Born to be Horn | Culture| Arts, music and lifestyle reporting from Germany | DW | 07.02.2002
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Born to be Horn

Simple tunes, soppy songtexts and absurd dress - all essentials for the Schlager, or German pop-come-folk song. Schlager-singer Guildo Horn made it to stardom with a simple message, cheerful tune and a ridiculous outfit.


All smiles - Schlager-singer Guildo Horn

Draggly long hair, blue shiny flares and yellow, frilly blouse – German artist Guildo Horn is not what you would call the sexiest man on earth. But the singer and songer writer literally stormed the German charts in 1998 with his hit "Guildo loves you"and clumsy, yet adorable hip-swivel - and in a matter of months became Germany’s new teen hero.

Guildo Horn personifies a hype in Germany which reached a peak at the end of the 90s, is still thriving today and has its roots in 19th century Johann Strauss waltzes: the cult of the German Schlager the musical mix between the traditional folk and the popular "pop"-song.

The cult surrounding the Schlager, a truly German phenomenon, is unfathomable to analysts to this day. Today’s Schlager cult combines simple, but generally cheerful melodies with often absurdly simple texts, daudy clothing and seventies hairstyles. However silly it may seem - the Germans love it.

Experts say the success of singers such as long-haird, lanky Guildo Horn and blonde, bespectacled Dieter Thomas Kuhn, are the result of the simple, but heart-feeling message, projected by Schlager songs. For lonely singles in today’s big wide world, the Schlager is an easy alternative to sunbanks, jogging and techno-dancing to warm lonesome souls.

I like Steffi Graf

According to Brockhaus encyclopedia, a Schlager is a popular, simple song. However, there is more to the simple songs and brightly-clad singers than meets the eye.

Producing banality is not as easy as it may seem and is even a complicated business for professionals despite their amateur looks. People expect something from these messages, a musical illusion as a compensation for a need for warmth.

Schlager are distinguished by the simplicity of the texts, such as "I like Steffi Graf" and the loving message "Guildo loves you" by Guildo Horn. What appears to have boosted the Schlager in the past decade is the sheer banality of these simple texts and the ridiculous outfits of some of today’s most popular Schlager singers.

Dieter Thomas Kuhn with his strict side-parting, dyed blonde hair and bright seventies-style suits had young girls squealing with delight at concerts and live gigs all over the country. And Guildo Horn, whether in sailor suit or pyjamas, didn’t win the Eurovision song contest of which he was a participant - but he won the audience’s heart.

Comedy as a characteristic

The German love for the Schlager, or German pop song, goes back to the turn of the century. In those days, music was very much a live event, as waltzes and marches – the most popular musical tunes to that time – were far more enjoyable to watch than just to listen to.

The Schlager took off at the turn of the century. According to music scientist Hermann Rauhe, "the Schlager’s triumph came with the triumph of the record". Around 1900 there were 2 million records in Germany.

Due to the quick spin of the records in those days, songs had to be short. Long symphonies simply wouldn’t fit on a record – therefore people had to stick to songs –including the Schlager. With the introduction of the radio, listening to German pop music on the radio became a popular pasttime.

The success of the Schlager is closely linked to the development of technology and industry the Schlager as the song of the machine age.

With the introduction of the television set, Schlager became yet again more than just a tune to listen to. It became visual – reminding back to the days of the Schlager revues and waltzing couples dancing the nights away.

The stars were the dancers

It was the dancing, in particular the disco, which yet again influenced the Schlager – and stole the show of the Schlager stars. As disco spotlights shifted from the singers to the dancers, so did Schlager stardom diminish in the dusty disco air.

However, with the disco era, more and more international songs flooded the German music market, and ousted the German pop song from its musical throne. However, the 80s saw a surge in German Schlager. The so-called New German Wave was a new, fresh genre of Schlager, distinguished by ists humour, self-confidence and irony. But its most typical feature was that it made fun of the Germans in a laughable way.

Comedy is a characteristic 90s Schlager-star Guildo Horn and his band the Orthopaedic Socks deeply incorporated in his humorous songs and funny outfits. However, despite the blue flares, yellow shirts and rather silly song texts, Guildo Horn and his popular songs still incorporate the Schlager essential: Emotion.

Peep, peep, peep

In the 90s, Schlager singers and their songs would make fun of the heart-wrenching love song and were very often a parody on the German way of life – an aspect which is thought to be the source of the modern-day Schlager’s success.

Stars like Guildo Horn and his funny appearance on stage made it easier for cool, young modern-day people to like this otherwise old-fashioned music genre. By making fun of simple, but elementary feelings, the 90s Schlager successfully attracted young people. Guildo Horn’s hit "Guildo loves you", which had a main theme consisting of the words "peep peep peep" couldn’t have been more simple. And, in the days of the single, the Schlager singer’s declared love had another advantage: he didn’t want anything in exchange.

According to Horn, "Schlager music is all about emotion". This emotion, however, was misused by Hitler’s propaganda minister Goebbels during World War II, who saw the Schlager as a means to cheer up and distract the German population from the war. After the war, the Schlager became more melancholy, reflecting the mood of a troubled people.

Spiting modernday's troubles, the 21st century German Schlager is less melancholy and a lot more cheerful – but just as heart-wrenching as in the early days.

Horn’s most famous fit is a very clear reminder: "There was a time full of tenderness, of cuddles and kisses and loving...."