David Hasselhoff Is Still Big In Germany 30 Years After His Berlin Wall Show The Hoff recently sat down with NPR in Berlin and told the story of how he became a rock star there.
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David Hasselhoff Is Still Big In Germany 30 Years After His Berlin Wall Show

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David Hasselhoff Is Still Big In Germany 30 Years After His Berlin Wall Show

David Hasselhoff Is Still Big In Germany 30 Years After His Berlin Wall Show

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Now to a story about Germany, the Berlin Wall and David Hasselhoff. Tomorrow we mark 30 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall. And David Hasselhoff is leading the celebration, which might sound strange to Americans who think of him as this campy TV star. But in Berlin, Hasselhoff is a pop icon, and it all makes perfect sense. NPR's Rob Schmitz reports.

ROB SCHMITZ, BYLINE: I arrived to my interview with David Hasselhoff with the hope of unearthing one of pop culture's great mysteries. How did he, the star of "Knight Rider" and "Baywatch," become a rock 'n' roll god in Germany? He says it all started in 1985 when his agent told him a girl named Nikki (ph) had won a contest to have lunch with him.

DAVID HASSELHOFF: And he said, would you take a look and see Nikki? She's won a trip to meet you. And I said, I'm going through my Ernest Hemingway period. "Knight Rider" was cancelled. I lost my marriage and was sitting here staring out the window going, what am I going to do next?

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SHE CRIED")

HASSELHOFF: (Singing) And when I told her I didn't love her anymore, she cried.

SCHMITZ: Adding to Hasselhoff's Hemingway period, his debut rock album had been released to tepid sales in the U.S. But Nikki had some good news.

HASSELHOFF: She went, oh, it's very nice to meet you. Your album, "Night Rocker," is No. 1 in my country. I went, where is your country? And she said, Austria. I said, oh, wow. Where's Austria?

(SOUNDBITE OF DAVID HASSELHOFF SONG, "LOOKING FOR FREEDOM")

SCHMITZ: The Hoff was back in business. After Nikki showed him where Austria is on a map, Hasselhoff went there. Soon, his album was topping the charts in Austria, Switzerland and Germany.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LOOKING FOR FREEDOM")

HASSELHOFF: (Singing) One morning in June, some 20 years ago, I was born...

SCHMITZ: A few years later, Hasselhoff released his album "Looking For Freedom." It was 1989. The Berlin Wall was about to fall. And millions of East Germans were looking for freedom.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LOOKING FOR FREEDOM")

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

SCHMITZ: The album went triple platinum in Europe. At the time, it seemed like everyone in Germany knew the song.

HASSELHOFF: I didn't know if they were singing it just for fun or whatever, but it was their song. And they asked me to sing on New Year's Eve inside a hotel. I said, no, only if I can sing on the Berlin Wall.

SCHMITZ: He admits it was a ridiculous request, but the Germans agreed to it.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

HASSELHOFF: (Singing) One morning in June, some 20 years ago...

SCHMITZ: An estimated half a million Berliners were there that night, bringing in the new year with David Hasselhoff as he sang their anthem of freedom.

THOMAS ERDMANN: I grew up with the idea that he was responsible for breaking down the wall.

SCHMITZ: Thomas Erdmann was 6 years old when the wall fell, too young to understand that his favorite TV star with a talking car was not responsible for the fall of communism. But now, 30 years later, Erdmann is waiting to see his boyhood hero in concert in Berlin. For Erdmann, Hasselhoff conjures up memories of growing up behind the Berlin Wall.

ERDMANN: There was this one little drain hole. And we used to look through that drain hole. And we'd say, oh, let's look to the west.

SCHMITZ: Thirty years later, Erdmann's vision of freedom is no longer glimpsed through a hole in the wall - it's 67-year-old Hasselhoff screaming freedom over and over.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

HASSELHOFF: Freedom. Freedom. Freedom. Freedom.

SCHMITZ: At times during Hasselhoff's three-hour performance, it feels like he's more excited about the anniversary of the fall of the wall than Berliners themselves.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

HASSELHOFF: Thirty years of freedom.

(CHEERING)

HASSELHOFF: Thirty years of freedom.

SCHMITZ: But the Hoff knows his audience well. "Looking For Freedom" brings everyone to their feet, clapping and singing, happy the Hoff is still carrying freedom's torch.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

HASSELHOFF: (Singing) Looking for freedom.

SCHMITZ: Rob Schmitz, NPR News, Berlin.

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