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8 reasons why Udo Lindenberg is Germany's king of rock

Adrian KennedyMay 16, 2016

Germans probably don't need to be convinced that Udo Lindenberg is a rock legend, but as a Deutschrock pioneer, he's remained somewhat anonymous outside German-speaking countries. Here's why you have to know who he is.

Udo Lindenberg Screenshot aus Euromaxx Beitrag
Image: DW

Who is Udo Lindenberg?

1. The look

Udo Lindenberg is a national treasure with an iconic look. The Jagger-esque pout, the dark glasses, the broad-rimmed felt hat - he's a caricaturist's dream and quintessentially rock 'n' roll.

2. The voice

His instantly recognizable whiskey and cigarette-refined gravelly tones transcend mere singing. His speaking voice is a barely decipherable and quite unique northern drawl - he moved to Hamburg aged 22, originally intending to run away to sea. Look no further for the perfect embodiment of the German word 'lässig': laid-back, cool.

3. The music

Musically, Udo's 70s output leans heavily on classic rock à la Rolling Stones. But Udo is an accomplished musician with a jazz background which leads to some eclectic choices. His most famous song matches a completely new German text with the Glen Miller hit "Chattanooga Choo Choo."

Who is Udo Lindenberg?

Before becoming the country's favorite rock frontman, Udo briefly served as drummer for the internationally successful jazz fusion act Passport. He also contributed his percussion skills to the initial version of German TV's most famous theme music, the opening of the weekly "Tatort" detective series.

Chanson and cabaret culture are another influence. In 1988, he recorded interpretations of songs by the likes of Hans Eissler, Kurt Weill and Erich Kästner. The album "Hermine" is named after and dedicated to his mum.

4. The Deutschrock pioneer

Udo is credited as the man who made it cool for German rock acts to sing in German - long before the Neue Deutsche Welle. In the 1970s, he produced a string of classic rock albums that laid the foundation of his success. Listen to "Ball Pompös" (1974), "Votan Wahnwitz" (1975) and "Panische Nächte" (1977).

5. The Unification hero

Back in the 1980s, Udo had a major following behind the Iron Curtain. Legend has it that he fell in love with a girl from Pankow in East Berlin. Visits showed him that people in communist East Germany were basically just the same as in the west. He started to petition communist leader Erich Honecker to allow him to tour the country, famously giving "Honey" - his pet name for the communist leader - his own black leather jacket.

In the afore-mentioned Chattannooga-tuned song "Sonderzug nach Pankow" Udo imagines playing in the GDR ("Hey Honey, I'll sing for little money in the Palace of the Republic if only you'll let me.") He was then actually allowed to play at the Palast der Republik in East Berlin, on October 25, 1983 - for a selected audience of 4,000 people. Outside the venue, fans rioted and were arrested - and the planned East German tour was cancelled.

6. The rock 'n' roll lifestyle

For more than 20 years, Udo has been living in a Hamburg hotel. He's been detained by police for illegal possession of a gun and he's a notorious ladies' man. He has confessed to being smitten by David Bowie's ex, Romy Haag, back in the 1970s and shocked many with the surprise revelation that he had a brief relationship with Nena of "99 Red Balloons" fame.

Singer Udo Lindenberg, Copyright: picture-alliance/dpa/H.Kaiser
He's even got his own monument in Germany: Udo Lindenberg, a living rock legendImage: picture-alliance/dpa/H.Kaiser

7. The (east side) musical

Udo teamed up with an eastern German writer to create a unique musical featuring some of Lindenberg's most iconic hits. "Beyond the Horizon" is a Cold War reworking of "West Side Story" featuring a character called Udo Lindenberg in the Romeo role and that girl from Pankow (see point 5) as Juliet. It's a highly emotional trip through Germany's Cold War history. Two million people have seen the show in five years. It will move to Hamburg this year.

8. The comeback kid

Like every good rock 'n' roll narrative, Udo did have his wilderness years. After the disappointing "Der Excessor" in 2000, which failed to crack the top 30, fans had to wait eight years for a new studio album. Udo had been struggling with alcoholism since the 1990s. The death of his brother in 2006 was a wake-up call. Udo confronted his demons and, with a little help from his musician friends, came back with the first number one album of his career. "Stark wie Zwei" (As Strong as Two) was a duets album featuring a host of younger stars from the German music scene. His new album "Stärker als die Zeit" (Stronger than Time) is set to top the album charts as he celebrates his 70th birthday on May 17.