How was America in the 1950s?

Youth in the 1950s

Youngsters, "Exis" and teenagers

The youngsters. Her provocative demeanor quickly became the symbol of an entire generation. With the cigarette in their mouth, the fashionable leather jacket and the loudly rattling moped, they horrified the good German citizens from the mid-1950s. No wonder, because in 1956, sensation-hungry journalists reported almost every day about riot riots on the streets.

If you believed the press, a real hooligan knew how to beat the plaster with force and pick around uselessly. Anyone who listened to German hits had no place in a youngster clique, because youngsters were enthusiastic about everything that came from America. And that was mostly rock and roll.

Mainly young men from the working class felt drawn to the movement - even if far fewer young people belonged to the youngsters than many believe.

Only about five percent of those aged 14 to 19 at the time stated that they were half-strong in later years. But it was certainly much more who sympathized with the rebellious attitude of their peers.

Existentialists with philosophical idols

However, this was rarely the case with the youthful existentialists. Many "Exis" despised the aggressive behavior of the youngsters, because in their own environment it was a lot more civilized.

The "Exis" took lessons from high school teachers in the mornings and spent the evenings in smoky jazz clubs. The French philosophers Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980) and Albert Camus (1913-1960) were among her intellectual role models. Black stockings, black trousers and black turtlenecks made them stand out from the other youth groups.

Fashion and cosmetics for the girls

Flogging or loitering in jazz clubs? Most of the girls found this leisure program unattractive and so they seldom wandered the streets with youngsters and existentialists. They benefited all the more from the emergence of their own teenage culture.

Teenagers now dressed chic and fashionable, danced body-hugging and made use of the wide range of leisure activities of the late 1950s with friends of the same age. For them, being young was fun - and without any political insubordination.

The fashion and entertainment industries quickly discovered the adapted young people as their own target group. Teenage cosmetics and teenage fashion were soon in all shop windows.

Word got around about what was currently in trend, also because young people had their own mouthpiece from 1956 onwards: The youth magazine "Bravo" supported the generation of that time with styling questions.

Rock'n'Roll, riot and love

Rock'n'Roll gave the youth of the 1950s their own voice. And that almost everywhere in the western world. Since Bill Haley's "Rock around the clock" at the latest, German adolescents had also been infected with the new musical virus. "One, two, three o'clock, four o'clock, rock."

Bill Haley's pounding and unleashing music delighted the young audience with some consequences: on Bill Haley's tour of Germany, the young ecstasy turned into wild aggression. In Berlin, Hamburg, Essen and Stuttgart fans dismantled the interior of the concert halls.

Rock'n'Roll became the soundtrack of a new way of life - and street battles with the police also belonged to this way of life. Between 1956 and 1958 alone there were 350 major riots in almost all major West German cities.

Rock'n'Roll not only accompanied mass brawls, but also the first attempts at admiring adolescents on the dance floor. Anyone who danced rock'n'roll did not necessarily stick to painstakingly rehearsed step combinations, but rather let their pelvis lasciviously - following the example of Elvis Presley, who had risen to become the undisputed star of the rock'n'roll scene since 1957.

Elvis hits were also a must for the ride on the "smooch" at the fair. The owners of the chassis quickly found out that they were becoming an undisputed crowd puller with signs such as "Schlager aus den USA" or "A meeting place for rock'n'roll fans".

Of course, the rush to the caterpillar had another reason: The caterpillar was the only fairground attraction that made the drivers disappear behind a tarpaulin for a few precious seconds. There is enough time for young people in love to exchange secret kisses.

The film industry is discovering the youth

The youngsters of the 1950s longed for new role models - and found them not only in music. With the film "Because They Don't Know What They Do", the American film industry hit the taste buds of adolescents.

And that wasn't a coincidence: the director of the film, Nicholas Ray, had researched the archives of the Youth Department to show a realistic picture of post-war youth. The result was a film about misunderstood, rebellious young people and life-threatening tests of courage.

The adolescents recognized themselves in the film. And so it was no wonder that leading actor James Dean became the idol of a whole generation. The youngsters wanted to be like him: uncompromising, casual, with a hard shell but a soft core.

When the film was released in German cinemas in 1956, the fans excitedly looked forward to the decisive scene: two cars side by side let the engines roar. A test of courage is imminent. James Dean is racing towards the cliffs at full throttle because he is really not a coward.

At the last second, the screen hero throws himself out of the moving car and thus escapes certain death. In reality, James Dean was less fortunate: when the film was released in German cinemas, Dean was already dead - a car accident had cost him his life.

The American, who died young, became a myth among West German youth. But also local actors like the young Horst Buchholz captured the hearts of the adolescents.

Horst Buchholz made his breakthrough in 1956 with the film "Die Halbstarken". The film corresponded to the taste of the youth, because it is about conflicts with the authoritarian parents, a gang of youngsters, casual clothes and a youthful hero.

Youth fashion and hairstyles

"Just put on your flat shoes because you can dance better with them, the sweaters blue and yellow and red, the new petticoat with a skirt," warbled teenage star Conny Froboess in 1958 cheerfully. Fashion and hairstyles became increasingly important for teenagers in the 1950s.

Youngsters, "exis" and teenagers fought bitter clothing fights with their parents. For the first time there was its own youth fashion and the adolescents were determined to live out their fashionable style even against the will of their parents.

To the horror of their fathers, young men said goodbye to short military hairstyles and instead grew a duck tail, a quiff of hair that was brushed upwards with as much pomade as possible. The girls' tightly plaited braids gave way to bobbing ponytails or loose, teased hair.

Not only young men stood out with jeans, leather jackets and pointed leather ankle boots. A revolution was also emerging in girls' fashion. When the first young women in pants entered the school, reprimands and screams rained.

But in vain: the teenage trousers could soon be conveniently ordered from the mail order catalog. The fashion industry had seen the signs of the times, and what was scandalous in the mid-1950s was already normal by the end of the decade. At least the youth won the clothing fight.