Germany's answer to the Grammy is the most glamorous awards ritual in the country's show business industry - even if it offers few surprises.
The spectacle began on Thursday evening (26.03.2015) with a candlelit minute of silence in tribute to the casualties of the Germanwings plane crash two days earlier - to a soulful violin improvisation by US star Lindsey Stirling.
Then host Barbara Schöneberger greeted the audience at the Berlin Trade Fair hall, saying, "Welcome to the Helene Fischer Festival." Anticipating the evening's outcome, Schöneberger was announcing what everyone already knew. The ECHO is not a music critics' prize but simply reflects sales success.
And in the show that followed, wildly popular German singer Helene Fischer duly took four ECHOs in the categories Album of the Year, Hit of the Year, Schlager and Music DVD Blu Ray National. "You won’t be rid of me anytime soon," quipped Fischer, who'd hosted the event herself the previous year. Her album "Farbenspiel" won two years in a row in that category - unprecedented in the 24 year history of the country's most important music awards. With success on that scale, the blonde singer could afford some self-deprecation. "Lots of people are sick of hearing this song," she remarked in reference to her single "Atemlos." "I don’t listen to it either!" Only when garnering her fourth trophy did the star seem at a loss for words.
Getting in on the act
The annual awards of the German Phono Academy recognize the most successful achievements of German and international bands and artists. Everybody who is anybody in the biz is there, be it as a nominee in one of the 30 categories, performing live or handing over a trophy. Veteran rockers Scorpions were on hand to deliver an ECHO to fellow veterans Pink Floyd, who took top honors as Band Rock Pop International. Accepting the prize, drummer and founding member Nick Mason referred to the band's 50-year history: "I'm only disappointed that we weren't recognized as Best Newcomers."
With some effort, Barbara Schöneberger tried to inject some excitement into the ritual - a challenge with an institution where the winners are known in advance. The only surprise of the evening was the Radio Echo, chosen by the television audience by a call-in vote. Or maybe not a surprise after all: it went to Andreas Bourani, whose hit "Auf uns" was played 2,000 times a day in German radio in the aftermath of last year's World Cup soccer triumph. "It was a crazy year," said Bourani.
Lindsay Sterling took the honors in Crossover, the ECHO's most colorful category, and subsequently thanked her German fan base: "They told me I was too different and not marketable. But being different isn't something bad, it's wonderful!" Austrian Andreas Gabalier, winning in the Folk Music division, also expressed gratitude to his growing audience in Germany.
Taking top honors in Dance National was Robin Schulz. Holding the trophy high, the DJ made it clear whom he owes his success to: "Mama, this thing is for you!" Shooting star Oonagh won twice, as Female Rock/Pop Artist National and as Newcomer National. Colleague Kollegah also takes two trophies home, in Hip Hop/Urban and Best National Interactive Act. "I’m surprised," joked the law student. "I thought Helene Fischer would nab that one too."
Trials and tributes
Ann Sophie, Germany's hopeful for the upcoming Eurovision Song Contest in Vienna, sang her ESC song "Black Smoke," while German reggae star Gentleman assembled a band of musical celebrities to give an acoustical rendering of Bob Marley's classic "Redemption Song." The tribute to the reggae prototype, who died in 1981, acknowledged the 70th anniversary of Marley's birth on February 6. Recently-deceased German musical icon Udo Jürgens was inducted into the ECHO Hall of Fame, joining the ranks of Michael Jackson, Amy Winehouse and Whitney Houston.
German rocker Udo Lindenberg was honored for Social Engagement and gave a clue as to why, explaining, "I never wanted to be just an entertainer, but instead, to advocate clever politics and a brightly colorful, super-tolerant Federal Republic of Germany.”
And at the end, Nana Mouskouri took the ECHO Lifetime Achievement Award. Actor Till Schweiger tallied up the figures: 300 million records sold in the Greek singer's 50-year career, 1,500 songs recorded in ten languages. "It’s nice to see that the future of music is in good hands," said Mouskouri, visibly moved after having taken in the three-hour show. "My career began here. Thank you for having taken me into to a German musical family. I may be the oldest object in it, but you continue to treat me as though I were a youngster."