It was one of the defining moments of the Twentieth Century. Not only did it come to represent the collapse of the Soviet Union, the end of the Communist dream and the concluding drama of the Cold War, the fall of the Berlin Wall must also be remembered as the moment a nation that had been divided for 28 years came together. Thank you, David Hasselhoff.
Excuse me? David Hasselhoff? The man who made talking cars every small boy’s dream and scantily-clad, surgically enhanced beauties running in slow motion every teenage boy’s fantasy? Surely the actor-slash-singer responsible for immortalizing such screen idols as Michael Knight and Mitch Buchannon can’t be accredited with bringing down a superpower and reuniting Germany.
Well, according to the man himself, Hasselhoff does indeed feel that he played his part in bringing about the fall of the Berlin Wall and aiding the reunification of East and West Germany. And not through some heroic spy chase across Communist Berlin at the wheel of his trusty car KITT or a daring rescue involving Pamela Anderson and a defecting Russian diplomat in a thong. No, Hasselhoff believes his contribution came about through the unifying and healing power of his music.
Cover version caught the moment
After recording an English language cover version of the 1970s German hit, “Auf Der Strasse Nach Suden” and renaming it “Looking for Freedom,” Hasselhoff raced up the charts in the late summer of 1989, just as a tide of revolution began rolling through Eastern Europe.
The soft rock god had sublimely caught the moment by crooning the stirring lyrics: "I've been lookin' for freedom; I've been lookin' so long; I've been lookin' for freedom; still the search goes on." And as a result, after spending several weeks at number one, the song became the anthem of some of those struggling to reconcile the broken nation.
Even as the hammers began to fall on the symbol of division, Hasselhoff’s music was omnipresent; the album of the same name was also Germany’s best selling long player of the time, keeping less important records off the top spot for three months.
At last, all those Germans who had been looking for freedom eventually found it as the wall finally crumbled on November 9, 1989, allowing thousands of East Germans to flood into West Berlin to be reunited with loved ones and to buy long-forbidden albums from Hasselhoff’s musical back catalogue.
There was even a moment when the reunited country joined together to thank the man who had provided the soundtrack to such historic change. After being invited to headline a New Year’s Eve concert at the Brandenburg Gate by former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, the people’s champion finally got his chance to deliver his song in person to an audience of almost a million reunited Germans.
Playing to an audience of united Germans
"It was the first time Germany had been unified, and close to a million East and West German fans stood together in the freezing cold at midnight watching me perform. I was overcome with emotion," he recalled in an interview with German magazine TV Spielfilm.
But official recognition evaded him. “I am a little bit sad that no photo of me hangs in the Checkpoint Charlie museum in Berlin,” he added with regret after his contribution to reunification failed to make it into the Berlin Wall commemorative exhibition at the former border crossing.
Museum missing hero's portrait
But how can this be? Surely a man who mobilized a divided nation, a man whose voice was the catalyst for revolution, should be honoured for his role in changing the world as many knew it back then.
But the Checkpoint Charlie Museum in Berlin isn't quite convinced of the singer's historical significance. “What did he do?” wondered the museum's spokesperson when DW-WORLD questioned why Hasselhoff was not included in the Hall of Fame. “We didn’t know the song was that important. We like Mr. Hasselhoff but there are no documents that record his role in the fall of the Berlin Wall.”
“We do have a picture of Roger Moore as James Bond though,” the spokesperson offered up as a gesture to international stardom.
And so, while a fictional spy is lauded for his work in promoting Berlin, David Hasselhoff must be content with making the next generation of Germans whole again through his music.Nick Amies