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Meet the Women in Music Honoree Who Escaped the Iron Curtain

todayMarch 1, 2023

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Women in Music honoree Doreen Schimk has one of the more interesting backstories in the music business: She escaped from the former East Germany as a teenager.  


In the late 1980s, she and her sister Susann, both promising athletes, went to an East German training camp where she met a teenage boy she liked. Schimk took a bigger step than most girls her age, though, sneaking across the border in his car and moving to Hamburg in what was then West Germany. In 2011, this journey became the subject of the fictionalized German film Westwind.


In 1990, not long after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Schimk moved to London, and later New York, where she says she “picked up English on the street.” “But I was obsessed with music – I was a DJ for a few years – and I thought this was the place I could get into the business, but I didn’t know the difference between an agent and a manager and a label.” 

Then a friend from back home called about an opening for an internship at the German indie label Edel Records. Schimk moved back within 48 hours and then spent six years learning about promotions before taking a job at Sony Music Germany – and then, eventually, at Warner Music.  

In August 2021, she and Fabian Drebes were named co-presidents of Warner Music Central Europe, which oversees operations in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. One priority is “cultural change,” she says. “There’s a huge opportunity to create a new way of working in terms of changing the mindset and breaking these barriers in terms of hierarchies.” Another is focusing more on dance music and German language hip-hop.  


“With dance and EDM we have a huge opportunity to grow globally,” she says. For hip-hop, she and Drebes founded Atlantic Records Germany “to be a new door for German rap artists,” she says. “It’s based in Berlin” – Warner Music’s German headquarters is in Hamburg – “and it’s growing out of the culture there.” Change takes time, she says, but Warner Germany has shown strength this year on the singles chart.

As for the movie, she recalls, “I was in my 30s, sitting with my twin sister Susann on a balcony in Berlin, having a drink, and one of the guys we were with said, ‘Why don’t you make a movie about it?’ — [Her sister is a movie producer] — “From such a young age when I made that decision,” she says, “being fearless has always been a driver for me.”

The 2023 Billboard Women in Music Awards take place tonight (March 1) at the YouTube Theater at Hollywood Park in Los Angeles. The event will livestream here on and via Billboard’s YouTube account.

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