Wir sind Helden is a band that's been griping and complaining, sniffling and snuggling, for over a decade. With anthem-like music and clever lyrics, they're credited with unleashing the second "New German Wave."
Strike a pose: Wir sind Helden ("We're Heroes")
Wir sind Helden's story since their formation in 2000 reads like a fairytale. The group sold second-hand t-shirts with the words "Guten Tag - Wir sind Helden" ("Hello - we're heroes") written across the front to promote their group's first single, "Guten Tag." Having originally produced just 3,000 copies of the track, the band landed in the singles charts when Berlin-based broadcaster Radioeins picked it up.
Their sound - nervous, twitchy chanson-punk - caught on. The band's critique of consumption hit a nerve while also getting the country hopping.
The title of the band's first album, "Die Reklamation" ("Customer Complaint"), which came out in 2003, reflects the band's attitude, according to their figurehead and lead singer, Judith Holofernes.
"We make demands - whether it's about loving whole-heartedly or about freedom," she said. New German Wave, part two
The heroes of Wir sind Helden helped rescue the German music scene at the beginning of the 21st century, ushering in a "new" New German Wave. Music critics like to reference the Neue Deutsche Welle of punk and new wave that struck the charts starting in the early 1980s. But this time around, the sound wasn't as bizarre and silly as the first wave of German hit exports.
Wir sind Helden sound more like traditional guitar rock with a singer-songwriter sensibility. Part of the band's success is due in no small part to Holofernes' charisma and animated, friendly demeanor. She doesn't mince words, but she puts it all out there with a smile.
Holofernes' word plays have helped drive the band's fame, and bassist Mark Tavassol is an especially big fan of her knack for songwriting.
"Judith writes the best German texts I know, and you hear that wit when she speaks as well," he said.
An infectious smile and ready with a clever turn of phrase: singer Judith Holofernes
Musical Dalai Lamas
"The Reklamation" became one of the top-selling albums of 2003 and 2004. Wir sind Helden's next album, "von hier an blind" ("Blind From Here On Out") in 2005, made it to number one in the charts in the first week of its release. Their third album, "Soundso" in 2007, and fourth, "Bring mich nach Hause" ("Take Me Home") in 2010, were also well-received.
The band's popularity has shown no signs of dying out. Their albums continuously go gold or platinum, and they've racked up German music prizes, including the most coveted Echo Award.
While Wir sind Helden's music is fun and easy to sing along to, their lyrics still offer plenty of food for thought: the band likes to show its critical side and take on political questions.
One might assume the band's name - We're Heroes - is ironic, but it fits in a way. They've been role models or objects of projection for many, and some might even call them the Dalai Lamas of the German music scene - partly stemming from some of the band members' Buddhist leanings. The band has supported Tibet advocacy campaigns, including a tour of Germany with the real Dalai Lama in 2008.
"If you tentatively put yourself out there by saying you want to do something good in the world, either by being a good person or making art, then you're up against a lot. You're going to encounter a lot of head wind," said Holofernes.
"It's the people who get excited about a political band who are also the ones to get investigative about things: 'How could, how will the 'heroes' betray us?'"
Don't expect any big theatrics or costumes from Wir sind Helden on stage
But the four "Heroes" have shown no signs of betraying themselves or their fans in the past ten years. That's helped them keep their appeal to a mix of generations and audiences.
The trick now is to be still taken seriously by the elitist indie-rock community. Successors of Wir sind Helden in the "new" New German Wave genre - bands such as Juli and Silbermond - have had a harder time of it.
If the past is any indication, though, Wir sind Helden will continue to stand the test of time - heroically, at that.
Author: Eva Gutensohn / als
Editor: Greg Wiser