How Mr. Hasselhoff Tore Down This Wall After the fall of the Berlin Wall, Baywatch star David Hasselhoff sang to huge crowds gathered at the Brandenburg Gate, becoming a pop symbol of Germany's freedom and a hero to many.

How Mr. Hasselhoff Tore Down This Wall

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


On this day 25 years ago, the wall that separated East and West Germany came down. After the collapse of the Berlin wall, people across Eastern Europe to took to the streets to demand the end of communist rule. It's easy to look at the wall now and see a clear and powerful symbol of the division between democracy and repression; an iron curtain made of stone. But who would have thought that weeks after the wall fell, and for years that followed, an American TV star would come to personify freedom, democracy and everything good in the world?

DAVID HASSELHOFF: I was a guy who happened to do a show called "Night Rider" who happened to sing a song called "Looking For Freedom."

MARTIN: We spoke with the man of that moment, David Hasselhoff, and asked him how he came to sing an unforgettable concert in Berlin on New Year's Eve back in 1989.


HASSELHOFF: (Singing) One morning in June some 20 years ago, I was born a rich man's son.

MARTIN: David Hasselhoff was a certified heartthrob in the states. But he built his European reputation on a pop song. We'll let him explain.

HASSELHOFF: I had been behind the wall at least eight or nine times since 1987 when I first went over to kind of further my music career with the "Night Rider" car. I shipped the "Night Rider" car over to Austria and then to Germany, figuring if they wouldn't come and see me, they'd come and see the car. So it seemed to work. I hit big with a single. And they invited me to sing, and I said only if I can sing on the wall. And they said yes. And I went, oh, my God.

MARTIN: Officials from East and West Germany made Hasselhoff the star of the New Year's celebration, hoisting him above the crowd on a crane. Hasselhoff was decked out in this amazing jacket with a bunch of battery-powered, flashing lights. And then, on the top of the wall, the Brandenburg Gate behind him, Hasselhoff sang.


HASSELHOFF: (Singing) I've been looking for freedom. I've been looking so long.

MARTIN: Even with the massive crowd singing along, Hasselhoff says he had no idea whether the performance would have any lasting impact until he saw people holding signs thanking him for the fall of the wall.

HASSELHOFF: I didn't know if it was a joke or not. I really didn't. And it wasn't a joke. It was like thank you for the fall of the wall, and thank you for our childhood. And then I found out later talking to East Berlin guy and a West Berlin Guy, one guy says, you know, he thinks I'm from East Berlin. He thinks that "Looking For Freedom" was just a song in West Berlin. I go, yeah it was. It was just a pop song. He says, no it wasn't. It was our hymn. It was our anthem. It was our song of hope

MARTIN: Over the next two decades, Hasselhoff balanced his roles as Hollywood Star and political celebrity.

HASSELHOFF: I've been back to Berlin probably about eight or nine times just this year alone to save the wall because they were going to tear down the last piece of the wall. So I went back on my own and just walked the wall and just to bring awareness that you can't tear this down. And 10,000 people turned out. So I sang "Looking For Freedom" - went through a bullhorn. Everyone was quite excited that I came. And I felt pretty moved that anybody showed up 25 years later.

MARTIN: And of course, I had to ask the question - do you mind - if you can just one bar of the chorus?

HASSELHOFF: (Singing) I've been looking for freedom. I've been looking so long. I've been looking for freedom. Still the search goes on.


HASSELHOFF: (Singing) I've been looking for freedom since I left my home town.

MARTIN: And of course, Hasselhoff is right. The wall itself, the pieces of it have come to be treasured souvenirs of that important moment in world history.

HASSELHOFF: I have about 350 pieces of the wall. We chopped them all down that night. And I brought them back, and I gave them all to the cast and crew of "Bay Watch" on a plaque that says November 9, 1989, a little piece of freedom. And the rest are in my house.

MARTIN: Hasselhoff wasn't the only person who brought a pickax to the wall. So did some young sightseers. In 1990 before reunification, Amy Oliva (ph) was spending the summer before eighth grade visiting her best friend who had moved to Germany.

AMY OLIVA: We kind of went crazy and chopped off probably 15 pounds, which were regretted as we carried those around Berlin for the day.

MARTIN: That same year, Hilary Whitely (ph) was just six years old and living in Germany. She says one of her first memories is hacking at the concrete wall with her brother.

HILARY WHITELY: My brother kept singing the song and it goes. (Singing) There's a place in France where the naked ladies dance and a hole in the wall where the men can see it all. And for some reason that stuck in my mind.

MARTIN: People like Amy and Hilary were called wall woodpeckers - people who chipped off pieces of the wall often with rented hammers and picks. Whitely and her family brought back the pieces that she had chipped off with her brother. And her mom decided they didn't actually belong in the house.

WHITELY: She just thought that this concrete was just a symbol of everything that had transpired that was not nice in the past.

MARTIN: So she got rid of them.

WHITELY: So she instead decided to bury them in our backyard.

MARTIN: And Amy Oliva, when she got back from Germany, she started eighth grade and took a semester of shop class. One of her assignments was to make a clock.

OLIVA: People, you know, could decorate it anyway they wanted, and people did different things with the numbers. And I thought, you know, I've got these neat little pieces of the Berlin wall. So I picked out my best pieces with the graffiti, you know, clearly on them and glued them on at the 12, 3, 6 and 9. And I called it the Berlin Wall Clock. So my shop teacher just thought that was terrific. And it's still proudly hanging in my parents' house.

MARTIN: But you do not have to be in Berlin at that time to get your hands on a piece of history.

CARLTON CORNELIUS: My name's Carlton Cornelius (ph). I'm 24 years old. My wall came into my possession through a pre-order for the collector's edition of a game called World In Conflict. And the centerpiece of it was a certified, authenticated piece of the Berlin wall.

MARTIN: He really hopes it's not a fake.

CORNELIUS: I know that a lot of these things are fake, and it could be entirely possible someone like whacked off a chunk of a wall in like Stuttgart or something and labeled it. But hopefully that's not the case.

MARTIN: Because to own a piece of history or even to just believe that you do is to feel a kind of connection to the people who actually changed it. However you came by it, we want to know if you have a piece of the Berlin wall. Tweet us a picture. I'm @RachelNPR.

And the music you're hearing right now is an audio souvenir from November of 1989 when Mstislav Rostropovich offered this impromptu cello performance in front of the wall.


Copyright © 2014 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.