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Museum celebrates "shocking" fifties teenagers

Switzerland's first teenage rebels are the subjects of a photography exhibition at the Museum of Design in Zurich. Known as the "Halbstarken", they seem harmless by the standards of today but in the 1950s many adults were shocked by them.

This content was published on March 31, 2000 - 11:30

Switzerland's first teenage rebels are the subjects of a photography exhibition at the Museum of Design in Zurich. Known as the "Halbstarken", they seem harmless by the standards of today but in the 1950s many adults were shocked by them.

When the first Halbstarken appeared on the streets of Zurich in 1958, their impact was out of all proportion to their numbers. Less than a hundred of them would get together at weekends, in a set location, and talk in groups...and shock people.

Their leather jackets and jeans set them apart from the rest of society at a time when male attire was highly conservative, with collars and ties almost universal. People did their best to ignore them, regarding the Halbstarken as the symptoms of alienation within an affluent and conventional society.

But the irony was that although seeking to shock their fellow-citizens, the teenage rebels were themselves conventional, and crime was rare. Their parents tended to be unaware of the way they spent weekends because they would leave home with the leather jackets and jeans in a bag, changing into them later with their friends.

The photographs of Karlheinz Weinberger give an insight into the weekend rebels of 1950s Switzerland. They were also the beginning of his fascination with the subject. Weinberger has since taken many more pictures of young rebels, from rockers and bikers up to their present-day equivalent.

By Richard Dawson


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