How David Hasselhoff helped bring down the Berlin Wall

b_arnold
Movies Blog

Maybe it was a case of being in the right place at the right time. Maybe it was destiny.

Whatever the reasons, David Hasselhoff has inexorably linked with one of the most iconic and memorable moments of the 20th century - the fall of the Berlin Wall.

[Related story: The rise and fall of the Berlin wall]

The star of 'Baywatch', 'Knight Rider', and more recently 'Dodgeball' and, umm, the ‘Keith Lemon Movie', has this weekend aligned himself with a campaign to keep one of the last remaining sections of the wall from being moved by developers who want to make way for access to a new luxury housing development.

“It's like tearing down an Indian burial ground. It's a no-brainer,” he said.

“This last piece of the wall is really sacred. It's about people and it's about hearts that were broken, hearts that were torn apart and lives that were lost. That's what we're talking about today, not a piece of real estate.”

It was a typically emotive message from The Hoff.

But why has a man better known for wearing red swimming trunks, running in slow-motion, and passing his judgement on dancing dogs become synonymous with the smashing of communism in Eastern Europe and the end of the Cold War?

The whole thing seems to have been a combination of serendipity and timing.

It was his 1989 hit single 'Looking For Freedom' which seemed to resonate with the rising revolution in Germany, with its lyrics 'I've been lookin' for freedom/I've been lookin' so long/I've been lookin' for freedom/still the search goes on'.

It soon became something of an unlikely anthem for the reunification, and topped the German pop charts for eight weeks, while the album it featured on stayed at number one for three months.

Due to the song's growing popularity, he was invited to Berlin to perform it on New Year's Eve. He said that he would, but only if he could perform on the wall.

And, so Hasselhoff claims, after agreement between chancellor Helmut Kohl on the West side and Communist leader Erich Honecker on the East side, on New Year's Eve in 1989 he scaled the wall.

Straddling East and West Germany, he performed the song live to an estimated crowd of nearly one million on both sides of the wall.

“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 said.

The following year, the majority of the wall was torn down for good.

“I didn't realise the significance of 'Looking for Freedom' in east Germany until a few months ago,” he said this weekend.

“On my last tour there were thousands of Germans holding up signs saying 'We love you, thank you for Mauerfall [the fall of the wall]'.”

He has, however, been more explicit about his thoughts on his own involvement in the momentous occasion in the past, telling German magazine TV Spielfilm in 2004 that his contribution may not have been fully recognised.

“I find it a bit sad that there is no photo of me hanging on the walls in the Berlin Museum at Checkpoint Charlie,” he said. We don’t think he’s joking.

At least some Germans ARE in the joke on this slightly embarrassing episode from their recent history. In a tongue-in-cheek piece in Der Spiegel, titled ‘The Hasselhoff Blemish’, author Stephen Orth wrote:

“You ask [the German people] 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.

Hasselhoff sang his anthemic single once again from the back of a van at the weekend, though whether it will be the power of song or the power of the people that will save what's left of the communist relic remains to be seen.