“[This] again proves my theory that Germans love David Hasselhoff,” concludes Norm Macdonald on his Saturday Night Live segment “Weekend Update” in the early 90s. The crowd roars with laughter, the punchline has become a favorite among them for quite a while. “Those silly Germans,” Macdonald’s eyes seems to say.
Over twenty years later, the joke might not be remembered but the sentiment certainly persists. Many Germans complain on their travel blogs about getting asked about “The Hoff” while traveling around the USA. Some of them barely know who he is. Indeed, today’s young adults might only faintly remember Hasselhoff for running around in red shorts, talking to cars, and having his drunken misdemeanors captured on camera. This has not always been the case.
During the 1980s, both of Hasselhoff’s shows, Knight Rider and Baywatch, were largely celebrated in Germany. That is to say, not only in Germany. Baywatch was exported into 144 countries with over a billion people worldwide sitting in front of their TVs every week. His shows featured elements that were exciting for German viewers: futuristic technology and attractive young actors in very little clothing on sunny beaches. “The Hoff” consequently made his way into German magazines for teens – like Bravo and Mädchen – but so did John Travolta and Patrick Swayze. What made Hasselhoff so different?
It was in the late afternoon on November 22, 2018. Even by New England standards, the weather was cold and blustery. Outside of a dormitory at the university where I teach, I met up with a German student who spent the 2018 fall semester as a Fulbright exchange student at my institution. My family had him over for dinner before, and, as he had no place to go for Thanksgiving, we invited him to spend the holiday dinner at our house along with a few other friends. When I picked him up, he was clearly surprised as the dormitory and the university appeared completely abandoned. I explained to him that Thanksgiving was ‘the’ big family event in the United States and that extended families are more likely to get together during this holiday than for Christmas or the Fourth of July.
The dinner table – resplendent with a large roasted turkey, mash potatoes, various breads and greens, as well as sweet potato and cranberry dishes – reminded me of my first Thanksgivings in 1993. I had just arrived in the U.S. and was looking forward to my job as a German language assistant at a small liberal arts college. Since those days, I have often wondered about the various meanings that Americans ascribe to the holiday and the sometimes ambiguous and even contested relationship that many have with Thanksgiving. As a historian, I am fascinated by how the history that surrounds the holiday is often ignored or sanitized by many in mainstream American society. In fact, Native Americans tend to have an entirely different perspective on Thanksgiving, but more about that later.
On behalf of the American Studies Blog, we would like to extend our sincerest congratulations to Lauren Solomon whose winning entry in the category “Best Books & Fabulous Films” can be read below.
Mindhunter: Harnessing the Minds of Monsters
Nothing captivates an audience like the inhuman and horrific acts of a serial killer. After Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes aired on Netflix in January 2019, followed in May by the release of the biographical crime thriller, Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile, also based on the Ted Bundy story, the U.S. has become mesmerized by stories of serial killing. With that rising fascination, people can’t seem to stop talking about the second season of Mindhunter.
This week’s installment concludes our series on the fall of the Berlin Wall. Enjoy!
Bobbie Kirkhart, Los Angeles
When I was very young, I imagined there was a wall just beyond my view, making sure I could not venture into the forbidden world. It made a strange shape, surrounding all the territory I could explore and blocking everywhere I could not. Perhaps it was that I was by far the youngest in my family, so that everyone else was an adult in my eyes and therefore free. Whatever the reason, I accepted as simple truth that I was banned from a world where everyone else was free to go. As I grew older, I realized that the wall was a metaphor, but I saw it as no less a reality in my life.
Nov. 9, 1989: I was lying in bed when I thought I heard the phone ring. The next morning, there was in fact a message on my answering machine from about 3 a.m. “Hi Marlena! You won’t believe where I am. (Pause) I’m in the West, at my Aunt’s house in West Berlin! It’s just unbelievable!”
In honor of the 30thanniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, the American Studies Blog will remember this spectacular event in history through the eyes of people from around the world during the next few weeks.
When Everything Changed
“Your friend Jörg called. There’s something going on at the border.” “What border, the Hungarian?” I was taking off my coat thinking of the pictures I’d seen of Hungarian border patrols cutting the wire fence and letting East Germans through only a few months before. “He said you should turn on the TV.” And so I did, and there they were, the celebrating Berliners climbing on top of the wall, welcoming stunned East Berliners, joined in delirious joy for the first time in four decades. And here I was, almost 7,000 kilometers away in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where I’d been teaching for the last four years.