Nina Hagen was born 11 March 1955 as Catharina Hagen in the former East Berlin, East Germany, the daughter of Hans Hagen (also known as Hans Oliva-Hagen), a scriptwriter, and Eva-Maria Hagen, an actress and singer. Her paternal grandfather died in the Sachsenhausen concentration camp (one of her great-grandparents was Jewish).
Her parents divorced when she was two years old, and growing up she saw her father infrequently. At age four, she began to study ballet, and was considered an opera prodigy by the time she was nine.
When Hagen was 11, her mother married Wolf Biermann, an anti-establishment singer-songwriter. Biermann’s political views later influenced young Hagen.
Hagen left school at age sixteen, and went to Poland, where she began her career. After that, she returned to Germany and joined the cover band Fritzens Dampferband (Fritzen’s Steamboat Band, together with Achim Mentzel and others). She added songs by Janis Joplin and Tina Turner to the “allowable” set lists during shows.
From 1972–73, Hagen enrolled in the crash-course performance program at The Central Studio for Light Music in East Berlin. Upon graduation, she formed the band Automobil.
In East Germany, she performed with the band Automobil, becoming one of the country’s best-known young stars. Her most famous song from the early part of her career was “Du hast den Farbfilm vergessen” (“You forgot the colour film”) in 1974.
However, her musical career in East Germany was cut short when she and her mother left the country in 1976, following the expulsion of her stepfather.
Back in Germany by mid-1977, Hagen formed the Nina Hagen Band in West Berlin’s Kreuzberg district. In 1978 they released their self-titled debut album, which included the single “TV-Glotzer” (a cover of “White Punks on Dope” by The Tubes, though with entirely different German lyrics), and Auf’m Bahnhof Zoo, about West Berlin’s then-notorious Berlin Zoologischer Garten station. The album also included a version of “Rangehn” (“Go For It”), a song she had previously recorded in East Germany, but with different music.
The album gained significant attention throughout Germany and abroad, both for its hard rock sound and for Hagen’s theatrical vocals, far different from the straightforward singing of her East German recordings.
However, relations between Hagen and the other band members deteriorated over the course of the subsequent European tour, and Hagen decided to leave the band in 1979, though she was still under contract to produce a second album.
This LP, Unbehagen (which in German also means discomfort or unease), was eventually produced with the band recording their tracks in Berlin and Hagen recording the vocals in Los Angeles, California. It included the single “African Reggae” and a cover of Lene Lovich’s “Lucky Number”. The other band members sans Hagen, soon developed a successful independent musical career as Spliff.
A European tour with a new band in 1980 was cancelled, and Hagen turned to the United States. A limited-edition 10-inch EP was released on vinyl that summer in the U.S. Two songs from her first album Nina Hagen Band were on the A side, and two songs from her second album Unbehagen were on the B-side. All four songs were sung in German.
In 1983, she released the album Angstlos and a minor European tour. By this time, Hagen’s public appearances were becoming stranger and frequently included discussions of God, UFOs, her social and political beliefs, animal rights and vivisection, and claims of alien sightings. The English version of Angstlos, Fearless, generated two major club hits in America, “Zarah” (a cover of the Zarah Leander (#45 USA) song “Ich weiss, es wird einmal ein Wunder geschehen”) and the disco/punk/opera song, “New York New York” (#9 USA).
Her 1985 album Nina Hagen In Ekstasy fared less well, but did generate club hits with “Universal Radio” (#39 USA) and a cover of “Spirit In The Sky” and also featured a 1979 recording of her hardcore punk take on Frank Sinatra’s My Way, which had been one of her signature live tunes in previous years.
In the 1990s, Hagen lived in Paris with her daughter Cosma Shiva and son Otis. In 1991 she toured Europe in support of her new album Street. In 1992 Hagen became the host of a TV show on RTLplus. Also in the same year (1992) she collaborated with Adamski on the European smash and minor UK hit single “Get Your Body”. The following year, she released Revolution Ballroom. In 1994 Laramy Smith recorded Nina at Ferber Studios in Paris, for the “Somebody Help Me” project, a song to aid the homeless worldwide available at laramysmith.com.
In 1998, Hagen became the host of a weekly science fiction show on the British Sci-Fi Channel, in addition to embarking on another tour of Germany. In 1999, she released the devotional album Om Namah Shivay, which was distributed exclusively online and included an unadulterated musical version of the Hare Krishna mantra. She also provided vocals to “Witness” and “Bereit” on KMFDM’s Adios.
In 2000, her song Schön ist die Welt became the official song of Expo 2000. Another cover of a Zarah Leander song “Der Wind hat mir ein Lied erzählt” was a minor hit the same year. The album The Return of the Mother was released in February 2001, accompanied by another German tour. In 2001 she collaborated with Rosenstolz and Marc Almond on the single Total eclipse/Die schwarze Witwe that reached #22 in Germany. On 14 October 2002 Nina hit Moscow by coming there with her concert, while interviews with the eccentric singer were aired on many TV-channels.
Hagen dubbed the voice of Sally in the German release of Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas, and she has also done voice work on the movie Hot Dogs by Michael Schoemann. Hagen has been featured on songs by other bands, for instance on Oomph!’s song “Fieber”. She did a cover of Rammstein’s “Seemann” with Apocalyptica. Later albums include Big Band Explosion, in which she sang numerous swing covers with her then husband, Danish singer and performer, Lucas Alexander.
This was followed by Heiß, a greatest hits album. Her most recent album, Journey to The Snow Queen, is more of an audio book—she reads the Snow Queen fairy tale with Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker in the background.
In 2005 Nina Hagen headlined the Drop Dead Festival in New York City. Hagen has been an active protester against the war in Iraq. In 2006 she was a part of the Popstars team. She is a vegetarian.
In August 2009 she was baptized in the Protestant Reformed church of Schüttorf. On October 21 after seven years passed she visited Moscow again. Her latest album, Personal Jesus was released July 16, 2010, after a four year lapse.
New York, New York!
Somewhere Over The Rainbow
Du Hast Den Farbfilm Vergessen
Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick