What is it like to be a hippie

Youth cultures in Germany

The passive exit of the bums and beatniks and the mere provoking of society through actions of the Provos were not enough for the hippies. Anyone looking for freedom and happiness must radically and holistically turn their backs on this society.

The "Summer of Love" on the VW bus. Visitors to the Woodstock Festival 1969. (& copy AP)

Instead of trying to reform society from within, they wanted to get out of it and build a counter-society whose positive charisma should soon motivate people of the same age in particular to exit. The majority of the hippies were actually not "politically" motivated, but they soon realized that one cannot get out of the majority society without becoming political. Because, unlike the bums, they not only wanted to escape the pressure to perform in society, but at the same time wanted to find new, more humane ways of life and manners. However, the majority society of the 1960s lacked the self-confidence to simply let the "fleeing" go, and so it saw any search for a lifestyle of one's own far from the given standards (wage labor, small family, consumerism) as a radical political attack.

The goal of the hippies was an "anti-authoritarian and de-hierarchized world and value order without class differences, performance norms, oppression, cruelty and wars. The society of fear, where everyone is afraid of their superiors, neighbors, the police, fate and the anonymous , the hippies stood up to a community in which freedom should dominate authority, cooperation should dominate competition, equality should be hierarchy, creation should be productivity, honesty should be hypocrisy, simplicity should dominate property, individuality should dominate conformity and happiness should dominate materialism "(Hollstein 1981 , P. 50). However, their gaze was directed less towards another system than towards changes in the individual. According to their central worldview, capitalism had "only developed the material side of life and lost soul and spirit. All values ​​were emptied of their content and freeze into mere rhetoric. People degenerated into receiving stations for a dead bureaucracy." (Hollstein 1969, p. 67) Capitalism has alienated the "natural" human being from his true being and transformed it into consumer-addicted "plastic people" (Frank Zappa). "Authenticity, directness, honesty could now only be found in the isolated niches of Western society - among the poor, the unfit, the stigmatized." (Willis 1981, p. 122f.) The hippies saw poverty and oppression more globally, among entire peoples, preferably those who lived far away and were therefore excellently suited to idealization and mystification due to the lack of real contacts and knowledge, such as the Indians North America. Most of them were less interested in the reality on their own doorstep. The fact that the majority of them came from privileged backgrounds, voluntarily dropped out, and despised material things often blinded them to social problems around them. "Poverty" almost became something worth striving for, an ambivalence that was also expressed in their style: "Everywhere in the clothes of the hippies there were symbols of poverty in addition to the symbols of abundance. Particularly splendid items of clothing were stained, dirty or wrinkled; thus It was denied that they had a place in any class-related conception of clothing. Bad fabrics, colorless shirts, worn jeans, jackets or vests made of denim were carefully washed and cleaned to avoid any association with poverty. They defied it with bare feet coldest days, but when it was very hot they wrapped themselves in thick sheepskin coats, heavy cloaks and ankle-length cardigans. " (loc. cit., p. 128f.)

Of course, music also played a major role in the life of the hippies. They liked heavy rock à la Cream or Led Zeppelin, influenced by the blues, based on a powerful lead guitar, often mastered with virtuosity, but especially when - as in so-called acid rock - LSD and other psychedelic experiences were clearly reflected (The Doors, Grateful Dead, Jimi Hendrix, Jefferson Airplane and others in America; more "intellectual" and less rocking Pink Floyd in the UK). Frank Zappa has been the rebellious god of all underground factions since his LP "Freak Out" (1966) and still looks a little surprised at the change in history from thousands of shared (toilet) walls.

Hippies listened to LPs, not singles, preferably even programmatic themed or concept albums such as "Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" by the Beatles - a milestone in 1967 in the breaking up of old musical patterns, but according to later statements by the band, it was not conceived as a concept album at all , an LP that paved the way for many hippies into the scene. They heard "Happy Jack" (1967) and "Tommy" (1969) by The Who - productions that were no longer consumed in public, for example in clubs and discos, and often could no longer be performed live, but instead were performed by a concentrated audience that "does not move much, sits still, is not occupied with other things and is willing to devote considerable time solely to the critical reception of music" (Willis 1981, p. 98). Individual songs also became longer and longer (for example "In-a-gadda-da-vida" by Iron Butterfly or "Live Dead" by Grateful Dead, which filled three sides of the record), the lyrics became more and more important, but at the same time more abstract, conveyed to the Example only dream images (such as various songs by John Lennon) and refused to give a clear interpretation. Complex lighting systems, film excerpts, slides and text recordings from tape were used at concerts, asymmetrical rhythms and distortion effects made dancing impossible. The music of the hippies was always more nourishment for the mind, not for the body. "Surprise, contradiction and uncertainty were exactly what the hippies valued highly in their music. They wanted to be surprised and unsettled. The general call for clarity in pop music was alien to them. They trusted their music primarily because of its complexity and Difficulty keeping logocentric thinking in check and suggesting spiritual meanings without wanting to clarify them in a way that would inevitably reduce them to enable a spiritual interpretation to be made possible for a group whose thinking was already going in this direction. " (Willis, p. 201)

The weapon of the system was rationality, the cold logic of the performance and commodity society. The hippies' antidote, logically, is spiritual intensity, feeling instead of thinking. "The protest and life of the hippies were optimistic, colorful, non-violent, cheerful. Their total rejection of western industrial culture. Logic, rationality, systematics and purposefulness of western culture were also rejected, the protest was intuitive, emotional, unsystematic, hedonistic. Not analysis , not Marx and Marcuse were interesting, but intuition, spontaneity, immediate theory and practice, direct experience. Creativity, community and friends determined the hippies, they tried to learn to enjoy little things again: dew drops, sunbeams, a pearl, Flowers, colors - and they expressed their demeanor in their brightly colored clothes, in their smiles, in their flowers. " (Jaenicke 1980, p. 61)

In order to increase the ability to relax and enjoy the little pleasures of everyday life, the hippies (and many other, predominantly long-haired young people far beyond the scene) like to use marijuana as an aid, which is optionally available as "weed", "hash", "joint" , "Pot", "Mary Jane", "Shit" or "Ganja". In addition to marijuana, the (semi) synthetic hallucinogen LSD ("acid") was supposed to open the "gates of perception" (Aldous Huxley) to the hippies crippled by society. "LSD can be a political weapon. Whoever takes it should be clear that he is exposing himself to experiences and insights that are able to refute his previous experiences and insights, which can become the starting point of a psychological conflict. Only that should take LSD that has made a social decision, has decided to drop out and has declared war on the existing order anyway. " (Salzinger 1982, p. 142) On their chemically intensified adventure journeys into their own self, the hippies discovered completely new worlds - and often forgot the outside world. "Psychedelics tend to be socially passive," even the hippie cult author and LSD prophet Timothy Leary had to admit. In the end, they represented a grateful recruiting field for new religious movements rather than a "reserve army of the revolution". "The hippies contribute to the beautification of capitalism, not to its abolition", criticized the left Berliner Extra-Dienst (No. 91, here quoted from Schwendter 1993, p. 170).


Hollstein, Walter: The underground. On the sociology of youth protest movements. Neuwied / Berlin 1969.

Hollstein, Walter: The opposite society. Reinbek (4th, extended edition) 1981.

Jaenicke, Dieter: Movements. Try to understand your own story. Berlin 1980.

Salzinger, Helmut: Rock Power or How Musical is the Revolution? Reinbek 1982.

Schwendter, Rolf: Theory of Subculture. Hamburg (4th edition) 1993.

Willis, Paul: "Profane Culture". Rockers, hippies: subversive styles of youth culture. Frankfurt am Main 1981.