12 Famous berliners you should know: from knef to krug

There are so many famous Berliners, but some of them are real legends. The six women and six men we are talking about here are especially close to our hearts. Even if most of them are no longer alive, they are immortal. To understand the soul of this city, you need to know these Berlin celebrities.

They have left us books, films and records. They have been portrayed many times, their ideas, their charm, their cleverness and their views can be traced in many places. They are inscribed in the history of the city, you have to know them. We introduce her to you.

Hildegard Knef

One of the most famous Berliners was Hildegard Knef, shown here in a photograph taken around 1990. Photo: Imago/Teutopress

"In this city I know my way around, in this city I was once at home" – Hildegard Knef is one of the great Berlin legends. As a musician and singer, her fame reached far beyond the country’s borders.

There are numerous compilations with her hits like "Fur mich soll’s rote Rosen regnen" or "Von nun an ging’s bergab". Her autobiographical novel "Der geschenkte Gaul" (The Gift Horse) is also highly recommended. In addition, you can watch the biopic "Hilde" (2014), in which Heike Makatsch embodies Knef. Even though reviewers were divided on this one.

Harald Juhnke

The actor and entertainer Harald Juhnke . Photo: Imago/Brigani-Art

"No dates and easily sitting one" – Harald Juhnke is one of the greatest stars this city has produced. As an actor in film and television, as an entertainer and as a singer entertained the Federal Republic for almost five decades.

The best introduction to his music is on the album "Was bleibt, ist die Musik" (What remains is the music) or the classic "Barfub oder Lackschuh" (Barefoot or patent leather shoe). Among his many films, "Der Trinker" (The Drunkard) from 1995 is certainly worthy of mention. And in "My Seven Lives" Juhnke writes with a co-author about his life, which was marked by great successes as much as by his alcohol addiction.

Marlene Dietrich

One of Berlin’s most famous women: Marlene Dietrich in "The Blue Angel" (1930, dir: Josef von Sternberg). Photo: Imago/Teutopress

"I still have a suitcase in Berlin" – Born in Schoneberg, she made a great career in film during the Weimar Republic. She fled from the Nazis and became world famous in the USA. Marlene Dietrich never returned to her hometown, except for occasional appearances.

If you want to listen to her music, you should buy "The Ultimate Collection", published by Deutsche Grammophon. Numerous biographies shed light on her life and work; the 2017 book "Einsame Klasse," Eva Gesine Baur’s examination of the diva, is highly recommended.

Marlene Dietrich died in Paris in 1992, but she was buried in her hometown. Her final resting place is one of the most famous graves in Berlin. She has also been given her own place, in the heart of the city, not far from her former birthplace.

Gunter Pfitzmann

Gunter Pfitzmann, portrait from 1987. Photo: Imago/United Archives

"Humor is the ability to sail in life with headwinds" – Gunter Pfitzmann was born in Berlin in 1924 and died there in 2003. He was a Berlin folk actor by the book, appeared in Berlin cabarets (for example, with the porcupines), played a lot of theater in West Berlin years and went down in history with the famous Berlin television series "Praxis Bulowbogen".

Many of his series and films are available on DVD or can be streamed. Among them is "Der Millionenerbe", in which he plays alongside Evelyn Hamann. Also worth seeing are the cheerful big-city stories "Berliner Weibe mit Schuss". Those who want to get closer to him personally should take a look at his memoir "Nur der Augenblick zahlt" (Only the Moment Counts).

Inge Meysel

Inge Meysel, portrait around 1997. Photo: Imago/Apress

"A profession without commitment and without fun is like a wasted life" – The daughter of a Jewish merchant was born in 1910 in Rixdorf, which was later incorporated into Greater Berlin as Neukolln. In 1930 she began her career in the theater, but as a Jew she soon had to end it again. She survived the Nazi era as a telephone operator and technical draftswoman.

In 1945, directly after the end of the war, she took up acting again. A major career followed with dozens of roles in theater as well as film and television productions. In 2003, one year before her death, she appeared in an episode of "Polizeiruf 110".

Always in a good mood, emancipated, politically committed and with a good dose of Berlin snark, she went through life as the "Mother of the Nation. If you want to know more about Meysel, you should read her autobiography "Frei heraus, mein Leben" ("Free Out, My Life").

Willy Brandt

John F. Kennedy and Willy Brandt during the U.S. president’s visit in June 1963. Photo: Imago/Photo12

"The day will come when the Brandenburg Gate is no longer on the border." – Although Willy Brandt has become a legend as the SPD chancellor and the bearer of hope for an entire generation, the politician, who was always on the left and was in the resistance during the Nazi era, had already left his mark on Berlin as governing mayor.

He received U.S. President John F. Kennedy, who was assassinated a short time later. Kennedy during his visit to Berlin and stood by his side when Kennedy uttered the famous words "Ich bin ein Berliner".

There are countless books on Brandt, but anyone who wants to focus specifically on the Berlin period should read the non-fiction book "Vom Freiheitskampfer zum Friedenspolitiker: Willy Brandt als Regierender Burgermeister von Berlin" by Daniel Modinger, which was published in 2019.

Regine Hildebrandt

SPD politician and then Brandenburg Minister of Labor Regine Hildebrandt in July 1990. Photo: Imago/Sven Simon

"Ick sage nur, macht wat" – Born in 1941, the Berlin native studied biology at Humboldt University and worked in drug research until the fall of the Berlin Wall. At the end of the GDR, she became involved in the citizens’ movement and devoted herself more to politics.

She joined the East German SPD in 1989. A stellar career followed. She became Minister of Labor, Social Affairs, Health and Women in Brandenburg and remained in the state government until 1999.

Hildebrandt, who was also a member of the SPD federal executive committee, was considered open, radically honest and close to the people, and was one of the most popular politicians in reunified Germany. She was unable to beat breast cancer, which she was diagnosed with in 1996. She died in 2001.

The detailed biography "Ich seh doch, was hier los ist" ("I can see what’s going on here") was written by Hans-Dieter Schutt and sheds lasting light on her life and work.

Manfred Krug

Manfrede Krug in his parade role as Liebling Kreuzberg, around 1997. Photo: Imago/KPA/United Archives

"A good hit song can really move me" – Few actors were as popular on both sides of the Wall as Manfred Krug. As a star in DEFA films, he left his mark on GDR cinema from the late 1950s until he left the country in 1976 as a result of his protest against the expatriation of Wolf Biermann.

Legendary is his role in Frank Beyer’s "Spur der Steine" (1966), which was banned by the SED censors and was only released in 1989. In addition to acting, Krug established himself as a singer and pianist, combining German Schlager, jazz and chanson and performing with the most important musicians of the GDR.

In the West he continued his career, as a lawyer in the television series "Liebling Kreuzberg" the West Berlin audience also took him to their hearts. Countless albums with his music are still available, recommendable is "Das war nur ein Moment", the collection of early recordings for the label Amiga .

Tamara Danz

The singer of the GDR rock band Silly, Tamara Danz. Shot from 1992. Photo: Imago/Teutopress

"The only thing that still threatens me is a life, another life after death" – With Tamara Danz, the slightly worn-out term of the "rock lady" is completely true. As a singer in the song group Oktoberklub and above all as the front woman of Silly, one of the most important Berlin bands, she left her mark on the music scene in the GDR.

With Silly, she dominated the charts in the 1980s and was also heard outside the GDR. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, more records were released, but a bout with breast cancer ended her career. 1996 Danz died in Berlin.

Today a street in Friedrichshain, not far from the Mercedes-Benz Arena, commemorates the singer and songwriter. Alexander Osang published with "Tamara Danz. Legends", a year after her death, a biography about the icon who died much too early.

Heinz Florian Oertel

Reporter Heinz Florian Oertel reports from the ISTAF 1992 in the Berlin Olympic Stadium, summer 1992. Photo: Imago/Kai Bienert

"Dear young fathers or prospective fathers, have courage! Feel free to call your newcomers of today Waldemar! Waldemar is here!" – The enthusiasm for the marathon Olympic victory of GDR runner Waldemar Cierpinski could not have been greater. Between 1949 and 1991, sports journalist Heinz Florian Oertel reported on the world’s most important sporting events for GDR television and radio.

His easy-going and at the same time professional manner influenced whole generations, he belonged to the most famous journalists of the country. Today, the reporter, born in 1927, lives in seclusion in Berlin-Schonholz. He has reflected on his career in numerous books, but has also spoken out controversially on political issues. Most recently, his book "When you stand up, the bow gets deeper" was published in 2017.

Helene Weigel

Helene Weigel as "Mother Courage" in Bertolt Brecht’s play of the same name. Photo: Imago/Zuma/Keystone

"We were not what they wanted, but they also did not want to lose what they had with us" – Of course, Bertolt Brecht, Helene Weigel’s husband and companion, could also have been mentioned here as a Berlin legend.

But Weigel, born in Vienna in 1900, as an actress and artistic director of the Berlin Ensemble, helped shape, at times even enabled, and always supported the work of her famous partner. They shared their fate, from early fame, flight and exile to their return to East Berlin.

Weigel went down in history in her role of "Mother Courage" and left her mark on the German theater landscape for years after Brecht’s death. Recommended is her correspondence with Brecht "ich lerne: glaser + tassen spulen" as well as the biography "Helene Weigel" written by Sabine Kebir. Descent into Glory".

Horst Buchholz

Horst Buchholz, portrait from 1985. Photo: Imago/Teutopress

"I really don’t like to talk" – The German film star was considered shy and rather secretive. Yet he has made a world-class career. Born in Neukolln in 1933, he acted in theater in the postwar period. Soon he was discovered for the cinema.

"Hotte," as he was called in his youth, played initially in Germany, later also in the U.S., France and Italy. Because of his good looks, he was also called the "German James Dean". His most important films include Billy Wilder’s "One, Two, Three," "The Magnificent Seven" by John Sturges, and as recently as 1993 he starred in Wim Wenders’ "Far Away, So Near".

In Werner Sudendorf’s biography "Seducer and Rebel" you get a good access to the Berlin world star.

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