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Culture

Rock Legend Grönemeyer Makes Comeback

German rock legend Herbert Grönemeyer releases a new album this week. It's his first work since a self-imposed exile in London following the death of his wife and brother four years ago.

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After four years of lying low, Grönemeyer will hit the road again

During one terrible week four years ago, Herbert Grönemeyer lost both his wife, Anna Henkel, and his brother to cancer. After their deaths, he packed up his bags and left for London with his two young children in tow. In the time since, he has mourned and slowly rebuilt his life.

With a new gold album and plantinum single, "Mensch," ("Human"), Grönemeyer marks a triumphant return to Germany this week.

Grönemeyer, 46, is best known abroad for his role as Lieutenant Werner in Wolfgang Petersen's film "Das Boot." He is lesser known as the gravelly voiced folk rocker who has dominated German hearts and charts for the past several decades, as the homegrown answer to Bruce Springsteen.

A quick path to success

Raised in Bochum in the Ruhr region north of Düsseldorf, Grönemeyer first came to prominence as the musical director of the Bochum Playhouse – a job he landed immediately after high school for his work in penning the music for a musical about the Beatles. Management of the Playhouse also insisted that the redhead act. And that he did, landing roles in plays like "A Merchant in Venice" at Germany's toniest theaters.

In 1981, he landed his role in "Das Boot," a movie about life in the cramped and perilous galley of a German U-Boot in World War II. The acclaimed film made him a recognizable face in many homes around the world.

"Airplanes in My Head" and "Currywurst"

Three years later he made his rock breakthrough with the album "4630 Bochum," an album celebrating the city that raised him and paved the way for his artistic success. The albums "Bochum" and "Airplanes in My Head" would later become Grönemeyer standards that were later translated and recorded in English. Subsequent hits included songs like "Currywurst," an ode to the sausage and ketchup combo beloved by Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and most other Germans.

After the death of his wife, with whom he shared more than 20 years, Grönemeyer temporarily withdrew from public life, preferring the anonymity of London. In an interview this week with the news agency DPA, Grönemeyer spoke of the "despair and melancholy" that followed the tragedy.

"This album was definitely one of the toughest mountains I've ever had to climb," Grönemeyer said. For a long time, he feared that, in addition to his wife, he might also lose his musical abilities. "At first, not much happened, everything was gray and leaden. Then, at some point, I started to feel the oxygen again." And after a year of recording, he completed "Mensch."

Critics are already celebrating the freestyle mix of rock, disco and classical music on "Mensch."

"Now life can go on"

The album has sold 500,000 in pre-sales, and Grönemeyer's record company expects it to surpass the million mark, making it one of the most successful records of his 23-year musical career.

In November, Grönemeyer is set to hit the road for a tour of Germany, Austria and Switzerland that has already sold out in many cities.

"The success of this album has been a total relief," Grönemeyer said. "Now life can go on."

Part of moving on is also going to include a move from London to Berlin after he finishes touring next summer. Grönemeyer says he misses the skies above Berlin and wants to return. "I miss the German language," he says.

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