Heino is one of Germany's most famous crooners, whose bleached hair and sunglasses became his trademark. But he seems to have gone a little off key. He recently gave Nazi-era songs to a homeland minister, of all people.
Anyone who grew up in Germany knows who Heino is. The 79-year-old crooner, known for his popular, folk-tinged easy listening hits, was a permanent guest in German living rooms in the 1970s and 80s. There was hardly a Saturday evening television show in which Heino did not belt out his popular hits, with his powerful baritone voice.
Now, after a long break, he's making the headlines again — this time, however, not by choice. At a recent meeting with the State Minister of Home Affairs, Ina Scharrenbach, in the western German town of Münster, he brought a special present: four CDs and two records.
It was a nice gesture, from someone who was to be chosen as one of 47 homeland ambassadors at the first homeland congress for the state of North Rhine-Westphalia. But as it soon turned out, the present contained something a bit unexpected.
Sandwiched between the albums that Heino presented, was a highly controversial LP, with the seemingly unsuspicious title "The most beautiful songs from the Fatherland."
But the double album contains songs from darkest period of German history. In particular, there are songs that were in the songbook belonging to the SS, Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler's special military task force, because of their nationalistic German and, in part, warlike lyrics — which German daily, Westdeutsche Zeitung had found out.
Song of allegiance glorified by the SS
Tabloid Bild published some of the lyrics from Heino's album that was released in 1981, saying they make one "shudder." In the song, "The God who made iron grow," the lyrics are written in antiquated German: "Today, man by man, we want to redden the iron with blood, with the blood of executioners and servants, Oh sweet day of revenge! That sounds good to all Germans, this is the big thing."
And in the 1814 song, glorified by the SS as a "song of allegiance," called "Wenn alle untreu werden" (When all become unfaithful), the lyrics rave about the "holy German empire."
This has not only provoked indignation against Heino, but has also had political repercussions. The Social Democratic Party (SPD), which is in opposition in North Rhine-Westphalia, is using the scandal to put Home Affairs Minister Scharrenbach, from the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), under pressure.
After the change of government last summer, the SPD had taken a critical view of the new homeland ministry. The Social Democrats pointed out, with some smugness, that the LP's cover also included a note that children could use the record in school lessons to "familiarize themselves with traditional German songs." In addition, the SPD has questioned in state parliament, why Heino, "with his history, can become one of 47 homeland ambassadors at all."
Controversial performance in South Africa
In fact, Heino has been a controversial figure for years. While he may be a hit legend for conservative and mostly older Germans, for liberal or younger Germans he is an object of scorn. Such rejection is based on the younger generation generally distancing itself from Germany's Nazi past and with it, from German folk songs and hits.
But it is not the only reason. Heino has repeatedly attracted attention in the past decades because of his undiscriminating approach to folk songs. During the apartheid era he performed in South Africa, singing his hit "Schwarzbraun ist die Haselnuss" (The hazelnut is black-brown).
The task now is to try to sweep up the broken fragments of this scandal. Heino's gifts had "not been checked for political correctness when they were presented," said Scharrenbach's ministry. The minister strongly objected to being "in any way associated with National Socialist ideology."
'A rare find in the basement'
Heino himself is surprised by all the fuss. The alleged right-wing musician told Bild: "The songs can't help it if they have been instrumentalized." His wife, Hannelore, also can't understand the furore surrounding the double album that was originally released in 1981.
She said she had taken the record from the basement especially for the meeting with the minister. "I was downstairs looking for something special to give to the minister." But however this story pans out, the mood among all involved is at rock bottom — or as you would say in German "in the cellar."