It's been two decades since the Berlin Wall fell, but there is no longer any debate as to whether David Hasselhoff had anything to do with it, thanks to this recent NPR piece. If you are more of a visual learner, don’t miss the video of Hasselhoff —in black motorcycle jacket and a muffler in a piano-key pattern — performing “Looking for Freedom” in 1990 in Berlin (the video is at the bottom of this column). Save it to your favorites. Share it on Twitter. And if you want to light up your office holiday party, forgo the Christmas sweater and take this wardrobe cue from the Hoff.
Hasselhoff’s sartorial choices shouldn’t blind us to the real reason to reflect on the fall of the Berlin Wall.
I recently asked a friend of mine at the Four Seasons Hotel, director of sales and marketing Holger Frehde, about his take on the wall coming down. In 1989 Frehde was a 14-year-old West German. While he thought the Hoff nailed the performance at the Brandenberg Gate, it wasn’t because of the outfit.
“While the Hoff is mostly ridiculed in the U.S. for many obvious reasons,” Frehde explained, “somehow he was able to have the perfect song at the perfect time for many East Germans.” The song “Looking for Freedom,” Frehde noted, “meant one thing that all of East Germany had been longing for, for a long time: The West!”
Fredhe’s reflections not only clarified a nagging question I had about Germany’s long standing affinity for Hasselhoff, but it reminded me of the real significance of the Berlin Wall.
A Quick History of the Berlin Wall
The Berlin Wall was a haunting, 28-mile barrier. It not only divided a city from 1961 until 1989, but it became an iconic symbol of the Cold War.
For 28 years this wall, composed of 45,000 concrete slabs and fortified with watchtowers, mines and barbed wire, divided a people. Ten thousand armed soldiers and police guarded it. Hundreds died trying to get past it.
Yet in 1989, the East German government faced mounting challenges to its legitimacy. As protests grew, the East Germans made a rather hasty announcement announcing more relaxed travel restrictions. Upon hearing the news, people flooded past the checkpoints. And the Wall came tumbling down. ABC News anchor Peter Jennings reported from Berlin that during those days in November, 1989 “the European continent change before our eyes.”
And a piece of it is right here in our hometown on the Rice University campus.
Remnants of the Wall in Houston
You can find segments of the Wall all over the United States. Outside the small souvenirs that thousands of Americans may possess, 26 states have larger parts of the Berlin Wall.
My vote for the most bizarre spot for a wall memorial goes to the Main Street Station Casino in Las Vegas. Yep, there you can find a portion of the Wall holding up the urinals in the men’s room. That bathroom concept should certainly stay in Vegas.
Here in Houston, we’re a little more refined.
You’ll find the 12-foot high, 5,000-pound slab of the Berlin Wall just outside of the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy on the Rice campus. The imposing, graffiti strewn portion is quite a sight to see as well it is quite a bit of history.
The Baker Institute recently hosted a roundtable discussion to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Wall. Key dignitaries involved in the events of 1989 offered some compelling insight on the processes and individuals that caused the momentous revolution.
Truth be told, I’m a big fan of the Baker Institute. If you are on campus, and you are a political junkie, you will get a nice thrill just walking through the building itself. It houses all sorts of wonderful political memorabilia.
Better Tunes of the Times
If after reflecting about the events of 1989 you find yourself pining for some old school tunes reminiscent of Berlin, I’d recommend putting some "Achtung Baby" on your playlist. U2, which visited Reliant Stadium in October, crafted the 1991 album in Germany in an attempt to tap into the energy of the revolution.
Despite the band’s connection with the city of Berlin, their MTV concert on the Brandenburg Gate sparked a bit of a controversy. Some local Berliners were a tad displeased with the set-up. It appears that in celebration of one wall coming down, concert promoters erected another security barrier around the show.
Too bad the Hoff wasn’t there to lighten the mood.