Udo Lindenberg shows how to make German rock | Music | DW | 12.04.2011
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Udo Lindenberg shows how to make German rock

A gravelly voice, a felt halt and hundreds of beer coasters: Udo Lindenberg has accumulated quite a few trademarks in a career spanning over 40 years. Find out what's behind the legendary performer.

Udo Lindenberg in concert

Never without his hat: Lindenberg on stage in 2010

Udo Lindenberg moved to harbor-city Hamburg at 22 with the intention of heading out to sea, but he wound up in a band instead. Although he had always made music, singing didn't quite come naturally to him.

At home in a small town in western Germany, people knew him as a good drummer. In fact, his beats still open one of the country's most beloved TV shows called "Tatort," which has run for over 40 years.

Back when he recorded the introduction for "Tatort," he was still just the man in the background with an ear to the ground.

"After all, I also live among the people on the street," he remarked once in an interview.

Coasters, a felt hat and sunglasses

He writes his lyrics in the same spot as always: at the counter in a corner bar on the backs of coasters. Somewhere, he claims, he has a mountain of coasters, likely filled with the same authentic texts and sensibility for human relationships that has marked his songs from the start.

Despite his knack for writing, his voice wasn't made for singing - a fact he acknowledged himself in the early 1970s while looking for a singer to perform his lyrics. But he couldn't find anyone who got it right, so the drummer found himself behind the microphone.

Singer Udo Lindenberg on stage with Silbermond

Lindenberg was joined on stage by German band Silbermond in 2006

Now his voice is his trademark - along with his felt hat and, of course, a pair of sunglasses. He's also set himself apart for doing something most thought was impossible at the beginning of the 70s: he sings rock music in German.

"Earlier, I sang in English for a while," Lindenberg said, "Until I realized that it's pretty illogical trying to articulate your thoughts in another language."

'Like Romeo and Juliet'

So the singer set out to tell stories in his own language and from his own experiences. In turn, he's influenced German; the names of his characters and some of his turns of phrases have long since passed into everyday speech.

Lindenberg is proof that it's possible to sing in German without sounding embarrassingly folksy or like an impassioned freedom fighter from bygone times.

But that's not to say Lindenberg hasn't had his own brushes with politics - both musically and otherwise. During a trip into the communist GDR (German Democratic Republic) in 1973, he fell head over heels for a woman named Manu and started making plans to bring her to West Germany. The secret police in the GDR got wind of the plan and put an end to it.

"It went really deep, but we couldn't live it out - like Romeo and Juliet, separated by the Wall," recalled Lindenberg later.

Udo Lindenberg and singer Nena

Fellow singer Nena recorded a duet with her one-time lover, Lindenberg

Broken promise

Who knows whether it was the shattered love affair that moved Lindenberg to perform again and again in the GDR. Divided Germany was also at play in the performer's biggest hit, "Sonderzug nach Pankow" ("Special Train to Pankow"). Pankow was a district in East Berlin, where many communist officials lived during the GDR period.

In "Sonderzug," Lindenberg put his wish to be invited to the GDR into song, but at first, it wasn't met with as much love from the authorities there as from his fans in the West.

Eventually, though, the singer got his wish and performed for selected functionaries in the parliament of the GDR, and he was promised permission for a tour in the country during 1984. But promises didn't mean very much during the Cold War.

"Then when I explained that Russian rockets are just as much crap as American, everything was over," Lindenberg said.

Cancellation of the tour set off outcries from citizens across East Germany, and it wasn't until after the fall of the Berlin Wall that Lindenberg would play there again. In a sense, he is the first rockstar of post-unification Germany.

Lindenberg sings at a performance of his musical in Berlin

2011 saw the opening of a musical in Berlin featuring Lindenberg's songs

No signs of stopping

Over the decades, Lindenberg has remained a phenomenon. He's made his home in a legendary Hamburg hotel and conquered tabloids again and again for his rock 'n' roll lifestyle, full of women and booze.

In 1992, he won Germany's prestigious Echo music award for his life's work. Many thought that would close the last chapter in his career. But 17 years later, he took the stage at the Echo Awards again to take a prize for his number one album "Stark für zwei" ("Strong for Two").

He's now 65 years old, but there's no end in sight to music making for the storied musician.

Author: Uli Jose Anders / gsw
Editor: Rick Fulker

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