S&M: Something that will never get lost in translation

By Camilla Leathem, PQ Monthly’s Brit in Berlin

Berlin, Germany — Once upon a time there was a German chanson singer called Carolina Brauckmann. Born in 1954 in a small town in West Germany, Brauckmann began her singing career in the 80s, and has not had her hair restyled since then. Carolina is a formidable feminist lesbian singer-songwriter who sings songs about lesbians and accompanies herself on the piano and the guitar (not at the same time; she’s gifted, but she’s not that gifted), gaining the glorious title “Grand Dame of lesbian chanson” from a small and unnotable music magazine.

This rather unique addition to the German music scene has produced a total of five albums, the last of which appeared on the market in 2003. Two of these gems fell into my hands through one of those chains where a friend knows someone who knows someone who knows someone who once listened to them by accident. The title of the first CD is “Lesbians Like You” (more specifically, “Lesbians Like You (polite) and You (impolite),” thanks to the two forms of “you” in the German language), and the title of the second CD “Lesbians Make the World Go Round.” Well-aware of just how bad German music from the 80s and 90s generally is, but encouraged by press reviews of Brauckmann’s songs as “humorous and ironic,” I spent an evening in with the dulcet tones of Carolina Brauckmann.

Our Grand Dame of lesbian chanson, now heading towards her 60th birthday, has a deep and smoky voice, which she sets to simplistic but chirpy piano/guitar music. Basically we’re dealing with calm cabaret here. My hopes that the claim to “humorousness” made by her reviewers was not to be approached with the same caution that normally accompanies claims to German “humour” were disappointed. On the contrary, several of her songs are lachrymose and thought-provoking.

With the exception of a song entitled “Couples,” which details an extensive list of the activities that infamously inseparable lesbian couples insist on doing together (from dieting and detoxing to pursuing niche hobbies and listening and speaking at the same phone receiver when calling friends, to menstruating together and inserting each other’s tampons), the songs can more justifiably be called “cute” than they can be “funny.”

The songs “Decades” and “Quattro Stagioni” chronicle the average lesbian being through the decades and through the four seasons, respectively. The former is tainted with a sense of melancholy and monotony, whereas the latter manages to get somewhat closer to the humour genre by documenting the notoriously short-lived lesbian relationship through the four seasons — spring as the season of kisses and sex, summer as the season of continued sex, autumn as the season of increasing feelings and decreasing libido, and winter as the season of couples’ therapy.

And then there is the tale of the child in “Butch and Femme” who asks her stilted and embarrassed mother to explain to her the lesbian couple she sees “strolling along the boulevard.” Fascinated and inspired, the young girl rushes home to dress herself in articles of clothing from her father’s wardrobe, slick back her hair with his hair gel, and dream of some romantic promenade strolling with her own femme.

At most quaint, and at times cringe-worthy, I quickly wrote off these songs as forgettable. That is, until I heard track 7 on the 1998 album — “Lady SM.” I couldn’t let this one go without translating it for you. Beyond my translation of this lyrical delight, words simply escape me: contextual factors considering, it is safe to say that I was not expecting this …


*Disclaimer: “Poetry” translation is a tricky business.*


Lady SM

Grab the chain, honey, give me a kick in my bum,

Please just hit me and let me be your little slave.

Swing that whip, my love, make it nice and brutal,

Do you hear me secretly begging? Go on and tyrannise me.

Rob me of all my dignity, make me feel small and devout,

Pretend that I’m about to die, and touch me as if I were in danger.


Gag me, baby, shove it into my mouth and command me,

I will wordlessly serve you; oh what a heavenly game.

Bare your teeth at me, honey, beat my back and forgive me

If I don’t fully obey; just think dirty thoughts while you’re doing it.

Rob me of all my dignity, make me feel small and devout,

Pretend that I’m about to die, and touch me as I were in danger.


Inspired German speakers can purchase all above named songs and more at http://www.carolinabrauckmann.de/.


Camilla Leathem was born in a miniscule seaside town in southwest England, studied English literature and German in London, and is now pursuing a German language PhD in Berlin. Likes: Germany, German, and the Germans, pigs, and secretly analysing people when they’re not looking. Hates: pasta, flat shoes, and techno music.