Author: Ben Nussbaum
The Berlin Wall is remembered as one of the 20th century’s great monstrosities: A literal wall that cut a city in half–separating families and friends, cutting off West Berlin from Communist East Berlin. It was the site of about 100 deaths (some estimates are much higher) as East Berliners tried to escape to freedom and were killed by their own military. The most famous victim was 18-year-old Peter Fechter, who was shot by the East German guards and allowed to slowly bleed to death in front of Western witnesses. The last person killed trying to cross the wall, Chris Gueffroy, was shot ten times in the chest by East German guards who were later given an award and a cash prize.
When the wall finally fell in November of 1989 it signaled the eventual reunification of Germany, the fall of communism, and a radical reshaping of world politics.
David Hasselhoff is best known for his role on as a lifeguard on Baywatch.
So why is David Hasselhoff connected to the history of the Berlin Wall?
Hasselhoff long had ambitions to be a singer. In the U.S., those ambitions amounted to very little – mainly a guest spot singing “Do You Love Me” on Kids Incorporated. In Germany, though, Hasselhoff had a huge hit in 1989 with “Looking for Freedom,” which topped the German charts for eight weeks. The song—a clichéd, forgettable rocker to American ears—become something of an anthem on both sides of the wall that summer as Germans felt the first rumblings of what would become the fall of communism.
Late in the summer, Hungary and Czechoslovakia loosened or dismantled travel restrictions, allowing East Germans an easy passage to the West. As the East German government responded by cracking down on all travel, massive demonstrations broke out, with chanters shouting, “We want out.” The wall fell on November 9.
On New Year’s Eve, Hasselhoff was in Berlin to perform the song standing on top of the wall, with East Germans and West Germans celebrating below. He was a hit with the crowds and the performance remains memorable today. The footage of Hasselhoff singing on the Berlin Wall became one of the viral videos in the late ’90s when it was rediscovered.