Nearly 25 years on, David Hasselhoff’s existence remains inextricably – bizarrely – intertwined with that of the Berlin Wall. Blame it on his hit single, Looking for Freedom, which was number one in the German charts for eight long weeks during the summer of 1989 before the wall fell; blame it on his New Year’s Eve concert on the remains of the wall a few weeks later and the glimmer of 100,000 lighters raised aloft; blame it on the moonlight if you like. But the Hoff has irrefutably carved out a niche and discovered his USP.
This week he returned to Berlin, riding, as it were, like a knight to save the last remaining portion of the wall from a sticky end at the hands of developers. The more serious-minded may protest that by playing up his involvement in the events of that year the Hoff has tastelessly appropriated the work of the many thousands who demonstrated, that his involvement was liminal and the entire episode verges on the ridiculous. And yet this would be to deny that the one-time Baywatch heart-throb has become a much-loved cultural icon far further afield than Germany and that the Berlin Wall story is the keystone of that edifice. So what’s that about?
It seems to me that either he had a producer with a finger on the zeitgeist that year or he possesses an uncanny knack of being in the right place at the right time – and who among us would not rather be lucky than clever? The choice of lyric for that song is where it all started and, given the confusion that seems to have descended in the intervening decades, we may never really know the impulse behind it. Only this week he told the Guardian: “I didn’t realise the significance of Looking for Freedom in east Germany until a few months ago. On my last tour there were thousands of Germans holding up signs saying ‘We love you, thank you for Mauerfall [the fall of the wall].’”
Yet more than seven years ago the Hoff gave an interview to Spielfilm magazine in which he let it slip that he was disappointed that there was no picture of him in the museum formerly known as Checkpoint Charlie, the barrier between east and west Berlin. This information made its way unerringly into the wider public domain and gave rise to much discussion at the time. For my sins, I remember this because it became incorporated into a book I was writing that ultimately got published under the title Did David Hasselhoff End the Cold War?
It’s unclear whether our curly-haired hero believes he had a causal role in the end of the cold war – one would imagine not, on a good day. And yet I would argue that a pop song is like a perfume, in the sense that when one encounters it after many years it has the capacity to take you right back to where you were the last time you encountered it. So the Hoff’s song embeds him in the fabric of history, as experienced by those who were present.
The Hoff’s vagueness about his role makes him exactly the same as the rest of us and here, basically, lies his appeal. Many Germans demonstrated, many felt passionate about freedom that summer – their’s and everyone else’s – so he is, really, the EveryHoff. Like the rest of us, his fate is to be underestimated. And yet he is a survivor, a Father Christmas figure in celeb form. We know he was there that year in Berlin: we can prove it. And sometimes that is enough.
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