On Hannes Wader’s 80th birthday: He was a rebel from the start – culture

A sinking was probably never celebrated more happily. “That was a hot March – despite the rain, snow and all that!” sings Hannes Wader to the carefree, stumbling chords of his acoustic guitar. “But now that it’s snowing blossoms – now it’s cold, in spite of everything!” The revolution, which seemed to have triumphed on the barricades in March 1848, failed, debated to death in Frankfurt’s Paulskirchen Parliament and shot up in Vienna and Berlin .

But even if the devil rules now, with hooves and horns and all, that’s no reason for resignation. Because freedom and public spirit will triumph: “Despite everything, people around will reach out their brotherly hand to people, in spite of everything!”

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“Trotz alledem” is the opening track of the album “Hannes Wader: Volkssänger”, which was released in 1975. Wader sings the progress-pious “Bürgerlied” and “The Free Republic” about six students who escaped from the Frankfurt prison, but also the folk songs “Der Kuckuck” and, accompanied by a flute, “How beautiful the May blooms for us”. The title of the record was a provocation. Everything folkish was discredited by National Socialism, and hardly anyone from the singer-songwriter scene wanted to have anything to do with folk songs. But Wader wanted to go further back into music history, to the songs of the first German democracy movement before 1848 and the hymns of the workers’ movement that followed.

“Napoleon, the arch pisser” was what the doctor called him when he was born

“In spite of everything” is Hannes Wader’s life motto, which is also the name of his autobiography. He was a rebel from the start. When he was born on June 23, 1942 in Bethel near Bielefeld, he had a curl on his forehead and peed in the doctor’s face, who then called him “Napoleon, the arch pisser”.

Wader completed an apprenticeship as a decorator in a shoe shop and was fired, among other things, for making music during working hours. He performs as a clarinetist and saxophonist in bars and begins studying graphic design in Bielefeld, which he continues in West Berlin. After hearing chansons by George Brassens, he begins to write his own songs, the first of which is called “Das Loch unterm Dach”. Wader made his breakthrough in 1966 at the “Chansons Folklore International” festival in the ruins of Waldeck Castle in the Hunsrück.

Protest songs against the injustices of capitalism

Reinhard Mey, Franz Josef Degenhardt and Dieter Süverkrüp had also performed there, singing protest songs against the injustices of capitalism and the bigotry of philistinism. When Wader got on stage, “people roared, whistled, I don’t know. They liked what I did. But I couldn’t read her reaction. I thought they were kidding me,” he later said in an interview.

Wader is kind of a star now. In Berlin he performs on up to five stages in the evening, collects 25 Deutschmarks per performance and can make a good living from it. “I didn’t ask myself for a moment the question of the viability of an artistic existence,” he says now. “To this day, ‘future’ has remained a dimension of more historical than private interest for me.”

Without his knowledge, Gudrun Ensslin slipped in with him

For years he hitchhiked to gigs with his guitar, but he could afford to take a taxi to the Dreilinden border crossing just to keep his fingers crossed. In 1969 Knut Kiesewetter produced the debut album of his colleague, “Hannes Wader sings”. In the “red decade” (Gerd Koenen), the 70s, the singer radicalized. Tired of Berlin, he moves to Hamburg and temporarily leaves his apartment to a young journalist named Hella Utesch. In reality, it is the RAF terrorist Gudrun Ensslin, who is experimenting with explosives there.

Wader is arrested at a concert in Essen, the judiciary is investigating him for supporting a criminal organization. TV and radio stations boycott him, Austria imposes an entry ban. He later summed up the case on his German rock album “Nach Hamburg”: “Total helplessness, the naked fear and the feeling of shame”.

He joined the DKP in 1977 and left again in 1991

Wader joins the German Communist Party in 1977, the year of the “German Autumn”, an ideological aberration that ends in 1991 with his resignation. Instead of staying in Hamburg, he buys a windmill in North Friesland where he will live for 25 years. When asked how the themes in his songs fit into owning real estate, he replies, “Not at all.”

A folk singer is Hannes Wader actually become, with “Here Today, There Tomorrow” he created a modern folk song. It celebrates the perpetual departure, being on the move as a principle of life. “Year after year goes by and it’s long been clear to me,” sings Wader, “that nothing stays the way it was.”

He has always remained the man with the guitar

He is now 80 and has recently been living in Bielefeld again. He stayed true to the dreams of his youth. “Right from the start I was the man with the acoustic guitar and I never wanted to be anyone else,” is how he sums up his life.

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