Monday, May 23, 2011

Rolf-Ulrich Kaiser & Gille Lettmann: The Cosmic Couriers Story

(In deutscher Sprache hier!)

Please note: An updated and in some points edited new version of this blog entry is to be found in my book TIMES & SOUNDS, released in 2020. Information and order here.

"Currently I make 6000 marks a month.
That shows what an idea of mine is worth."
(Rolf-Ulrich Kaiser, 1968)

"Everybody creates his own reality."
(Gille Lettmann, circa 1972)

The story of the German record labels Ohr, Pilz and Kosmische Kuriere - and of course of Rolf-Ulrich Kaiser and Gille Lettmann who ran them - is an interesting chapter of German media, music and contemporary history. It is four decades ago now, but still today these names come up pretty regularly on mailing lists and discussion forums about German rock music. Especially in the U.S. there is currently a boom of German rock music from the late sixties to the mid-seventies.

Usually one gets oneself into hot water when stating this, but anyways: Rolf-Ulrich Kaiser and his girlfriend Gille Lettmann were important figures for the German rock music landscape. Still today there are people who deny this, but seen from today it’s clear that they were important. When nearly no one else dared to do this, the two of them bet on German rock music without reserve. And only few people have been thrown down to the pit as mercilessly as the two of them. Especially their former followers in the music press later doused them with buckets of malice. Some do it still today, probably because there is nearly no risk anymore that suddenly Kaiser could reappear and hit back.

Kaiser and Lettmann were not the only ones who rendered outstanding service to the beginnings of German rock music. There were some more people. But credit where credit is due: When it comes to the time when German “beat groups” transformed into rock bands, leaving behind their imitating phase and starting to develop their own musical style, then it's not possible to ignore these two.

Kaiser’s and Lettmann’s importance becomes obvious also when one looks at the endless guessing about their whereabouts. The speculations became more and more abstruse over the years. Some claim to have seen Kaiser at the Frankfurt Book Fair. He’s supposed to walk around on the central market in Cologne in the early morning, begging for food. But he’s also said to live in America, working as Erich von Däniken’s promoter. Not least, he has been declared dead.


Rolf-Ulrich Kaiser, nicknamed sometimes "RUK", was born on June 18, 1943, in Buckow (in Brandenburg near Berlin), was raised in Osnabrück (Lower Saxony) and Berlin, later he studied German language and literature, philosophy, sociology and dramatic theory in Cologne.

Rolf-Ulrich Kaiser at WDR TV, 1971

His first enduring contact with German music, aside from the “schlager” genre, was the first of the now legendary folk festivals at the Waldeck Castle at the Hunsrück (Rhineland-Palatinate) in 1964.

Essener Songtage

Kaiser became an active part of the scene in 1968 when he managed to get a guarantee of 300,000 Marks from the City of Essen to start the “Internationale Essener Songtage” (International Song Festival Essen). Kaiser himself announced the event with all modesty as the "biggest thing that ever happened in Europe". Okay, puff is part of the trade, but it was Germany's first real rock festival, that's for sure. Managing director was Bernd Witthüser, press work was done by Henryk M. Broder, the program was designed by graphic artist Reinhard Hippen – these names will re-appear later. Performing artists from Germany were Hanns Dieter Hüsch, Franz Josef Degenhardt, Peter Brötzmann, Tangerine Dream, Amon Düül, Guru Guru, The City Preachers, Floh de Cologne, Hannes Wader and others, and there were also foreign acts like Julie Driscoll, Brian Auger & The Trinity, Family, Alexis Korner, The Fugs and The Mothers Of Invention with their boss Frank Zappa. The latter was a bit irritated: “Apparently the audience can’t decide whether they want to discuss music or listen to music.” The Amon Düül members were completely stoned and played the same riff over and over again like a tape loop; some festival visitors still remember the repeated announcements: “Amon Düül, stop playing please, we need to change the setting!”

Rolf-Ulrich Kaiser on stage at Essener Songtage, 1968

In the thick of all this chaos Rolf-Ulrich Kaiser ran around. To him the whole thing was a giant adventure playground: “A music happening that, mind-expanding and mind-expanded, psychedelic, opens up new ways of experience and, in an emotional way, puts the vested and accepted habits into question”, as he stated somewhat muddleheadedly. The organizational confusion he had caused with his inexperience and unconsciousness he tried to minimize by "incontrovertible regulations", big words and a walkie-talkie: "We will crack down on this."

The festival ended with a loss of 80,000 marks - real money at that time. Kaiser tried to get money by selling broadcasting rights but played the stations off against each other in such a clumsy way that finally only 4,000 marks came in. Bavarian Radio and TV (BR) editor Wuermeling: "Had Mr. Kaiser negotiated early enough and seriously, he could have proceeded a much higher amount."


Around the same time, Kaiser, under the pseudonym "Fritz Baas", used the protestant news service "Kirche und Rundfunk" to slam in general all youth shows made by German radio stations as "boring" and "a real pest". Parallel to this, he praised a new radio show by WDR radio in Cologne. It had not aired yet, but he described it as "up to date" and "ambitious" and called in advance for more airtime.

This radio show was called "Panoptikum", describing itself as "radio collage", and miraculously, Kaiser himself was a freelance member of the team that had developed the concept. One of his co-collaborators was again Henryk M. Broder (who later became a columnist for “Der Spiegel”, now works for newspaper "Die Welt" and still is an excellent writer and highly gifted polemicist).

 "Panoptikum" ad poster (graphics: Heinz Edelmann)

We'll have to come back to "Panoptikum" later, because for Kaiser, this radio show became important in a completely different connection.


Several books followed. Kaiser was a good writer, he was busy as a bee, and in contrast to other people who simply discussed their ideas, he put his into practice. His never-tiring typewriter was legendary, as an early bird he could be found at his desk already at 5 in the morning, typing. Temporarily "the man with the many pseudonyms" (Der Spiegel) worked for more than 60 newspapers, magazines and radio stations.

Some of his books were regarded more seriously and were released by respected publishing houses like Econ or Kiepenheuer & Witsch, others were obviously shots from the hip, released by “kinder der geburtstagspresse” (“children of birthday press”; decidedly in small letters) - which in fact meant they were self-published. Kaiser had founded this company in 1968. This, as his shrill house advertising said, "super publishing house of German underground" existed a couple of years, Kaiser published not only his own books, there were also two or three books written by other authors.

He also published a magazine (he called it a "counter newspaper") named "popopo" - "Zeitung für Pop & Politik & Pornografie" ("paper for pop & politics & pornography"), edited by Henryk M. Broder, Reinhard Hippen, Rolf-Ulrich Kaiser, Fred Viebahn. In one of his later books he stressed its especially "psychedelic layout". Via mailorder he offered a couple of U.S. music magazines that were hardly available elsewhere in Germany, but mainly he imported some American sex magazines for 25 cents and sold them for 5.50 marks.

Still worth a read are “Das Buch der neuen Popmusik“ (The Book Of New Pop Music, 1969) and “Rock-Zeit – Stars, Geschäft und Geschichte der neuen Popmusik” (Rock Time – Stars, Business and History of the New Pop Music, 1972); both can easily be found in second-hand book shops. 

The former book also was translated into Dutch, Portuguese, Spanish and Italian language (strangely there was never an English translation), the second one exists in German only. 

Consecutively read, the books show in a stunningly precise way Kaiser’s development. His talent to put facts and circumstances into short, crisp sentences and label them with catchy buzzwords is obvious immediately. In “Rock-Zeit” Kaiser delivers a lot of hot air, slips (he continuously misspells Bob Dylan's famous album as "John Wesley Hardings", to name just one) and arbitrarily constructed arguments, but there are also bright, sometimes razor-sharp analyses. But too often his conclusions are over the top and set their sights too much on simplistic blowoffs instead of serious insight.

Interestingly, Kaiser seemed to be well aware of the fact that he was in danger to criticize as a journalist what, in his function as a music producer, he had to execute himself - and by admitting this openly he tried to make a virtue out of necessity: “This book carries a contradiction in itself. Apparently. In it, I strictly criticize the rock music that ended up being pure profit music; and I identify myself exposedly with a part of this rock music. ... This is different from the non-fiction books we are used to, and I'm well aware about this. I didn't write an abstractly so-called objective paper, I compiled the musical aspects that are currently most important to me and have been part of my life for several years. And I think it is a good thing when the reader is able to recognize the author.”

A comparison of the first edition of “Pop Music” with the extended second edition had shown already the author's increasing affinity to hashish and LSD. But now, in "Rock-Zeit", he openly mentions “the trip” as an important part of his perception of music: “Seen this way, this is an intimate and dedicated book.” True. And of course Kaiser didn't leave out any chance to promote his own artists.

These two books offer a sort of key to his way of thinking. Already here the fantasy building in which he was going to lose his way during the following years becomes visible in rough outline. 

But Kaiser wrote some more books, like "Underground? Pop? Nein! Gegenkultur!" ("Underground? Pop? No! Counterculture!", 1969) or "Fabrikbewohner - Protokoll einer Kommune und 23 Trips" ("Factory Residents - Journal of a Commune and 23 Trips", 1970). They are less important but revealing as well.

Both books are printed multi-colored and are collages from short essays, records of talks, interviews, photos and drawings, made in collaboration with Reinhard Hippen, and they show a couple of Kaiser's special quirks. One of those is his persistent urge for a hierarchic numeration of text paragraphs to suggest the existence of essentials where in fact nothing like this is visible. And it's also notable that for his chapters he always uses the term "trip".

Even more interesting in both books is the permanent mentioning of addresses. The idea of "Gegenöffentlichkeit" ("counter public") fascinated Kaiser - it's obvious that when he studied sociology he had deeply delved into "Strukturwandel der Öffentlichkeit" ("The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere") by German sociologist Jürgen Habermas, published in 1962, a sort of "must-read" at that time, and Kaiser now puts these perceptions into use for the scene he writes about. This is why he profiles domestic and foreign flat-sharing communities, projects for the arts or alternative manufacturing, musicians, theater people and other artists - he calls them "new people" -, and following his idea of "counter-public" he tries to let the reader be able to cross-link with all these people. For this reason he lists - sometimes several pages long - their addresses and telephone numbers. It is understandable that names like Allen Ginsberg, Andy Warhol's Factory, Tuli Kupferberg (boss of The Fugs, a band Kaiser deeply admired) or "Rechtsanwalt Schilli" (he means Otto Schily, a lawyer who then defended several terrorists of the "Red Army Faction"; the tabloids saw him as very left-wing for that reason) are listed. But there are also hundreds of completely unknown persons, and one can only guess why they are named there. And why he lists the private New York address and telephone number of singer Nico who for sure had not the slightest interest in "counter publics" of any kind - that will remain Kaiser's secret forever (if someone is interested: 134 E 16th St, near Andy Warhol's then Factory, but she doesn't live there anymore). Collecting addresses must have been a sort of personal obsession of Kaiser's; as journalist Andreas Hub reports, Kaiser kept a folder with thousands of addresses.

Kaiser saw the society's future in building up alternative networking scenes all over. Actually, most of these projects didn't work for more than one or two years, if at all. Kaiser was far from being the only one running after this illusion. But most participants woke up after a while.  

It's hard to say whether also Kaiser did. While he continued his publicistic course without any changes, he started his now-following career as a music producer under the roof of a fully commercial group of companies. And - in spite of his existing analytical perspicacity - he became a barker in the matter of mind-altering drugs, ruined his own credibility, that of his artists, and finally his own existence.


1970: Entrance Peter Meisel (born 1935), music producer and publisher in Berlin. In 1962 he had founded Hansa Music Production, two years later a record label of the same name. 

Peter Meisel, 1970

His demesne was mainly the schlager genre with singers like Conny Froboess, Manuela, Drafi Deutscher, Giorgio Moroder and others. But his field of interest didn’t end there. He already had signed Amon Düül, Tangerine Dream, Xhol Caravan and Birth Control, but he was a bit clueless what to do with them now. At this point Kaiser entered Meisel’s sphere of activity, and he was what Meisel needed. The result was the founding of Ohr Music Production.


The company had its place in Berlin, Wittelsbacher Straße 18, in the same house where Meisel’s other companies and branches were based.

The slogan „Macht das Ohr auf“ (open the ears) came from graphic artist Reinhard Hippen (now Ohr’s design head), and it was not without subtle humor. It was a pun on the slogan “Macht das Tor auf” (open the gate) which at that time the West Berlin edition of tabloid “Bild” had in its logo, framed with barbwire. Of course what “Bild” meant was the Brandenburg Gate, as a symbol for the closed border crossing between East and West Berlin. Hippen hit the zeitgeist with this pun because at that time, rock music usually was expected to be politically left-wing, and “Bild” was one of the biggest identity-forming concepts of the enemy the student protest scene had. And Kaiser and Hippen knew exactly how to adjust the Ohr ads ads to this scene.

(Reinhard Hippen later published several books and anthologies about German kabarett history and founded the Deutsche Kabarett Archiv in Mainz which he ran until 1989. He passed away in April 2010.)

 Reinhard Hippen

In mid-1969, Meisel had started first music productions with his new bands. After Kaiser’s entry, Ohr Records hit the market in March 1970 with three LPs: Fließbandbabys Beat-Show by Cologne-based agit prop band Floh de Cologne (a song cycle in a contrived cool language, straying around between sexual revolution and class struggle), Mandalas by Limbus 4 and Lieder von Vampiren, Nonnen und Toten (Songs of vampires, nuns and deads) by Bernd Witthüser (Walter Westrupp was involved already, but the record didn’t go yet under their later name “Witthüser & Westrupp”).

In April, Opal by Embryo followed, in June came Electronic Meditation by Tangerine Dream and UFO by Guru Guru. Especially these three albums are seen as classics today – rough diamonds that were unpolished yet, but it was obvious that there was real new potential on the way.

Also a couple of 45s were released. The Birth Control one shown below was the fourth already but the first release with a serious chance of selling commercially.

Kaiser was able to acquire Dieter Dierks, later also Conny Plank, as sound engineers for his productions. What especially Dierks elicited from the equipment at his studio in Stommeln near Cologne was – for German standards at that time – practically unrivaled. 

Dieter Dierks (upper photo), Conny Plank, early 1970s

 The recording quality and production creativity of many of Kaiser’s productions is stunning still today. Kaiser was also an early adopter of new trends. Several of his records were mixed in SQ quadro (a four-channel system that could be pressed into standard vinyl records and was compatible with stereo equipment, but it became a flop anyway).

In addition, the LPs had a lavish design, usually gate-fold covers, good graphics, often they came with posters or gimmicks like a balloon or gadgetry like the extricable giblets on the cover of Floh de Cologne’s album Profitgeier (something like “vulture capitalist”); the record itself came in day-glo red vinyl.

Soon it became part of Kaiser’s strategy to present an increasing number of new discoveries. The problem was that in fact the pool of really good bands in Germany was not that big. In nearly no time Kaiser had signed around 30 acts to his label. Among them were first-class bands like Tangerine Dream, Guru Guru, Popol Vuh and Ash Ra Tempel. Probably they would have made their way even without Kaiser. But there were several “second-tier” bands – Anima, Emtidi, Hölderlin, Mythos, Wallenstein, Witthüser & Westrupp and others – and without Kaiser we probably would have never heard of them. He claimed to have signed „the best German rock groups“, but this, of course, is a matter of taste. He did not have Amon Düül II, Can, Cluster, Kraftwerk, and later Neu!, so it could be rightly stated that the most important bands were missed in his roster.


Can and Amon Düül II appeared on Liberty/UA in Munich, which under the direction of producer Siegfried E. "Siggi" Loch became one of the first labels taking the risk of releasing German bands – and it really was a risk. After the early successes of Liberty and Ohr other record companies also woke up and tried their luck by signing German bands, but they remained cautious. Intercord from Stuttgart started the sub-label Spiegelei, EMI in Cologne added some German acts to their Harvest label, Bellaphon from Frankfurt put on Bacillus, in Munich the Kuckuck label was started, and Polydor in Hamburg established a sub-label named Zebra, but it didn’t take off and soon was re-integrated into the mother label.

Probably Ohr would have been a good place for Amon Düül II, but it’s hard to imagine that the likes of Can, Kraftwerk or Neu! would have been very happy about the marketing circus Kaiser started now. His record output was growing in such a way that finally the Deutsche Metronome (the company that distributed Ohr) had to put the brakes on.


Kaiser and Meisel then founded the label Pilz and looked for a second distribution channel. In 1971 they found chemical giant BASF which had stepped into the record industry in 1969. (In the first place they produced German schlager but also distributed the MPS label with its first-class jazz records. BASF stopped its trip into the music industry in 1976.) BASF product manager Jürgen Schmeißer had developed a sub-label named Mouse and already prepared a couple of productions. But when the inquiry from Kaiser and Meisel came in, BASF decided to turn down the Mouse project and took over the distribution of Pilz instead.

The already finished Mouse recordings were transferred to the new label; the distribution was managed by Ulrich Rützel (born 1944; in 1979 he became co-founder of the Ars Electronica in Linz (Austria), probably the most important European festival for electronic arts; in 1981 he founded his own record label named Erdenklang). In principle, Pilz was meant to release the more quiet and folk-oriented productions, while Ohr was dedicated to (psychedelic) rock music. But this got mixed-up very soon.


Kaiser saw himself as politically liberal (as the term is seen in the U.S.) or left-wing, but he never had any problems with the fact that money had to be made with music. But in his target group this was frowned upon. As said, most rock fans at that time defined themselves as “somehow left-wing”, and the art & entertainment critics did even more. Watching today an early-seventies issue of a cultural TV magazine like "Aspekte" can give you goosebumps. The pseudo-left-wing complacency these journalists showed is breathtaking. But this was good form then - everybody wanted to criticize. Music critic Bernd Gockel, for instance, closed the review of Amon Düül II’s album Wolf City in "Sounds" with the conclusion: “It would be a great pity if one day we had to find Amon Düül in the hit parade.” At that time, charts had a maximal disgust factor. If a band managed to place a tune in the charts, then immediately this disqualified them in the eyes of their fans: The band now “was on the commercial trip” (“sold out”) and couldn't be taken seriously anymore. Nobody realized that a hit parade simply shows which records are currently selling best, and salaried critics like Gockel didn’t seem to get that with remarks like the mentioned they simply expected the bands to prove their credibility by making no money. How they should make ends meet? Who cares.

The same spirit could be seen when in 1971 WDR TV aired a round-table discussion entitled "Pop & Co. – die ‚andere‘ Musik zwischen Protest und Markt“ ("Pop & Co. – the ‘other‘ music between protest and market"): Panel member Nickel Pallat (manager of the Berlin-based agit-prop band Ton Steine Scherben) berated Kaiser as vassal of the high finance, acting in cahoots with the capitalists. Kaiser stated his point of view: His record label would never tell its bands what to do or not to do, but of course Ohr couldn’t be a benevolent society. Pallat finally ended the (as he called it) “fucking liberal” discussion by pulling an axe out from under his jacket and tried to smash the (very stable) studio table. When that failed more or less, he stole some microphones (“for prisoners!”) and disappeared. Probably still today he doesn't know what he wanted to say with this action. The snippet can easily be found on the web.

Interestingly it was just Ton Steine Scherben who had to learn the hard way where this attitude would lead to: A concert snippet from 1976 shows their singer Rio Reiser, highly on edge, trying to explain that a political band like Ton Steine Scherben could not be expected to play only solidarity gigs without being paid – even left-wing musicians need a minimum of income to make ends meet. The audience stared at him like: “What the heck is this guy talking about?”


As shown, it was better to be careful with messages of economical success - they could backfire. However, according to their own statement, capitalist Meisel and his vassal Kaiser had sold around 250,000 albums in their first two business years – seemingly a good number, but only at first glance. Assumed this number is correct (nobody can verify this today), then we have to see that it refers to no less than 18 productions, and an average album by an average German rock band at that time usually sold something between 1,000 and 3,000 copies. The market had an extremely small volume: Only 0.5 per cent of all rock albums sold in Germany came from German bands, 99.5 per cent were allotted to British and American bands. In comparison: Kraftwerk’s first album (released in autumn 1970 on the Philips label) sold around 60,000 copies within one year. This was seen as "quite well" and probably is the dimension also the top sellers of Ohr and Pilz (Tangerine Dream, Ash Ra Tempel, Guru Guru) reached. In addition to this, the costs for production and studio were usually paid by the record companies at that time; license deals were still the exception.

This shows where the problem lies: The two or three best-selling Ohr albums might have been successful and profit-making, but the revenues they generated were not high enough to cover the costs of all the other albums. Ohr had sold a quarter of a million records, but yielded only a small profit (if any) at that time, although the company was able to place a couple of deals with U.S. labels.

One year later, in early 1973, Hansa stated that of all the now circa 50 albums released under Kaiser's direction, especially the seven records with the new electronic "cosmic music" were selling well. But this time no figures were given anymore.


Kaiser now included more and more obscure and half-baked products in his roster and obviously mixed up turnover and profit. In addition, he planned on boosting the mentioned market share of German bands from 0.5 per cent to more than 90 per cent – and this within just a few months! To succeed in this, he compensated missing artistic quality with increasingly strange promotion and massive ad campaigns. And for a while this seemed to work. There was this psychedelic and politicized scene, and Kaiser knew exactly how to sell their own pipe dreams to them: records plus image. He didn’t sell records, he sold a way of life. Probably he had not even any qualms about this; we can be sure that Kaiser believed in his own writings - and we are in a time when he was still seen by many as a serious journalist. He knew the slang of his target group because it was his own; the music press immediately adopted his catch phrases – one just has to read album reviews of that time in “Sounds”, “Musik Express” or the Swiss “Pop”. Kaiser started a bi-weekly PR magazine named “deutsche popszene” with background stories about his artists and the zeitgeist in general, just for editing staff, journalists and media people, and for every new album he designed voluminous press kits and sent them to any magazine, radio and TV station in reach.

Kaiser also knew how to make use of the good old "calculated scandal" concept. The best-known example for this strategy was the Birth Control album Operation from 1971. Kaiser "precisely and deliberately" included its cover (which had no connections to the topics of the songs) into the band's "career plan" ("Der Spiegel").

The cover showed a giant insect eating babies under the blessing hand of Pope Paul VI - the Pope who in 1968 had released the disputed encyclical "Humanae vitae - On the regulation of birth". Today this provocation may look harmless, but at that time it was enough for catholic priests in Germany to mount the barricades against this "porn group". In Switzerland, concert posters of the band were banned, and in England the workers of a record distribution center refused from dispatching this record.

Ulrich Rützel: “Kaiser was enormously talented in PR and marketing, and we thought it was absolutely amazing how systematically he started dusting off this completely boring German music industry.” And Kaiser remained busy as a bee. Rützel: “You know, we had no answering machines at that time, and often enough Kaiser called me up at night because he had a new idea. In the beginning I thought: Okay, that’s rock‘n‘roll. But after a while one would like to sleep again without interruptions …”

Peter, you have to slow this guy down

Finally Kaiser got to the point of overdoing his activities in such a way that Hansa marketing head Hans Blume thought it was time to take his boss to task: “As someone with his feet on the ground I soon had the suspicion that this thing was going to go wrong. And I said to Meisel: ‘Peter, you have to slow this guy down!’ But we were in the record industry, and so we always wanted to try something new. And well – it could have been …”


Meanwhile Meisel would have needed to slow down not only Kaiser but also his companion Gerlinde Lettmann, nicknamed Gille, textile designer from Cologne. 

Gille Lettmann, 1973

In spring 1968, Düsseldorf-based journalist Hubert Maessen took the train to go to WDR in Cologne. He had a suitcase full of LPs with him, flipping through them during his trainride. Vis-à-vis in his compartment sat an 18-year-old: That was Gille, asking him about the records. For a short time, a little love affair resulted from this chance encounter. During the following weeks, Maessen took Gille, who still lived with her parents at that time, a couple of times along with him to the editorial meetings for the radio show "Panoptikum". The relationship between Gille and Maessen ended soon, but it didn't take long for Gille to find herself a new boyfriend: Rolf-Ulrich Kaiser, the monk and berserk writer, who, as we might remember, worked as a freelancer for this editorial team. It must have been the love of their life; they always came as a pair from then on.

Hubert Maessen describes Gille Lettmann as "wide awake, self-confident, resolute, inquisitive". In the beginning, she was mainly Kaiser’s girlfriend, but somewhat in 1971 she started playing a more and more decisive role in the company. To slow her down was even harder to do; she and Kaiser always drove each other from idea to idea.


A second thing happened in 1972 - seen from now, the beginning of the end: The American LSD trickster and fired Harvard lecturer Timothy Leary (1920-1996), after his escape from U.S. prison finally ended up in Switzerland with his wife. Among his hosts were Ohr artist Sergius Golowin from Interlaken. He provided the contact between Leary and the Kaiser/Lettmann crew.

In Leary, Gille found her personal guru, in the drug he propagated she saw the way to go. And as somebody from their entourage put it: Kaiser, who didn't need to be convinced about LSD anymore, from now on tried to be for Gille what she saw in Leary. This constellation also marks the starting point of their personal tragedy.

Still in Switzerland, they schlepped the Ash Ra Tempel musicians to a studio at Bern and had them recording their album Seven Up with Leary. As a krautrock fan one was used to incompetent singers anyway, and so Leary’s vocals didn’t stand out very much. It was – as often – owed to the class of the musicians and not least to sound engineer Dieter Dierks again that the resulting album was tolerable.


If someone watched closely, the forthcoming decay was visible already. In 1972, two of Kaiser’s most important collaborators left: Bruno Wendel and Günter Körber, who both felt that things had gone downhill. They talked to Deutsche Metronome, the distributor of Ohr, and developed the sub-label Brain Records. It didn’t take long until Brain became the No. 1 address for German rock music – and Kaiser’s hardest competitor as well, especially because the two of them took along a couple of important Ohr artists.

Günter Körber finally in 1975 founded Sky Records which became very meritorious in its own right. He passed away in September 2013.

Finally, in May 1973, also Peter Meisel left – it had become clear to him that this ship was now heading for the iceberg. (In 1984, Meisel migrated to the U.S. where he became joint partner of fast food chain “Wendy’s”. After the Fall of the Wall he went back to Hansa at Berlin and discovered Die Prinzen, a highly original vocal group from Leipzig, and later Lou Bega. Peter Meisel passed away in 2010 in his adopted home Pinehurst, North Carolina.)

The Ohr & Pilz Musikproduktion, now under the direction of only Kaiser & Lettmann, moved to the Berlin Europa-Center, besides this, Kaiser still had his old home address in the Cologne neighborhood of Dellbrück, which became a second head office.

Cosmic Couriers

We are the Cosmic Couriers.
At first, we send our music,
later we will expand into a more beautiful world.
(Press release)

Under Leary’s lasting influence, the two of them were irrevocably struck by cosmic lightning now. They founded a third label and called it Kosmische Kuriere (Cosmic Couriers), because this was what they felt they were. The graphic design reminded more to a newsletter of the rural youth movement than to adventures in space, but only a short time later they re-named it to Kosmische Musik (Cosmic Music) and changed also the visual appearance.

Not that there hadn’t been any drug connections on the Ohr or Pilz releases – already at the “Essener Songtage” Kaiser had talked about “expansion of consciousness”, and his books were full of this topic as well. This was not only Kaiser's private quirk, it was also part of the then zeitgeist, evident not only in music but also and especially in advertising – the “Afri-Cola” cinema and TV ad films created by Charles Wilp are a good example, but even an arch-conservative fashion chain like C&A placed ads with psychedelic graphic elements. And so did Ohr and Pilz.

First, the psychedelic messages came as graphics, were musically encrypted or – as in case of Witthüser & Westrupp – were borrowed from "The Lord of the Rings" or mixed with friendly absurd humor. With the Cosmic Couriers, this changed. Kaiser and Lettmann now saw hallucinogenic drugs as sort of savior for themselves and the rest of mankind. The playful atmosphere, to a large extent, was lost and replaced by plain propaganda. Leary’s “instructions” were incorporated in some songs without much modification; one example (of several possible ones) is “Interplay Of Forces” by Ash Ra Tempel from their album Starring Rosi. Also in this case, it has to be said, it is amazing again that still today the album is worth listening due to music and production.

LSD in your tea

It is said that sometimes in the studio, Kaiser and/or Lettmann dosed the musicians with LSD in their drinks. Klaus Schulze even states in an interview: “Partially, we’ve been forced to take drugs to be allowed to take part in those monster sessions.” – It cannot be verified today what really happened, but probably it didn't happen at gunpoint. And doubts come up at latest when one sees Walter Westrupp in his autobiography joking around with the term “Kaiser’s Kaffee” (which was also a part of the name of a supermarket chain at that time). It is obvious that at least some of the musicians knew quite well what this coffee was about. But apparently not all of them. Singer Bettina Müller-Hohls who participated in the Seven Up sessions did not know about the content of her soft drink. Gille later asked her whether she had "come through well". Klaus Schulze: "Rolf-Ulrich would like to have us always high in the studio, but I can't improvise while tripping." Probably because, as Witthüser & Westrupp sang, "if you take LSD in your tea, you will feel it in your knee." In most cases, luckily nothing further remained, but "definitely, from the inner Kaiser circle, which was a group of several dozen people, at least five ended up in a psychiatric ward" (Hub).

Where Radha and Krishna are dancing their love

All activities of Ohr and Pilz were now bundled into the new project Kosmische Kuriere. And had the promotion of Ohr and Pilz already been quite something, then what the Cosmic Couriers started now turned out to be a promotion overkill never seen in Germany before (and not seen again until the “Neue Deutsche Welle” in the 1980s arrived). 

They called the music “sonic LSD”, nothing went without cosmic connections. Giant ad campaigns were placed in the press, the press kits turning out somewhere between linguistically spaced-out and infantile. Finally even good-willed fans and journalists couldn't help smiling or shaking their heads: "You are invited to a flight through your childhood, into the fields of joy, to the centers of your nerves, into the white light of the elemental force of your life" - this came with the release of the mentioned Leary LP, a "guided trip through the seven levels of consciousness" was promised, the sapiences of "magicians and alchemists, philosophers and psychologists" were announced, and the press kit of Lord Krishna von Goloka by Sergius Golowin stated: “Krishna is not a legend from India! Krishna is you! – Let’s go to the White Alp, where Radha and Krishna are dancing their love.” 

This kibosh was mainly written by Gille Lettmann instead of Kaiser. More and more she took over the helm now.

It was her idea to put the musicians into fantasy costumes she had designed herself. Those would have been okay for bands like The Sweet or glam rock acts like them from Ilja Richter's "Disco" (a popular music show on German TV). As news magazine "Der Spiegel" stated, Kaiser started wearing "beautiful new clothes, velvet and latex with silver sequins and several sorts of bling bling", but none of his musicians were ever seen in these costumes. So Kaiser and Gille and seemed to be the only ones wearing her creations.


And it was at this time when Gille Lettmann transformed herself into a new personality she named Sternenmädchen:

"Hello, galactic people. I am the star girl (Sternenmädchen). I've been blown to earth to bring you joy. Now you own one of the records I produced for you. Close your eyes and dig it. From a cloud, with regards - Gille, Sternenmädchen."

As can be seen here, Gille signs this press release still with her real name and identifies herself as "the star girl". Later this changed; we will come back to this.  

Kaiser rented a railway car, had it painted colorfully, put his artists into it and visited local newspapers all over Germany, he gave journalists a bus ride to press conferences somewhere deep in the woods where he had installed a sound system and assembled inflatable white plastic chairs. For the release of Walter Wegmüller's album Tarot they even printed a complete Tarot Deck, designed by the artist. In the U.S., Kaiser was able to score an especially big hit when he managed to take out an ad in the “Rolling Stone” that looked like an editorial essay on German rock music. Parts of these activities were handled by an especially founded company, "Sternenmädchens Media Service GmbH (= Ltd.)" in Cologne.

In this connection it is interesting to know that apparently, when you had to deal face-to-face with Kaiser and Lettmann, the two of them were not as spaced-out as one might think. In an article, Archie Patterson describes an interview that a friend of his had the opportunity to lead at their (rather middle-class furnished) apartment in Cologne: “He spent the afternoon with them, and told me when he returned they were nice, rather reserved, and not at all the spacy cosmic type of their public image. In fact, he said they were very business-like and their reality did not seem to match at all the mythos their promotion suggested.


Many of the musicians claim today they always had been “against it”. But this, it has to be said, is more or less sort of “protective statements”. Of course, from time to time there were quarrels about royalties and conditions of contracts, but only rarely it ended up as with the band Xhol: In March 1971, they released their new album under the title Hau-RUK. (This pun is hard to translate. "Hau-ruck!" in German means something like "Heave ho!", but "hauen" also means "to hit". So "Hau RUK" can be read as a call to beat him up.) However, it speaks in RUK's favor that he didn't stop this title.

But this was the exception anyway. Most of his musicians believed in all this hype, at least for a while, they took part in it, and probably not even unwillingly. If anybody doesn't believe this, it's useful to take Kaiser's "Rock-Zeit" and to read there the statements of his own musicians. And even years later, Wallenstein keyboard player Jürgen Dollase said: “Kaiser had the idea to include magicians and spiritual teachers into the productions as an energy source – and he had a point there.” (Today, Dollase is restaurant critic of the “Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung” – in a way, that fits.) The whole Kaiser-Reich was sort of one big family: “I had rats in my apartment, but in the studio I felt safe and secure”, Wallenstein’s drummer Harald Großkopf says. “Mother Dierks cooked for us, Rolf-Ulrich and Gille, a couple of years older than we musicians, were eloquent and literate. As the generation of our parents, seen from our ‘68 perspective, was still part of the Nazi generation, I absorbed anything there that otherwise only a family could have conveyed to me. I was all the more distraught in my tiny little love-and-peace hippie world later when all these lawsuits started.”

Sunshine contracts

A controversial thing in the opinion of the musicians were Kaiser's so-called "sunshine contracts" (after the street name of his preferred LSD compound). These were a way to pin bands down to the label on long terms. To understand these contracts, one has to know that at the then time every band had to buy their own P.A. system (P.A. = public address; the loudspeaker system for the audience). There were no P.A. rentals like we have them today. The consequence was that most bands had to go deeply into debt to buy this equipment - otherwise there would have been no way for them to play on stage.

Kaiser's sunny offer: He provided equipment amounting to 40,000 marks plus a monthly advance payment of 1,000 marks. As return service he demanded 25 per cent of all earnings the band made from creative activities. (For ordinary mortals, 40,000 marks were a nearly irreal amount at that time. To give a comparison: Yours Truly, working as industrial clerk in the mid-1970s, made circa 1,300 marks gross a month.)

Kaiser did not invent this sort of contract, several record labels had something like this to offer. There is nothing unfair with this sort of contract, it's a clear deal the band could accept or not. But if they did, they suddenly were deep in debt to their record label. And that meant they were nearly unable to leave the label - because then they had to pay back this money. Most bands couldn't afford that; not even Tangerine Dream at that time. So it is understandable when Edgar Froese wrote to Kaiser: "What you do is simply to utilize the situation at the expense of others. If this should be your principle of joy, I decline politely."


For the business year 1973, Kaiser and Lettmann had set up a finance plan that reminds one of the proverbial “wondrous increase of currency”: They envisaged a turnover increase of more than 600 per cent, which meant revenues of nearly 3.5 million Marks; 1.8 millions they intended to re-invest in new productions (Hub).

Besides this, they had the idea to hand over the management of several bands to Liz Elliot and Brian Barritt, Leary's remaining European followers (Leary meanwhile had been taken into custody again). Edgar Froese, to put it mildly, was not too happy with this: "From definitive experience we know to which high degree they are addicted to the syringe", he wrote in a letter to Kaiser. And that wasn't all. "It comes along that I cannot comprehend your interpretations of necessary drug use."

He, as well as Klaus Schulze, had become fed up with all this excessive hype, and they felt peeved by permanently being pestered to use drugs. They both wanted to cancel their contracts with Kaiser, but of course he didn't want to lose his top sellers. And he feared that other artists could follow their example. He insisted in keeping the contracts.

In June 1973, Froese and Schulze went to court. In May 1974, the Berlin District Court pronounced a judgment: “There is no need to explain more closely that the magniloquent style (of the record company) is exceedingly liable that the musicians affiliated to him (Kaiser) are seen as ridiculous by a not insubstantial part of the expert circles.”

Froese then filed a second lawsuit, this time for missing royalties. He had a long way to go. Four years later, after going through all levels of jurisdiction, the Federal Court of Justice finally proved him right.

But he never got any money – no wonder, all the money had existed only in Kaiser’s and Lettmann’s feverish fantasies and business plans, nothing was real. In fact, Kaiser and Lettmann were not even able to pay their lawyer.

Probably it was not even intended fraud. Kaiser, as Jürgen Dollase puts it, in the end "was taken by his own delusions."

Cosmic Jokers

1974. Kaiser and Lettmann struck out on a new coup – their last, as it turned out: They took several tracks from their repertoire, slightly remixed them, added some unreleased session material (by Klaus Schulze, Wallenstein, Tangerine Dream, Jerry Berkers, Ash Ra Tempel, Witthüser & Westrupp and others) and put some echo-laden, reverberated comments and break-ins by Gille, Kaiser and Rosi Müller into the mix. They made five albums from this material and released them under the project name The Cosmic Jokers: "The time ship floats through the galaxy of joy. In the sounds of electronics. In the flashes of light. Here you will discover Science Fiction, the planet of COSMIC JOKERS, the GALACTIC SUPERMARKET and the SCI FI PARTY. That is the new sound. Space. Telepathy. Melodies. Joy." (Press release). They even managed to get Planeten Sit-In sponsored by “Hobby” (a German magazine for techies, shut down in 1991).


Hate instead of joy

But from the beginning, the joy they looked for was flawed. The fifth of these records, Gilles Zeitschiff (Gille’s Time Ship; sub-title: Sternenmädchen visiting the magicians), reflected a conflict between Kaiser & Lettmann and pop magazine „Sounds“ (at that time Germany’s most important). In its edition from April 1973, the magazine reported on Timothy Leary’s layover in Switzerland, and this report was not what Kaiser and Lettmann would have liked to read.

So Gille published a press release (she called in an “open letter”): “Timothy Leary is hunted by CIA. The magazine with the supposed ‘progressive’ image so far prints three photos of Timothy Leary that come from the CIA archives. The CIA doesn't need Sounds. But the Sounds editors don't understand how the CIA works. ... They publish hate instead of joy. ... By doing this, Sounds turned against Leary and the principals of joy. In favor of fear, horror and CIA. We predict: This Sounds is dead.”

Under the headline "My spaceship" (not "time ship", for some reason), the sleeve of Gilles Zeitschiff had the following liner notes, as confused as choppy: “Come in. We are flying to America. We've met Tim, the Sci Fi Courier. And with him, more than 30 millions young people. Then, the C.I.A. steps in. Tim is arrested. He flies to Algier. To Switzerland. Arrested again. Friends showed up. Lord Krishna from Switzerland. He's also a Cosmic Courier. Hartmut, Rolf and I went to see Tim at home on the lake. Tim is Joy. Tim is busy making the LP. Seven Up. His first SciFi Rock LP. I Am The Changer. This is the second one. The four big adventures of our life. Here. On earth. And when we are flying, we meet the Cosmic Courier 'Bon Chance' Brian Barritt. He explains us, why he and Tim and a lot of other Cosmic Couriers are with us. We are flying to Basel. Walter Wegmüller. The Cosmic Painter. We played Tarot together. Is Tim a wizzard? Mr. Tarot gives us the answer. And we have already stepped into TIME. TIME is the new dimension. In it grows the Cosmic Music. TIME contains three big experiences. They make you fly to the Queen of Sunshine. Love is in TIME. Flight in Joy. -Gille.”

Apparently this record sleeve was the last time that the names "Gille" and "Sternenmädchen" appeared in parallel.

In his autobiography, by the way, Leary didn’t mention these episodes, not even in a footnote. That might show how “important” the cosmic couriers were for him.

The Cosmic Couriers stopped all advertising orders for “Sounds”. As they had to learn a bit later, with this boycott they punished not only that magazine but also themselves. Without “Sounds” they couldn’t address a big part of their customers anymore.

Allegedly, as some of the musicians later complained, Kaiser and Lettmann had not informed them about the Cosmic Jokers albums and didn’t ask for permission about the release of the session material. This complaint has also been found on the web and in the literature. This is another case that can’t be verified anymore, but at least Ash Ra Tempel guitarist Manuel Göttsching disagrees: "Of course I knew about the releases, of course I had contracts before, and I received royalties, even in advance. This all was very little money, but that should be no argument to spread around rumors like this. You can say many things about the producer Rolf-Ulrich Kaiser but I have no reason of saying him to have acted incorrectly so far."


However, it is obvious: Kaiser and Lettmann had made a mockery of themselves and their music production company. In the music press they were called now “komische Kuriere” (something like “strange couriers” or “funny couriers”). As music journalist Barry Graves wrote, Kaiser had ruined "the reputation of his bands with a publicity that used non-seriousness as a sort of stylistic feature." 

In 1975 it was quitting time. The space ship went into bankruptcy. The remaining LPs were sold off in piles on the bargain bin at Karstadt (a big German department store chain) at a price of 2.95 Marks (today that would be equivalent to maybe 3 or 4 Euros; the regular price for a new LP at that time was 14 to 19 Marks). Many of the original LPs circulating today probably came from this sellout.


The crash was short and hard. First, the Cosmic Couriers had to leave their Berlin apartment as well as their office at the Europa-Center because they couldn’t pay the rent anymore. Kaiser and Lettmann retreated to their Cologne apartment, but also there they were evicted because they didn’t pay the rent. As writer and publisher Werner Pieper states, "finally an execution sales of their belongings took place. In the nineties, (journalist) Uwe Husslein found a couple of books from Kaiser's library on a Cologne flea market, some of them with very personal dedications by Tim Leary."


Soon - as depicted at the beginning - the whereabouts of Rolf-Ulrich Kaiser and Gille Lettmann became subject of wild and sometimes colorful speculations, and they are still going on.

The truth is more plain-colored. They moved to the house of Gille’s mother at Frechen-Königsdorf near Cologne where they lived until 1990. They abandoned the world completely. For a last time, Kaiser appeared when in the late 1980s the Hessian record company Zyx Records re-released the Ohr, Pilz and Kosmische Kuriere catalogue. Kaiser contacted the company to get his producer’s share of the royalties, but Zyx head Bernhard Mikulski (he passed away in 1997) had to point out to him that he had lost his rights in the recordings long ago (this is connected to the execution sales mentioned above; most rights are with Dieter Dierks now).


Since this time, Rolf-Ulrich Kaiser remains silent. He has not been seen in public and doesn’t accept mail. Gille Lettmann does not accept her former name anymore. She can be addressed only as "Sternenmädchen". This is her name now, she's no longer "the" Sternenmädchen. Over the decades (she) seems to have adopted nearly completely the quirks, ideology, manner of writing, even the identity of her companion whom she calls ‘Meson Cristallis’” (Hub). Her only sign of life: Since 30 years, Sternenmädchen - philosopher now, according to her letterhead - publishes an esoteric magazine which she sends to a circle of readers she specifies herself: old friends, politicians, industrialists.

After mother Lettmann's death in 1990, the two of them had moved to “a rented apartment not far from a German brewery at the Möhnesee” in the Sauerland area, as Walter Westrupp writes in his autobiography. This went well until 2003 when they stopped paying the rent. The landlady first got into touch with Westrupp (which shows that she was probably well aware who her tenants were) and asked him whether he could try to reason with them. He tried, but without success, and so she finally had to call in the appropriate authorities.

In 2006, for a planned book project, Werner Pieper tried to track down Rolf-Ulrich Kaiser. His report confirms what already Andreas Hub had found: “As it looks, all written contacts to the world since 20 years ... come from Sternenmädchen, without exception.” Pieper tried to get into touch with Kaiser, but according to Sternenmädchen's reply letter, Cristallis cannot be reached under her address.


Cristallis and Sternenmädchen, who, in a former life, a thousand moons and a thousand trips ago, once were Rolf-Ulrich Kaiser and Gille Lettmann, today live in a small town on the edge of the Sauerland area, now in a facility of the Catholic Church - a "palace", as Sternenmädchen puts it. They know about the internet, but they are not online. Cristallis is invisible. Sternenmädchen can be reached only via general delivery address; if somebody wants to write to her, there are a couple of rules he has to accept first. They don't want to be traced, they don't wish to see any visitors.

Our world is not theirs anymore. Or maybe vice versa.


This blog entry is based on an unpublished radio script from 1998. In May 2011 it has been updated and upgraded in collaboration with Archie Patterson. Some changes and supplementations have been added from time to time since then; latest update: December 22, 2012.

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  • Habermas, Jürgen: Strukturwandel der Öffentlichkeit. Frankfurt 1962 (English edition: The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere)
  • Haring, Hermann: Rock aus Deutschland/West – Von den Rattles bis Nena: Zwei Jahrzehnte Heimatklang. Reinbek 1984
  • Hub, Andreas: Das Kraut der frühen Jahre. In: Rolling Stone (German Edition), April 1997, p. 42-46
  • Intuitive Music (ed.): Biography Cosmic Jokers. LINK, retrieved May 7, 2011
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  • Kaiser, Rolf-Ulrich: Underground? Pop? Nein! Gegenkultur! Köln 1969
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  • Kaiser, Rolf-Ulrich: Rock-Zeit – Stars, Geschäft und Geschichte der neuen Popmusik. Düsseldorf 1972
  • Leary, Timothy: Flashbacks. New York NY 1997 (Somehow the imprint note is charming: “This book is printed on acid-free paper”.)
  • Loch, Siggi: Plattenboss aus Leidenschaft. Hamburg 2010
  • Morawietz, Stefan: Kraut und Rüben. TV documentary in six parts. WDR TV, Cologne 2006
  • Morawietz, Stefan: Roboter essen kein Sauerkraut. Arte TV, Strasbourg 2008
  • Patterson, Archie: The Mythos of Rolf-Ulrich Kaiser. LINK, retrieved May 23, 2011
  • Pieper, Werner: Kaiser Schmarrn süß/sauer. In: Pieper, Werner (ed.): Alles schien möglich – 60 Sechziger über die 60er Jahre und was aus ihnen wurde; p. 50-55. Löhrbach 2007
  • Schober, Ingeborg: Tanz der Lemminge – Amon Düül II: Eine Musikkommune in der Protestbewegung der 60er Jahre. Reinbek 1979
  • Sounds - Platten 66-77. 1827 Kritiken. Frankfurt/M. 1979
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  • Spiegel 29/1970: Zirpt lustig. In: Der Spiegel, July 13, 1970, p. 126. LINK, retrieved August 7, 2011
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  • Spiegel 7/1973: Szene - Leary-Gesang. In: Der Spiegel, February 12, 1973, p. 103. LINK, retrieved August 7, 2011
  • Spiegel 40/1973: Prinzip der Freude. In: Der Spiegel, October 1, 1973, p. 186-188. LINK, retrieved August 7, 2011
  • Stiftung Haus der Geschichte der Bundesrepublik Deutschland (ed.): Melodien für Millionen – Das Jahrhundert des Schlagers. Bonn 2008
  • Westrupp, Walter: 68er nach Noten. LINK, retrieved May 7, 2011
Thanks to Andreas Hub, Hubert Maessen, Manfred Miersch, Stefan Morawietz, Werner Pieper, Ulrich Rützel, Günter Schlienz and Walter Westrupp.
Photos: Billy Bryan, PR photos and private archives. Screenshots: WDR TV.

Some Ohr candy: 
  • Ash Ra Tempel: Starring Rosi
  • Cosmic Jokers: Sci-Fi Party; Galactic Supermarket
  • Guru Guru: UFO; Hinten
  • Hölderlin: Hölderlins Traum
  • Popol Vuh: In den Gärten Pharaos; Hosianna Mantra
  • Tangerine Dream: Electronic Meditation; Alpha Centauri
  • Wallenstein: Blitzkrieg
  • Walter Wegmüller: Tarot
  • Witthüser & Westrupp: Trips & Träume; Der Jesuspilz; Bauer Plath