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Pop/Rock

Germany's Schlager superstar Heino turns 75

Love him or hate him, there's hardly a music lover in the country who hasn't got an opinion on Heino. Germany's most successful folk singer has sold more than 40 million records. He was born on December 13.

Most Germans can instantly identify his trademark sunglasses, blond hair and baritone, but, as Heino turns 75, the folk singer's legacy involves adoration and controversy in equal measure.

On the one hand, there was his long string of chart-topping hits and a clear knack for anticipating the public's taste. His smash singles ranged from the pastoral in "Jenseits des Tales" (Beyond the Valley) and "Blau blüht der Enzian" (The Blue Gentiana Bloom) to a toe-tapper about a lover's dark locks with "Die schwarze Barbara" (Black Barbara) or bar sing-alongs like "Karamba, Karacho, ein Whisky" (Caramba, Full Tilt, a Whisky).

But many see him as a singer who built a career on flirting with the right-wing. Born in the central-western German city of Dusseldorf, his deeply rolled "R" links his speech with dialects in the South or in Austria, including that of Hitler. In the 1970s, he recorded a version of the German national anthem featuring verses widely left out of the song by others for being unpalatably nationalistic.

The singer has also proudly belted out folk tunes such as "Schwarzbraun ist die Haselnuss" (Black-brown is the Hazelnut), which, despite its harmless lyrics, is known as a favorite among the Hitler Youth. The Schlager legend's choice to perform two concert tours in a South Africa still split by apartheid in the 1980s also cost him much public sympathy at home.

Heino, however, always fiercely rejected such criticisms, claiming he was merely a typical German folk singer who belonged to no particular political party. Having sold over 40 million albums, the size of his fan base suggests that many listeners were equally untroubled.

Heino, performing on stage with a guitar in hand
(c) picture-alliance

Heino has been performing on stage for five decades

Rap and classical replace Schlager

While he may be most heavily associated with the saccharine and sentimental style known in German as Schlager, Heino had few reservations about branching out in new musical directions. By the 1980s, he had appeared on stage with German punk icon Nina Hagen, and he had even recorded and released rap versions of some of his biggest hits.

After a farewell tour in 2005, the singer born Heinz-Georg Kramm said he planned to give up the music business entirely and devote himself full-time to running his Café Heino in Bad Münstereifel, the small town where he grew up. But soon he felt the tug of the stage, and by 2009 he was back on the road with a new touring concept. Audiences filled venues to hear Heino's take on classics like "Ave Maria" and "Good Evening, Good Night," a lullaby by Brahms.

Reinvention at 74

In early 2013, Heino returned with a new album - "Mit freundlichen Grüssen" (Yours Sincerely) - on which he put his distinctive stamp on German rock and punk tracks originally recorded by the likes of Nena, Rammstein and Die Ärzte.

Heino and Rammstein on stage at Germany's Wacken festival for metal music
(c) Carsten Rehder/dpa

Heino and Rammstein, performing at the legendary Wacken metal festival

Well past retirement age, the veteran star also gave it a go as a rocker on stage. While the artists he covered tended toward bemusement or disdain of his versions of their songs, German album-buyers were once more in thrall to the blonde singing star.

The record entered the German album charts at number 1, a feat Heino had never managed to achieve with any of his more traditional folk LPs. Further, a German artist's work had never been downloaded so often in such a short span of time - although it remains an open question whether morbid curiosity or genuine appreciation motivated the rush in sales.

For his wife, Hannelore, the answer on that point is clear. "My Heino has become a really cool dude," she said.

On December 13, Heino celebrates his 75th birthday. Only time will tell what controversies and surprises are on the way by his 80th.

DW.DE