Berlin’s David Hasselhoff Museum

5th March 2024

I am a neighbourhood man. 

I once visited Tokyo for 48 hours and did nothing but walk around the block, managing my jet-lag with the high-minded idea that a city’s essence can be found in small things. Actually, I really enjoyed that Japanese micro-visit, in which I left my hotel and kept turning left. 

‘Local’ is the point of travel. For everything else, there are postcards. 

This week finds me working from East Berlin. My neighbourhood of Gleimviertel up-and-came 15 years ago, a gentrification which has resulted in too many cafés and not quite enough raw vegetables. I chose it as it seemed outside the zone of interest; far enough from Checkpoint Charlie to lose myself among citizens.

It is a natural law that tourists hate other tourists. The sound of pull-along cabin luggage, over cobbles, makes us weep for the loss authenticity which we ourselves destroy. 

My apartment lies on a noble street; one which, in recent history, was a cul de sac abutting the Berlin Wall. West Berliners came to view the goings-on in the DDR from a platform overlooking Oderbergerstrasse, wryly naming it ‘The Shop Window To The East’. The fine buildings and generous proportions of my street surely held secrets. 

Indeed, an iconic black & white photo from 1989 shows East Berliners pouring through Oderbergerstrasse’s gap in the Wall, as the city became reunited. On New Year’s Eve of that same year, 500,000 people gathered at the Brandenburg Gates for a concert to celebrate the wall’s crumbling.

Rewatching that event on Youtube, I notice how many have a dazed looks in their eyes.

True to my neighbourhood MO, and free for a couple of hours yesterday morning, I did a search for nearby museums. The David Hasselhoff Museum is Gleimviertel’s only candidate. I was glad to find such an inherently amusing Museum idea, and to discover that it is open 24/7. 

It is comforting to know that, should some Hasselhoffian fever overcome one at 3am, the Museum is there with flung-open doors, ready to soothe one’s soul, and make one whole. 

I last paid attention to The Hoff during his Knight Rider period – an 80s TV series featuring an intense relationship between Michael Knight and a talking Pontiac called KITT. Hasselhoff went on to Baywatch, of course, and to a campy singing career, but by then he’d fallen from my view.

So it was that, at 7.30am, my neighbourhood stroll led me to the gates of David. Plodding along, I took note of the city around me.

There is a certain green-washed earnestness here, evident in the brag-planting of trees by the council, in the veneration of expensive veganism to high altar, in the elimination of plastics for solutions unequal to the task, and in second-hand stores with preachy names, such as ‘Rotation’, ‘Basic’ and ‘God Bless You’. 

A little above me, on an electricity pole, the word ‘HOPE’ is spelled using two dozen antigen test-strips. Unable to read the result of each individual test, I had to decide the artist’s message all by myself. 

My guess was Covid earnestness.  

I felt calm that morning, in the belief that I was unlikely to encounter big crowds at The David Hasselhoff Museum. It was, after all, rather early. And open-all-hours policy must surely act to even out the fervour. 

By way of preparation, I listened to an interview with The Hoff on American TV, in which he explained his inexplicable rise to iconic status in Germany. 

He had, by chance, released a song entitled ‘I’ve Been Looking For Freedom’ in the summer of 1989. Which meant that he was invited as one of the line-up for the new Berlin’s New Year’s Concert, performing aloft from a crane, amid chaos, klieg lights and TV cameras. 

David Hasselhoff made a providential wardrobe choice that evening, donning a biker’s black leather jacket illuminated with Christmas lights, and a scarf depicting the keys of a piano. And then, in the cold hurly burly at Brandenburg Gate, Hoff explained, “I sang to a crowd of a million people”. 

Few knew the song, in truth. But everyone knew its key word. Freedom. A few days earlier, on Christmas Day 1989, Leonard Bernstein had conducted Beethoven’s 9th Symphony from Berlin to the world, with the famously rousing lyrics of ‘Ode an die Freude’ [Ode to Joy] switched to ‘Ode an die Freiheit’ [Ode to Freedom]. 

The David Hasselhoff Museum is located along a cellar corridor of the Circus Hostel. The corridor leads to a storage room for guests’ luggage, and is lit in the manner of a war bunker, with bright lights which steal your vision. In the Museum there are 4-5 mini-displays, executed with grace, mild parody and unmistakable love for the man in the biker jacket illuminated with Christmas lights. 

I had chatted with the two receptionists of the Hostel, asking where their Museum might be.

‘Prepare yourself’, one said, gamely, pointing to the stairs going down. 

I expressed how utterly excited I was. 

‘Almost as excited as my boss’, she replied, smiling. It had been his idea. And his enthusiasm had few bounds. 

The Museum has a live online petition to rename its street, Weinbergsweg, after the great man. Hasselhoffstrasse. She handed me a free postcard with the necessary details.

I wondered aloud how many visitors a place of such iconic meaning to Germans might attract. Loads, presumably? 

‘Loads!’, the ladies agreed, with delighted chuckles. ‘Especially David Hasselhoff’, one added. 

‘He’s been here three times’. 

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