Top Ten Facts About the Relationship of David Hasselhoff and German Speaking CountriesI read a lot of blogs and articles by Americans or the British about Germany or German speaking countries. To me, it is always interesting to see the national differences in Western culture, and how things that are a normal part of everyday life, or certain traditions, look weird to the outside world. I found out that while I assumed the German language territory was heavily influenced by American pop culture in more recent years, there are apparently several things that make foreigners puzzled when they hear about it.
If you read several articles and lists about German speaking culture (most things about Germany apply to Austria as well), you will find that some topics are brought up in almost every list. Some are nonsensical, others are entirely true. For example: Yes, the British short movie “Dinner for One” is as essential to German/Austrian New Year’s Eve as “It’s a Wonderful Life” is to American Christmas (maybe even more), but no, pickles on the Christmas tree would get people to look at you like a weirdo with no sense for holiday decoration - nobody does that or has even heard of it. But some of these items are more complex, especially when it’s about music. One of these things is the reputation and success of David Hasselhoff in Germany.
Now, usually you have Germans commenting on such articles, either confirming them or being confused why foreigners think Germans do that. But when it comes to David Hasselhoff, even Germans disagree heavily if the stereotype is true or not. Now this list is to make it all more understandable.
First of all: Hasselhoff is not seen as one of the greatest, neither is he seen as a bad artist. I often get the impression that Americans think he is as huge as Michael Jackson or Phil Collins over here, when in fact he is far from that. But he’s also not the butt of a joke, or someone who is forgotten. To get an impression of his reputation and fame, you need to know about Germany’s relationship to the 80s, to the Berlin Wall, how they treat one hit wonders and how “relevance” is not as short lived as in other Western countries.
"Looking for Freedom" was a number one hit in Germany, Austria and Switzerland in 1989. The 80s are the most loved decade in German speaking territories, even more than the 60s. The style, the movies and most notably the movies, are well remembered, and are constantly aired. There are numerous 80d compilation albums for cheap prices, and frequently there are music shows that air the biggest hits of the 80s. You'll find this song in all of them.
That being said, "Looking for Freedom" was his only big hit in Germany, or in other words, the only song he is remembered for as a singer. He had two other top ten hits afterwards (one in German), but they disappeared as quickly as they appeared.
But that doesn't matter: one big hit is enough to grant you being remembered in Germany. One hit wonders appear on T.V. a lot, and have some of the most played and famous songs of all time. That of course doesn't make the artists superstars or legendary, but they at least aren't forgotten and can probably make a good living off the German airplay alone.
Now this is the key point of why there is so much disagreement, and how he got attention in the first place.
The 80s were a highly political decade. The anti cold war sentiment could be felt everywhere in the music, and East and West Germany longed to be united again. And his famous hit is called "Looking For Freedom". It all fit together in the context of the time, and became an anthem for people longing for peace and, of course, freedom. When he performed the song at the Berlin Wall, thos was a statement that is still very famous and almost iconic. But also note that this was BY FAR the peak of his singing career.
Nowadays, we know David Hasselhoff mostly as an actor, or rather an action star, who also had one big song as a singer. It's not the other way around. His singing career wasn't ridiculed or anything, like it often happens when actors start singing (or the other way around), but the German Wikipedia still calls him "an actor and singer", not the other way around.
In Germany, he had one chart topping hit, and the other songs and albums were just mediocrely successful. In Austria, he had three chart topping albums, one that was released BEFORE "Looking For Freedom", the other two having certified double platinum. None of them contains his "Freedom" though. He also had a second number one song over here by the way, "Do the Limbo" from 1991, which wasn't even in the top ten in Germany. It all didn't help: nowadays, he is also only remembered for "Looking for Freedom" over here, at least as a singer.
Like Schwarzenegger ot Stallone, you could say Hasselhoff was the definition of an awesome action hero in the 80s. "Knight Rider", an American T.V. series that mixes crime and action and has a talking car was what everyone wanted to see in the 80s. Next to "Columbo", "The A-Team", "Murder She Wrote" or "MacGuyer", this is one of the cult classics of the time that are still aired frequently and attract viewers. Of course, the show's heroic main star was seen as beyond cool in the 80s.
As I wrote on the item about him being a cool guy, "Knight Rider" was lit in the 80s. And as I said before, we are crazy about this decade, and are kind of still stuck in it. Those trends never truly wore off (we also still have many punks, gothics and disco fans), and still have a lot of following. The main difference between Germany and the USA may be this: you mostly remember him from "Baywatch", which was essentially naked flesh, we remember him from "Knight Rider".
You might have guessed: as he had only one truly immortal hit and barely any other musical output that was a smash or has importance, he is not among the top artists of all time, neither popularly, nor critically, nor commercially.
Although back then we didn't really get that it was a "Baywatch" reference, when this movie hit theaters, we all found this guy who transported Sponge and Pat over the ocean and shot them back into the sea with his muscles to be ridiculously cool, and I think I can speak for most kids of my generation, that next to the Goofy Goober rock song, this was our favorite part of the film. Although we as kids didn't know who Hasselhoff is. And I bet the adults watching the movie had their fun too, knowing who he was.
So, let me come to a conclusion:
David Hasselhoff had exactly one big hit in the 80s, but it's one of the most popular ones. We love the 80s, and on the radio you hear several songs of the decade on the daily, and every week or so there's an 80s revival T.V. show. So of course we know, remember and like Hasselhoff. But not more outstandingly than Belinda Carlisle, Laura Branigan, a-ha, Limahl or Irene Cara. He has about their level of fame, plus a career as an 80s action star.
But over here, we pronounce it as if it was an English name - we say "Hesselhoff". If you would pronounce that name in correct German, you'd say "hussle-hoff".