in Europe and a few hundred in the Federal Republic. In 1966, for example, the Spiegel published a cover story “Gammler in Deutschland”. The negative reactions in the public culminated in political demands to vacate public places, to shave the hair of the bums and to oblige them to forced labor in so-called workhouses . Likewise, the long hairstyle of male adolescents led to conflicts in many schools - directors and teachers often threatened them with disciplinary measures . In the Bundeswehr there were initial refusals to have their hair sheared since 1967. It was not until the so-called hairnet decree in the early 1970s that the situation was relaxed. In the tabloids of the Axel Springer Verlag such as Bild or BZ , protagonists of the 68 movement such as Rudi Dutschke were also referred to as e.g. B. "Polit-Bum" occupied.

The motif of the bum or student political bum was taken up satirically z. B. in the films To the point, sweetheart (1967) or not fumble, darling (1970).

The protest against the gender order is discussed as a factor for the disproportionate media attention. The unisex clothing and hairstyles are seen as more provocative than the consumer criticism. An indication of this thesis is provided by media reports in which the respective gender of the person depicted was indicated in captions. In their own social life, however, they again replicated gender stereotypes. Equality did not exist and sexual assault was widespread.


In the GDR , those men who stood out because of their longer hair and “Western clothing” (jeans) were generally referred to as “bums”. Many were sympathizers of beat music , which was viewed with skepticism by the state , which led to protests such as the Leipzig beat demo . In response to this, after a timid opening to new international beat music such as B. at the Germany meeting of young people in May 1964 - at the 11th plenum of the Central Committee of the SED in December 1965 a radical change in cultural and youth policy in the GDR took place, as a direct consequence of which in 1968 hooliganism was punished (§ 215) was enshrined in the GDR Criminal Code .

A campaign against long-haired people, beat fans, bums, young Christians and politically dissenters began in the press. Walter Ulbricht took up a line from the Beatles and asked: “Is it really the case that we have to copy every filth that comes from the West? I think, comrades, with the monotony of Je-Je-Je and whatever it is called, yes, we should put an end to it. ”In 1966, the Leipzig Central Institute for Youth Research carried out a study on behalf of the SED about the attitude of long-haired young people examine. The study did not find - as previously claimed - a lower level of intelligence, but a certain affinity of long-haired people to Western music. Nonetheless, in various parts of the GDR, the FDJ and the People's Police carried out forcible hair-cutting actions or the police forced young people to go to the hairdresser's.

With the increased spread of western pop and music culture to the Eastern Bloc , a certain relaxation occurred from the 1970s. The party and the state had to refrain from overly militant educational and suppression measures such as forced haircuts. During this time, the so-called blues scene made a name for itself in the GDR .


  • Detlef Siegfried : Time is on my side - consumption and politics in West German youth culture of the 1960s. Wallstein, Göttingen 2006, ISBN 3-8353-0073-3 .
  • Tina Gotthardt: Turning away from the affluent society - bums in the 60s of the FRG. VDM, Saarbrücken 2007, ISBN 978-3-8364-1245-2 .
  • Brummbaer: Der Gammler (experience report from 1964); Der Grüne Zweig 278, Löhrbach 2011, ISBN 978-3-930442-78-2 .

Newspaper articles

Web links

Wiktionary: Gammler  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. a b c Detlef Siegfried : Time is on my Side: Consumption and Politics in West German Youth Culture in the 1960s , Wallstein, Göttingen 2006, p. 399 ff., Here online
  2. Duden German Universal Dictionary , 6th, revised edition, Dudenverlag, Mannheim u. a. 2007, here online
  3. Gammler: Schalom aleichem , Der Spiegel 39/1966
  4. a b c d Nadine Recktenwald: The "blemish" as a protest . In: Bernhard Giotto, Elke Seefried : Men with "blemishes" - masculinity and social change in the early Federal Republic . De Gruyter Oldenbourg, Berlin 2017, ISBN 978-3-11-045210-5 , pp. 75-87.
  5. Detlef Siegfried: Sound der Revolte: Studies on the Cultural Revolution around 1968 , Juventa, Weinheim 2008, p. 156, here online
  6. Berlin - City of Refusers. In: Der Tagesspiegel , July 21, 2006.
  7. cover of Spiegel 39/1966
  8. See for example Thomas Schlemmer and Hans Woller: Bayern im Bund: Gesellschaft im Wandel 1949 to 1973 , Volume 2, Oldenbourg, Munich 2002, p. 450 f., Here online
  9. Don't trust anyone over 30 , Axel Schildt in the Federal Agency for Political Education
  10. Media agitators and political bums . At: Deutschlandfunk , January 18, 2010
  11. We do not tolerate bums in bstu.bund.de
  12. Long-haired, beat fans and bums in jugendopposition.de of the Federal Agency for Civic Education
  13. Cf. Ulrich Mählert / Gerd-Rüdiger Stephan: Blue shirts, red flags. The history of the Free German Youth , Leske and Budrich, Opladen 1996, p. 14 f.
  14. ^ Walter Enkelmann: Die Haarschneideaktion von 1969, in: Blätter zur Landeskunde 10/2000.