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Culture

Herbert Grönemeyer – King of German Rock

Veteran German musician Herbert Grönemeyer scooped up the top prize at the Echo Music Awards this weekend. It’s triumph over tragedy for the artist who lost both his wife and brother to cancer.

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Grönemeyer: Germany's answer to Bruce Springsteen

The room fell silent this weekend at the Echo Music Awards, Germany's top music industry prize, when one star launched into his acceptance speech. And it wasn’t Robbie Williams.

Sure, Williams was also there at this year’s awards ceremony in Berlin, but it was for the veteran German rock legend, Herbert Grönemeyer that the audience hushed.

With tears in his eyes, Grönemeyer accepted an award for his single “Der Weg” (“The Way”) – one of two awards he won that evening. It was clearly an emotional moment for the 46-year old: for a song which contains the lyrics, “life is not fair”, it was already obvious to most that “Der Weg” was entirely autobiographical. A piano ballad, "Der Weg" is a maelstorm of gut-wrenching lonliness and mourning as well as a moving ode to love.

It was four years ago that the Germans feared that Grönemeyer had gone over the edge and would never come back. He had just lost his wife, Anna, and brother -- both had had cancer. After their deaths -- which came within a week of one another -- Grönemeyer decided he’d had enough. He packed his bags and moved to London with his two children.

But after four years of self-imposed exile in the British capital, the success of his latest album “Mensch” (“Human”) -- which has now sold over 2.6 million copies -- has brought him back into the limelight in Germany.

He now plans to move back to Berlin after he finishes his tour of Germany this summer and there is even a new woman in his life. This week, Spiegel magazine reported that Herbert Grönemeyer's new love is a 31-year-old Swiss woman, Sonja F. who picked him up in a Zurich disco six months ago, according to eye witnesses. From orchestra pit to the stage

Born in 1956 in Bochum in the industrial Ruhr region of Germany, Grönemeyer was the son of an engineer. He founded his first band in 1968, but went into theatre after finishing high school, as the musical director of the Bochum Playhouse. It was one of Germany’s toniest theatres and the management insisted that he get out of the orchestra pit and act as well. He did and landed roles in plays like The Merchant of Venice.

Indeed, whilst best known to his countrymen and women as a folk-rock legend, Grönemeyer is better known abroad for his role as Lieutenant Werner in Wolfgang Petersen’s acclaimed 1981 film, Das Boot. “Airplanes in my Head”

Herbert Groenemeyer sing während der Preisverleihung Echo in Berlin

It would be three years later that his rock breakthrough would come. His album “4630 Bochum” – an ode to the mining city that had raised him – exploded on to the German charts. The follow-up albums, “Bochum” and “Airplanes in My Head” became Grönemeyer classics and were later translated and recorded in English. Subsequent hits included songs like “Currywurst” – celebrating that classic sausage-ketchup combo beloved of so many Germans.

But even with a back catalogue totalling 19 albums and a career spanning 23 years, the tragedy of losing his wife hit Grönemeyer hard. He was afraid that as well as losing his companion of 20 years, he would also lose his musical ability.

It was not to be. As well as setting up a London-based record label,Grönemeyer spent a year in the studio himself and completed “Mensch” last November. An artistic and elegiac expression of his pain at losing two people he loved, it sold 500,000 in pre-release sales and Grönemeyer went on to complete a sell-out tour of Germany, Austria and Switzerland in winter 2002. Coming to terms with death

"This album was definitely one of the toughest mountains I've ever had to climb," Grönemeyer said. For a long time after the death of his wife, he feared that he'd lost the musical touch. "At first, not much happened, everything was gray and leaden. Then, at some point, I started to feel the oxygen again."

Mensch is about coming to terms with things. You want to work away the pain, but you can’t just shovel away mourning, like it’s some kind of pile of rubbish you want to get rid of. It doesn’t work like that and it’s good that way,” Grönemeyer told the German magazine Der Spiegel.

But if Grönemeyer has triumphed over tragedy, he still doesn’t know the secret of his success. “I believe in the euphoric power of music,” he said once. But as to why his career has been so golden, he has no idea. “I don’t know,” he told an interviewer once. “I can’t know what it is.”

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