Access America

Popular Culture, History, and Current Events

Forget What the History Books Say: How David Hasselhoff Broke Down the Berlin Wall

By Aaron Baumgart

“[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?

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Thanksgiving and the Ambiguity of Memory

By Christoph Strobel

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.

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Remembering the Fall of the Wall

By Martina Kohl

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.

Brandenburg Gate Today. Photo credit: U.S. Embassy

 

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.

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ASB 2019 Contest Winner in the Category “Access America”

By Pune Karimi

 

From left to right: American author Peter Wortsman, Pune Karimi, and ASB editor, Dr. Sabrina Völz. Photo credit: Henrike Kattoll

On behalf of the American Studies Blog, we would like to extend our sincerest congratulations to Pune Karimi whose winning entry in the 2019 ASB contest in the category “Access America” can be read below. Although the American Studies Blog does not usually print political pieces, we felt that the winning blog voices a point of view largely absent from American politics and media, and, therefore, deserves to be heard. We hope it gives you some food for thought.

 

Presidential Elections 2020 – Still No Country for Indigenous People

 

“Republican Elephant & Democratic Donkey – Icons” by DonkeyHotey

While Republicans have made it abundantly clear that they have little desire to improve the lives of people of color or marginalized groups, Democrats have often prided themselves on fighting for the disadvantaged. Still – hardly ever have the rights of Indigenous people been a topic during the U.S. presidential elections, and it seems unlikely that this is going to change any time soon. At least that’s what it looked like during the first Democratic debates.

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Maple Leaf & Stars and Stripes

By Maria Moss and Sabrina Völz

We’re in our ninth year of Maple Leaf & Stars and Stripes– if this lecture series were a child, it would be in third grade by now.

We’re especially proud to announce this year’s bilingual (German/English) kickoff talk by Peter Wortsman, New York author and translator of Austrian-Jewish descent. Interestingly, he’s the recipient of the Geertje Potash-Suhr Prosapreis. Citizens of Lüneburg will recognize this prestigious award, named after former Lüneburg resident Geertje Suhr.

On October 24, we will also be announcing the winner of the American Studies Blog contest in the Access America category. The writer of the winning blog, which will be posted on October 30, will be present.

Please join us for an exciting evening in building 12, room 013, from 18:15 to 19:45 at Leuphana University Lüneburg, Universitätsallee 1. Click here for the campus map.

All lectures are open to the public – and feel free to bring a friend!

Oct. 24

Peter Wortsman (writer and translator, New York), “Reading from Stimme und Atem. Out of Breath, Out of Mind

Nov. 14

Michael Louis Moser (TU Dresden), “The Evolution of Political Moments on Network TV: Late Night from Steve Allen to Stephen Colbert”

Nov. 21

Andreas Hübner (Leuphana), “’Their motto is not liberty, but slavery’: Confederate Monuments, White Supremacy, and the Legacy of Jim Crow”

Dec. 12

Helga Bories-Sawala (Universität Bremen), “Indiens, Sauvages, Amérindiens, Premières Nations: Das Bild der Indigenen in den Geschichtsbüchern Québecs”

Jan. 9

Silke Hackenesch (Universität zu Köln), “Transracial Adoptions in Postwar America”

Jan. 23

Mieke Roscher (Universität Kassel), “Current Objectives of Historical Human-Animal Studies: Interspecies Societies after the Animal Turn”

It’s Campaign Season – So “Keep the Ball Rolling”!

By Sibylle Machat

Have you ever heard the expression “keep the ball rolling” and wondered about its origins?

An antecedent of the phrase stems from the British “keep the ball up,” but the phrase itself is only 180 years old and originated during the 1840 presidential election between Democratic candidate Martin van Buren and Wig candidate William Henry Harrison. In this election, Harrison’s presidential campaign introduced so-called victory balls – globes made from tin and leather, about ten feet in diameter, that were pushed from one campaign rally and from one town to the next. Photography was not around in the 1840s, of course, but according to illustrations from the time, these victory balls looked something like this:

Credit: “1840 Victory Ball illustration” in Carr, T. Turn out! To the rescue!. G. E. Blake, Philadelphia, monographic, 1840. Notated Music. Retrieved from the Library of Congress.

 

But this is only the beginning of the story:

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