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Music

Maximilian Hecker: A star abroad, unknown at home

Particularly in China, Maximilian Hecker is venerated by fans as a major pop star. But at home in Germany, he's a musician who can't seem to get a break. Why? And is he alone?

Maximilian Hecker performed in 2013 in one of the world's biggest cities, taking the stage at the futuristic Oriental Art Center opera house in Shanghai - in front of thousands eager to hear him sing. For one night at least, it was evident that Maximilian Hecker has made it as a pop singer.

But the melancholy singer-songwriter's celebrity status proved short-lived. Upon flying back to Germany, where he's from, he becomes just a face in the crowd.

Busking in Berlin

Born in 1977, Hecker's story as a musician got started as he grew weary of his job as a medical orderly at Berlin's Charite University Hospital. By the end of the 1990s, the sensitive and seemingly introverted multi-instrumentalist was performing more and more in public at the city's central Hackescher Markt train stop.

Music by his role models was part of the show. He sang songs by the Beatles, Brit-pop stars Oasis and Hamburg's student band Tocotronic.

Hackescher Markt in Berlin

Berlin's Hackescher Markt has stores, a market and a train stop

Then Hecker had a stroke of luck. A concert agent took notice of the young man, and one year later, the Berlin record label Kitty-Yo signed him on. He soon recorded his first album, "Infinite Love Songs." And while he was on tour in Germany at the end of 2001 - without a band - the New York Times named his debut album one of its Top 10.

It caused a sensation for Hecker, but it didn't last at home.

World tour

In October 2003, Hecker was invited by Germany's cultural ambassadors at the Goethe Institute to a 34-city global tour, together with musician Barbara Morgenstern. In retrospect, it was the best thing that could happen to the multi-talented musician because it was concert-goers in China, Japan, Thailand and South Korea, in particular, who have come to adore him.

Hecker continued to travel in Asia, performing concerts for his fans. It wasn't until the summer of 2007 that he went on a larger tour through the region. The experiment was so successful that he repeated it in the fall of 2009.

Hecker can be proud of his celebrity in Seoul

Hecker can be proud of his celebrity in Seoul

Breakthrough

Yet Hecker's success story remained torn: even though he gave countless performances in German clubs, he has never been much of a hit with concert-goers in his home country. It wasn't seldom for only 80 people to turn up in front of the stage.

It forms a striking contrast with his Asian, especially his Chinese, fans - who enthusiastically greet him, idolizing and celebrating him as a pop star. Thousands of tickets are sold for his concerts there. On his last tour in China, in 2013, Hecker filled major concert halls.

Hecker is not alone in his one-sided success story. German musicians who gain star status abroad but not at home crop up again and again. Hard rock band Scorpions were celebrated as super stars in the United States in the 1980s, while few took notice in their home country. Thomas Anders, one half of the pop music duo Modern Talking, experienced something similar. His 2004 solo album "This Time" took off in Russia and Turkey. H.P. Baxxter, lead singer of the Eurodance group scooter, achieved his greatest success abroad. The band's single "Will You Be There" made it to the top five in the US dance charts in 1989.

Maximilian Hecker playing a concert in China

Chinese fans adore Hecker

Melancholy pop hymns

Hecker, for his part, shows himself to be an uninhibited romantic - enjoying songs full of melancholy and yearning. On his seventh studio album, "Mirage of Bliss," listeners find mournful tirades. The instrumentalization - usually acoustic guitar, piano and percussion - sounds velvety and fragile.

It might just be Hecker's ruthlessly honed and confessional style that keeps him from enjoying success in Germany. In a television feature, Hecker said: "My fans in Asia believe in me. They believe every word I sing. And they don't feel provoked."

In Western Europe, people may see that as naïve, he muses. "But I think that's the only way to be able to experience music - feeling it in one's gut rather than thinking about it!"

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