The Hasselhoff Blemish: Germany's Ticklish History

Germany has a lot of skeletons in its historical closet and talking about them can be ticklish. One in particular makes younger Germans fidget. The popularity of David Hasselhoff is simply impossible to explain.

David Hasselhoff kissing a young woman from Leipzig in 2004. Her grandchildren, you can be sure, will never hear about it.
AP

David Hasselhoff kissing a young woman from Leipzig in 2004. Her grandchildren, you can be sure, will never hear about it.

It is always a bit ticklish confronting Germans with their past. You ask them why it happened. You ask whether they supported it. Why they didn’t rebel against it? How could millions of people not see that they were wrong? Andreas from Berlin is a typical witness of the times. A mere 28 years old, his whole life will be marked by the mistakes of an entire nation -- an occurrence that is singular in world history.

“I swear, I have no idea how a David Hasselhoff song could top the German charts for eight weeks in 1989,” he says. His tone is defensive and apologetic -- a tone one hears across Germany when talking about the historical black mark.

You might have never heard about “the Hoff’s” biggest smash hits “Looking for Freedom” and “Crazy for you,” but ask any German between 20 and 40 about it. After a few seconds of blushed embarrassment they might even remember the lyrics, including poetic gems like: “Everybody sunshine, everybody fun time, we’ve got the power, we’ve got the Lord." The pain, though, must be deeply felt in a country with the long and highly regarded literary, religious and musical tradition enjoyed by Germany.

When Hasselhoff sang "Looking for Freedom" from atop the remnants of the Berlin Wall in November 1989, the whole world knew immediately that something was rotten in the country of Goethe and Beethoven -- that something had gone wrong with reunification from day one.

“I think the people who bought his CDs didn’t even understand the lyrics. They were mostly 12-year-old kids who loved ‘Knight Rider’,” says Andreas. “They just liked the melody of the songs.”

It’s reassuring to know that Germans are capable of learning from the mistakes of history. And they are. But whenever you meet somebody from Germany, make sure to confront them with the past -- be sure to ask for their explanation for the Hoff’s unprecedented rise from two-bit actor to crooner fame. You're sure to find out that Germans have a sense of humor and self-irony after all. And you’ll definitely have a great conversation. As David sang himself, you'll have an "everybody fun time."

Contributed by Stephan Orth in Australia

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