They shouted “Hey ho, let’s go” with all the insolence in the world. They took a simple, and ridiculous, line like “Hey little girl, I wanna be your boyfriend” and laughed at all the pop music that had ever gone before. Their stripped down music and cocky attitude made The Ramones into legends. Fast chords, forceful lyrics and the kinds of tunes that nobody can waltz to: this US group gave the 1970s a kick where it needed it.
Together with other punk legends like The Sex Pistols and The Clash, the four Ramones almost brought 20th century music crashing down on our heads. Joey, Johnny, Dee Dee and Tommy –the original members– came together in 1974. They immediately started gigging around New York, and by ‘76 they were releasing records. Their finest hour was in 1980 with The End of The Century. This piece of vinyl madness, which features their fresh faces over a red background, deals with rebellion, high school and first loves.
Berliner Flo Hayler, now 44, fell in love with the band and over the years has collected not just The Ramones’ music, but also newspaper clippings, memorabilia and even personal possessions of theirs. At first, he says, it was something personal, private. This was until one day when moving house he realized that he had eight boxes of items. This spurred him to find a venue to put them on display. “It was called the Ramones Museum, kind of as a joke, although actually we had some valuable pieces, such as old jeans that had belonged to Johnny and a pair of Joey’s gloves,” he says by email.
Some of the items reached him through friends of the band. Others came from elsewhere: “eBay has been great, but I have also been helped by their managers, roadies and fans,” says Hayler. It was free to enter this little punk sanctuary, which was only open weekends. But then the owner saw an opportunity and started to rent the place out “for nine times the price I was paying for it,” he says. It was then that he took the step to open a bar-museum, which opened in 2005. It lasted a couple of years before relocating, and then again, to its current location at 5, Oberbaumstraße, by the River Spree.
In all of the museum’s incarnations he has used the band’s famous logo and the name has been the same: Ramones Museum Berlin. The museum now features a bar selling drinks, coffee and cakes (almost all of them vegan). “We have around 10,000 visitors a year, although I don’t count every single one,” jokes the founder, who says that he measures success by the fact that it is still running. “When we first opened I wouldn’t have given it a week! But now I suppose that word has got round.” This comes from a man who does not advertise because he doesn’t want to disappoint visitors. “Some people come with high expectations, so we prefer not to boast. Actually, for most of the day it is really quiet, practically empty,” he says.
So what can you see? For four and a half Euros (six will get you a drink as well) you are made a life member of the museum and you can visit the upper floor. This inner sanctum displays around a thousand objects: original guitars, T-shirts, set lists, letters, posters, and even bits of “bloodstained” insulating tape that the bassist had wrapped around his fingers. There is a section for each bandmember (eight in total, since some of the original Ramones left the band or died).
“The Ramones were a merchandising machine. They put their designs on Frisbees, socks, shorts, hats, pins, flags, posters, photos, drum sticks and more. Pretty much anything the band ever sold is now part of the exhibition, including more than 50 different T-shirts from various tours, eras and countries” says the museum website.
You can even buy Ramones souvenirs here, including cups, badges and magnets. But what really makes this place different is the atmosphere. In fact, some visitors say that not even Queens –the group’s own New York borough– has anything like it. “Many people ask why there is a Ramones Museum in Germany. I don’t know. In fact they should open one in the band’s native city,” suggests Hayler. “Some come here for the memorabilia, but others come in by chance, because they fancy a piece of cake,” says the man whose favourite piece in the collection is a 1986 packet of biscuits, “although it’s quite disgusting now.”
Famous visitors include Blondie’s Debbie Harry and Chris Stein, as well as David Byrne of Talking Heads. “Dee Dee’s sister and mother have been to visit a few times, and have donated some of his things,” he says, recalling visits from cousins of Joey and people close to the band such as Arturo Vega –the logo’s designer–, Monte Melnick –known as “the babysitter” for the miles he spent with the band– and Danny Fields, writer and manager. They all found, on the other side of the ocean, a museum dedicated to those four long-haired guys, one that also happens to serve beer. Hey ho, shall we go?