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Music

Herbert Grönemeyer: Germany's most successful musician turns 60

Musician Herbert Grönemeyer has created some of Germany's best-selling albums ever - and knows how to write songs that directly touch people's hearts. Here are a few highlights of his career that took off in the 1980s.

"I grew up surrounded by love, a passion for music and a quite strict education." That's how Herbert Arthur Wiglev Clamor Grönemeyer once described his childhood and youth spent in the city of Bochum in Germany's industrial area Ruhr.

He earned his first salary there as a pianist at the local theater. He dropped his studies in music and law after two and a half years and worked as musical director for the theater, and also for television and film. He produced records and played roles in movies, most notably in "Das Boot" (1981).

One of his early songs "Musik, nur wenn sie laut ist" (Music, only when it is loud) is among his most famous. When it was released in 1983, on the album "Gemischte Gefühle" (Mixed feelings), people were not that interested. The song is about a deaf girl who can only recognize music through vibrations: It criticized the way society deals with handicapped people - and that's not something most pop music fans want to hear. "I had to perform my ass off so that people wouldn't leave the music hall to go buy a sausage," Herbert noted back then. Some concerts were canceled, and the first record company terminated its contract with him after having released four albums.

Wrong decision

That label must regret the decision now. The Cologne-based record company EMI stepped in - resulting in Grönemeyer's breakthrough. His album "4630 Bochum" - named after the now outdated zip code of that city - became Germany's most successful album in 1984. Throughout Bochum - and the whole country - people can sing to "Männer" (Men) or "Flugzeuge im Bauch" (Airplanes in the stomach), and the album became the starting point of a stellar career. Despite his huge success, Herbie, as his fans call him, remains closely connected with his hometown. His second passion is soccer.

Herbert Grönemeyer performing in 2011, Copyright: Johannes Simon/Getty Images

Herbert Grönemeyer performing during the German TV show "Wetten dass..."

His songs are about the crises and joys of life. "Of course, not all my songs are based on my own experience: This isn't my psychotherapy on records. It's a mixture of personal experiences and little stories and films," said Grönemeyer to describe his writing style.

Call for action

Grönemeyer is also politically active - he is notably opposed to the use of nuclear power, and has spoken for the upkeep of steel works in the Ruhr and financial support for workers. Echoing Bob Geldorf's campaign "Make Poverty History" in Britain, he has started his own campaign in Germany called "Deine Stimme gegen Armut" (Your voice against poverty).

The campaign pushed Germany to stick to its commitment to the UN's Millennium Goals, agreed upon by all member states of the United Nations. These goals include reducing extreme poverty in the world by half until the year 2016. Grönemeyer knows how to combine social, political, and personal topics in a very clear, direct and yet creative way in his music - and that's what people like about him.

New paths

In 1993, Grönemeyer got married to Anna Henkel, the mother of his two children. That same year, his new album, "Chaos," reached the top spot in the German charts. More than 600,000 people attended his concerts. But then, things became a bit quieter, and he moved to London with his family.

It took five years for Grönemeyer to make a comeback, with "Bleibt alles anders" (It all stays different). "I'm taking another risk," he then said. "There is a lot at stake," he sings in one of his songs: "You can only win. Enough is not enough. Or things become as they were before. Stagnancy is death. Move on. The first stone breaks lose from the wall. The breakthrough is near." More electronic sounds found their way into his rock music.

Back to success after tragic events

Herbert Grönemeyer receiving an Echo Award in 2015, Copyright: Britta Pedersen/dpa

He received the Echo Music Prize for the best German rock-pop artist in 2015

Grönemeyer's brother Wilhelm died on November 1,1998, and just a few days later, his wife passed away. The mourning musician spent the four following years away from the public, in grief.

He then released an album dealing with this difficult period, called "Mensch" (Human). When he went on tour with the new material, his fans demonstrated that they hadn't forgotten him: His concerts were sold out, and Grönemeyer pleased the enthusiastic audiences with concerts lasting three and a half hours.

To this day, "Mensch" (2002) remains the best-selling album ever in German music history.

Grönemeyer went on a 28-concert tour with his album "Dauernd jetzt" (Always now), released in 2015. The album reached a platinum status and Grönemeyer received his 11th Echo Award, a top music prize in Germany. Along with numerous other awards, Grönemeyer has also received the Grimme Prize for his soundtrack for the movie "Sommer in Lesmona" (Summer in Lesmona) in 1988. His very first album, "Grönemeyer" (1979), also received a prize: the "Goldene Zitrone" (Golden Lemon) for the ugliest cover of the year.

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