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Why Germany loves David Hasselhoff

July 16, 2022

As "The Hoff" turns 70 on July 17, here's a look back at how his song for freedom at the Berlin Wall in 1989 turned him into an iconic name in Germany.

David Hasselhoff in Berlin
By singing 'Looking for Freedom' at the Brandenburg Gate in 1989, The Hoff created an anthem for Germany Image: picture-alliance/dpa/P. Zinken

In the 1980s and '90s, David Hasselhoff's star peaked when he became the face of hit TV series like "Knight Rider" and "Baywatch." 

But as the chiseled leading man was beamed into living rooms around the world while solving crimes with his artificial intelligence car K.I.T.T., few knew that Hasselhoff had a closet career as a rock musician.

His debut album released in 1984, "Night Rocker," had middling sales in the US; however, the record had topped the charts in Austria. Similarly popular in Germany, The Hoff, as he is affectionately dubbed, was soon touring regularly in the German-speaking region.

Hasselhof wearing red shorts on the beach, carrying a life-saving device.
The Hoff in 1990 in his 'Baywatch' primeImage: Imago/Milestone Media

'Looking for Freedom' and the fall of the Wall

His 1987 album "Lovin' Feelings" went top 20 in both Austria and Germany, but it was his single of the following year, "Looking for Freedom," that spent weeks at number one and was a hit across Europe.

An English cover version of the 1978 schlager hit, "Auf der Straße nach Süden" (On the Road South), the song was written by German footballer turned composer and producer, Jack White.

White went on to produce Hasselhoff's 1989 album of the same name. 

Such was The Hoff's popularity in Germany that a planned Berlin promotion event on New Year's Eve 1989 was, at his request, performed at the Berlin Wall — which fell only weeks before. Hoisted by a crane above the Wall, he sang his hit to an estimated half a million Berliners. 

"Looking For Freedom" became an anthem for German Reunification, giving the critical boost that feeds The Hoff's musical career to this day.

David Hasselhoff performs with a keyboard scarf at Brandenburg Gate in 1989.
Singing for freedom at the Berlin Wall in 1989Image: picture-alliance/dpa/H. J. Wöstmann

The Hoff gets active

Renowned as the star of stage, screen and pop culture memes, The Hoff made headlines for parodying Adolf Hitler on stage in London in 2012 and performed in 2017 in a self-referential short film titled   "The HoffBot,"which was written by AI.

But he also uses his star power for political issues, having for example joined Berlin protests against development near the Berlin Wall.

After protesting plans to demolish part of the Wall in 2013, Hasselhoff was back in 2019 to call on then Berlin Mayor Michael Müller to halt the construction of a high-rise building next to the East Side Gallery — a 1.3-kilometer (0.82-mile) section of the wall covered in political frescoes and preserved as a monument to freedom.

"Don't build any more buildings by the Berlin Wall," Hasselhoff asked Müller. "They're trying to build a monstrous building on the death strip ... Stop the Berlin Wall being destroyed."

US actor and singer David Hasselhoff as he talks from a van at the East Side Gallery on March 17, 2013 in Berlin.
The former Baywatch star speaks at a protest against a planned demolition of parts of the Berlin Wall in 2013 Image: Getty Images/AFP/O. Andersen

On German Unity Day that year, The Hoff performed a concert to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. "Thirty years of freedom!" he screamed, having announced that "ich bin ein Berliner!" 

The city that sparked The Hoff's rise to musical eminence is home to the world's only David Hasselhoff Museum, which can be found in the basement of the Circus Hostel.

The museum's organizers are convinced that The Hoff hastened the reunification of Germany, while the prize of its collection is the piano keyboard scarf he wore when performing by the Wall at the Brandenburg Gate in 1989.

Still 'partying his Hasselhoff' at 70

Hasselhof, who turns 70 on July 17, is still going strong.

His latest album, "Party Your Hasselhoff," was released last September. 

It inevitably came with a strong German hook, and became Hasselhoff's highest-charting album in Germany: "Many of the songs I have selected only because they were hits in Germany," the entertainer told the German press agency dpa upon its release. "The '80s and '90s were great years in which we and I had so much fun."

The record includes a cover of Iggy Pop's "The Passenger," a song inspired by a ride on Berlin's S-Bahn train, written while Iggy lived in the city with David Bowie in the mid-1970s.

The celebrations are set to continue. A big tour is planned for next year, allowing The Hoff to keep the party going: "There's nothing I wish more than to celebrate my 70th birthday with 50,000 people at a concert," he told press agency AFP.

Update: This article, first published for the release of "Party Your Hasselhoff," was updated for David Hasselhoff's 70th birthday.

Edited by: Elizabeth Grenier

Stuart Braun | DW Reporter
Stuart Braun Berlin-based journalist with a focus on climate and culture.
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