Arguably, some chapters of skinhead history are best left forgotten but, conscientious historians that we are, we talk about them anyway. Today we want to find out: what is ‘möh’? The expression was often seen in German skinzines from the 80s, usually accompanied by drawings of bulldogs or super-skins.
If you listen to live recordings of German skinhead bands from about ‘84 or ‘85 onward, you’ll often come across this crowd chant:
That’s Daily Terror live in Schöppenstedt ’87, an event we have described at length elsewhere – and the chant you hear is spelled “möh, möh, möh” [phonetically: mø: mø: mø:]. It follows this simple melody:
Here’s another clip from the same gig. This time the vocalist joins in, somewhat mockingly, and then sneers: “The German sheep… the true Germans”.
Only people who were German skinheads in the 80s could possibly know what möh is supposed to mean, we thought. So Matt Crombieboy asked Ugly, whom you will remember from our Berlin redskins story. Ugly told him:
In the mid-1980s, there was a drive in parts of the German skinhead movement to curb the British influence on the scene. In the Body Checks’ song ‘Englandkult’, this aspiration was set to music, culminating in the appeal, ‘be proud of being German’.
For the uninitiated, Body Checks were an Oi band from Duisburg whose Tätowiert & kahlgeschoren LP (1984) still ranks among the worst albums ever sold under the ‘skinhead’ label (although their bassist, Willy Wucher, later recorded some great stuff when singing for Beck’s Pistols).
“England cult, England cult – better stay away from it”, pleads the vocalist atop a truly pitiful Last Resort impression, “England cult, England cult – be proud of being German”. So what came of the patriotic endeavours to Germanise the local scene? “The first and only thing they ever did was replace the British ‘Oi’ with ‘möh”, says Ugly, “You’d come across it in countless right-wing skinzines. Sometimes the letter ‘Ö’ was depicted as a celtic cross, and most of the time ‘möh’ was accompanied by a fat bulldog”.
Crombieboy: But what is möh supposed to mean?
Ugly: Nothing, it was simply the German Oi!
Crombieboy: But ‘Oi’ means ‘hey you’ or ‘watch it, mate’… much like ‘yo’ in North-American slang.
Ugly: Sure, but that didn’t matter in Germany, where ‘Oi!’ was understood to be a battle cry. Möh suddenly appeared out of nowhere and was dubbed the German answer to the British ‘Oi’. And for the airheads over here, ‘Oi’ had always been a war cry – because that’s what the media told them it was. You see, the right-wingers wanted to take the Britishness out of the skinhead thing.
Crombieboy: Sounds like a difficult mission, though I can understand it to an extent. I find it embarrassing when I see skins from Germany or wherever with Union Jacks on their coats. I prefer when people blend the original British influence with their own local thing.
Ugly: It was pretty silly, though – they didn’t bother to replace ‘skinhead’ with a German term. German national pride and British subculture don’t really go together, but nor does ‘skinhead’ work without any connection to Britain. That was their dilemma.
Crombieboy: Yeah, but I like when bands sing in their native tongue, for example – or when they talk about things that relate to where they live. When they try to sing in English, they usually just pick up a bunch of cliches: “Walking down the street, boots on my feet, I don’t give a fuck, I’m ready to ruck….” etc. To me that isn’t authentic.
Ugly: Can a subculture that was created in Britain 50 years ago be authentically conveyed by a German band today? I don’t think so.
Crombieboy: Well, two of my favourite Italian bands are Banda Bassotti and Dalton, and they both sound very Italian, musically too – though admittedly they don’t sing about subcultural stuff much. I don’t know if native Italians hear it the same way that I do, but I can hear Italian folk in Banda Bassotti’s songwriting. And Dalton, their music is pub rock and glam rock based, but it’s got the atmosphere of Italian working class bars. They sound authentically like where they’re from, mixed with what they’re into.
Ugly: OK, but then the lyrics should do more than, say, ‘Immer in die Eier’… [a reference to an 80s song by Endstufe that discusses kicking people in the balls – Editor]
Crombieboy: Sure. But back to möh. Isn’t it supposed to be the sound of bleeting sheep? There’s a clip of ‘Möh, möh, möh’ by Kraft Durch Froide on YouTube, and someone commented: „Skins sind wie Schafe, ganz liebe und ganz brave” (Skins are like sheep, very nice and docile). So the intention was ironic?
Ugly: I never heard that rhyme before. I don’t know if möh was meant to be ironic, but I can say with certainty that most of them used it without ironic intent! They were completely serious about it and didn’t realise they were presenting themselves as fools who follow others: “We are German sheep, möh möh möh!” Some bands incorporated the new term into their songs too, including Kraft Durch Froide in the song you just mentioned. In some right-wing circles, the term has survived until today.
So, for the moment, we’ve established that möh was meant to be a kind of unironic battle cry, created by right-leaning West German skins to replace the British ‘Oi’.
But just when you think you’ve got it all worked out, someone else will come along and give you a whole different story… Enter Nico, who was a skinhead in Hamburg in the 80s.
Nico: Ha ha! Möh is a German word that describes sheep bleating. I think in English you say “baaah”… How it started is difficult to explain. Have a look at the back cover of the Böhse Onkelz album ‘Böse Menschen, Böse Lieder’ of 1985. You’ll find a thanks list there where the band say hello to the “Hamburg sheep” and a bloke called Blöcker from Hamburg. Now, the name ‘Blöcker’ is one letter away from ‘Blöker’, which means “someone who bleats” – or “someone who goes: möh”, if you will. And the rest of the story is basically, well… alcohol and hanging out at HSV matches. We’d call him “Blöker”, and he’d reply “möh”. That’s how it started. And then “möh” became the battle cry of Hamburg skinheads.
Crombieboy: Kevin of Böhse Onkelz is from Frankfurt, but he was closely linked to the Hamburg skins and HSV fans, right?
Nico: Yes. Kevin is half British and his mother came from Hamburg, so he always felt close to HSV. There was a strong relationship between Hamburg and Frankfurt skins for many years. Some of these friendships are still ongoing today.
Crombieboy: But then it became a skinhead chant across West Germany, no?
Nico: Yes. It became popular in many parts of the scene – though I’m sure you know more about the history of möh than most of the crowd outside Hamburg, Frankfurt and Berlin in those days, hahaha!
Two skinheads, two cities, two perspectives – we’ll leave it up to you to decide where the truth is found, dear reader, and we hope you enjoyed today’s history hour.