It’s time to stop hassling Germans about The Hoff.
Ever since David Hasselhoff sang to half a million giddy Germans celebrating the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the English-speaking world has ridiculed the country’s supposed infatuation with the US entertainer.
There’s no denying his schmaltzy song “Looking for Freedom” did, in fact, hit number one in Germany that year. And posters of The Hoff most certainly adorned the walls of adolescent bedrooms from Stuttgart to Rostock for a few years.
But as much as Americans or Brits like to tout Hasselhoff’s alleged popularity here as proof of how deeply uncool Germans are, the former star of “Knight Rider” and “Baywatch” is not some sort of Teutonic messiah.
And so it was with great trepidation that some German acquaintances heard last week that Hasselhoff was coming to Berlin to show his support for protests against plans to demolish one of the last remaining stretches of the Berlin Wall.
Would this not permanently reinforce the modern legend that millions of Germans idolize a mediocre singer and star of kitschy TV shows? Would two decades of hard work trying to wash away The Hoff stigma be all for naught?
My friends then watched in horror on Sunday as Hasselhoff took part in a demonstration aiming to protect part of the Wall known as the East Side Gallery from construction work for a footbridge and luxury flats.
His mere presence drew a huge international media scrum, ready to mock both the ageing actor and the thousands of Germans turning out for the demonstration. Sure, he sang “Looking for Freedom” a cappella to the crowd, but then something unexpected happened.
Hasselhoff made some sincerely felt comments about why he thought it was a serious mistake not to preserve the remaining segment of the Wall. He spoke of the grim scenes he saw while he was travelling in East Germany just after the Iron Curtain fell and described how the people there were full of hope.
He said the Wall was hallowed ground – not a place to carve up for a luxury property development. He even offered to help raise money to preserve the area.
It quickly became clear that the peaceful revolution in 1989 still means something to Hasselhoff. And the sacrifices people made to achieve German reunification still mean something to him, too.
His appearance in front of the crumbling Wall near the Brandenburg Gate on New Year’s Eve in 1989 in a blinking jacket might be a joke to millions of other people, but not to him. He’s repeatedly said it was one of the most special moments in his life – certainly more than filming slow-motion beach scenes with a buxom blonde Canadian pretending to be a Californian beach bunny.
Has Hasselhoff suddenly become an intellectual heavyweight? Of course not. Nor is he going to become mayor of the German capital any time soon. But he has showed a lot more passion and sense of history than many of the city’s politicians of late.
Many Berliners, frustrated by how their impoverished city is apparently being sold to highest bidder with the consequences be damned, praised his willingness to fly all the way from America to show his support for its history and heritage.
Maybe Hasselhoff’s engagement won’t stop the construction of the luxury flats. Maybe the East Side Gallery will still be carved up. But I’m not ashamed to say I’ve been inspired by The Hoff and neither should anyone else anymore.