A couple of weeks ago an American woman commented on one of my blog entries and asked me what Schlager was. But how can you actually explain Schlager to someone who is not from Germany or has not at least spent a significant amount of time here? I went over to my good friend, Wikipedia and was surprised to discover they actually had an article about the music in English (click here to read it). They describe Schlager as highly sentimental ballads with themes like love and friendship. (Strangely, they do not mention anything about feathered hair, though you pretty much have to have it if you want to sing Schlager, at least if you are a man.) They also say Schlager can be compared to Easy Listening which is somewhat true. Think Air Supply with a polka beat.
Still, Schlager is a bit more complicated. Here are some "highlights" to help any non-Germans better understand the music and all its kitschy complexity.
1. Somewhat surreal.
Or at least the Schlager star Heino was. He put on this kind of wacky hep cat persona and sometimes seems to be making fun of it all and yet he was definitely all Schlager (and got very rich doing it.) Weird. Also love how obviously bored the blonde smoker is in the second video.
2. Something many people were apparently not immune to.
I love Hildegard Knef. She was a great performer and has an unusual voice. A lot of her stuff I would classify more as Chanson, but not her biggest hit, Für Mich Solls Rote Rose Regnen. That song is Schlager pure, albeit in the better sense of the word.
3. Cheesy German folk music but not something you have to be German to perform (though you do have to sing in the language.)
Howard Carpendale is South African....
And Karel Gott is Die goldene Stimme aus Prag (The golden voice from Prague.) This first song, Biene Maja (theme song from a children's cartoon series of the same name) is probably his most well-known hit. In this next song he does what Schlager stars also love to do: translate songs from English. Here he is singing the Alphaville song Für Immer Jung (Forever Young). The stroll along the harbor is also tres Schlager.
4. Not just for straight people.
Not only does Schlager have a large gay following, some of its stars are also out of the closet. Patrick Lindner is openly homosexual and even adopted a son with his partner a couple of years ago. I'm sure a lot of the old stars were also gay. Check out this song by Roy Black.
Can you say "Gay Boy"? Rock Hudson, eat your heart out.
5. Sometimes so unbelievably bad you can hardly even find the words to describe it.
Especially the contemporary stuff they play on the Musikantenstadl. There is always a big, Disneyland-esque stage with lots of canned music and dancing (although kudos to Florian Silberreisen for performing here with a broken leg). What those kids are doing is called "schunkeln". When you listen to Schlager, you sway back and forth together in a group, usually also locking elbows. I only recommend it if you've also drunken a lot of beer. Then it's probably actually kind of fun.
Ok, if you were able to get through this list without becoming overly nauseated, then here are a few more gems for your viewing and listening pleasure:
The one hit wonder, Drafi Deutscher performing Marmor, Stein und Eisen bricht, a song you can pretty much guarantee every German knows. I love that he actually has to ask the crowd to make space for him to get out onto the stage. YouTube also used to have a great video of him performing the song in the 60s where he looks exactly like Dieter, the Mike Myers Saturday Night Live character. Sony Entertainment had it removed from the site, those jerks!
Costa Cordalis singing Anita because you've gotta love that outfit and the floral Lei. Check out the kids in full schunkeln action!
Christian Anders singing Es Fährt ein Zug nach Nirgendwo (A Train Riding Nowhere). Just for the retro fun of the set.