David Hasselhoff is a TV actor, best known for starring in two huge hit shows in the 1980s, Knight Rider and Baywatch. But while he was lighting up American TV screens, Hasselhoff had a second career—as a pop singer…in Europe. Most Americans probably first found out about Hasselhoff’s musical career during the dismantling of the Berlin Wall in Germany in 1989. Hasselhoff was present in Berlin for some reason, performing a song appropriate for the event called “Looking For Freedom.”
The reason, which quickly became clear: David Hasselhoff was hugely popular in Germany. (It was sort of like how American comedian and director Jerry Lewis isn’t highly respected at home but it is beloved in France.)
Germans, may have liked Hasselhoff, but the idea really took off because of Saturday Night Live. Norm Macdonald hosted “Weekend Update” in the early ‘90s, where he frequently made the by then washed-up Hasselhoff the butt of his jokes. “Germans love David Hasselhoff” became a catchphrase for Macdonald. And because lots of people remembered seeing Hasselhoff singing atop the remains of the Berlin Wall to throngs of cheering Germans just a few years earlier, it caught on.
But do Germans really love David Hasselhoff? There was a lot of anti-Cold War sentiment, particularly fear, in Europe in the 1980s, and pop songs reflected that. (A few examples: “99 Luftballoons” by Nena, “The Final Countdown” by Europe,” and “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” by Tears for Fears.) Hasselhoff’s song wasn’t explicitly about democracy, just the human need for freedom in general. Still, it became something of an anthem to the political change underway. A few months before the Berlin Wall fell, “Looking For Freedom” had spent eight weeks at #1 in West Germany.
But the German fascination with Hasselhoff was short-lived. His next single, “Is Everybody Happy?” hit the top 10. His next two albums, Crazy For You (1990) and David (1991) made the top 20. And for Hasselhoff, in Germany, that was it.
Austria, however, is a different story. Austrians do love David Hasselhoff, no matter what he was singing about. Back in 1985, Hasselhoff’s first album Night Rocker hit #1 in Austria. His 1987 album Lovin’ Feelings made it to #11. Crazy For You and David topped the charts. Hasselhoff has scored top-30 hits in Austria a whopping nine times. (Number of times Hasselhoff has hit the charts in the United States: zero.)
So no, Germans don’t love David Hasselhoff. At least not as much as Austrians.