Hildegard knef: “she was more than a woman – she was one and a half”

Hildegard Knef recovered in 1973 after a stay in a clinic at the Wolfgangsee in Austria.

Photo: Horst Ossinger / dpa

Hildegard Knef died 20 years ago. She first played a concentration camp survivor, made it to Broadway and still has fans today.

Hildegard Knef once said something that can keep you busy for a long time if you start thinking about it. "Maybe one day someone who is still incorruptible will ask you: How many people were happy that you lived?" So reads a line of text in her songs. In the case of the Berlin artist, the answer might have been simple when a breaking news story went through the newsrooms 20 years ago.

"The actress Hildegard Knef has died at the age of 76 years," reported also the German Press Agency on 1. February 2002. "This woman is a legend," said the "Frankfurter Rundschau," for example. That is of course a big word. But what makes Hildegard Knef so fascinating until today??

If you ask younger people their name, some of them will ask you back: "Who??"At the latest when you name her song titles, some nod then. "It’s going to rain red roses for me" is probably the best known example. Angela Merkel has just requested the song for her farewell as chancellor.

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Hildegard Knef: Lipstick museum displays memorabilia

Even today, the song lyrics are pretty amazing. Maybe this is also due to the matter-of-factness with which a woman at that time expressed how her life should look like. "When I was 16, I said quietly. want everything – or nothing."She once wrote the song in a moment of absolute megalomania, Knef told in an interview from the 1990s, which you can listen to on SWR. "That’s a really highly aggressive song, isn’t it??"At that time, she discussed with the composer that it could perhaps be quite funny – if you take out Viennese schmaltz and add a three-four time. "And then it became an almost gigantic success, which I never expected’."

Knef seemed relatively open in such interviews. Smoked in front of the camera. Spoke honestly about failures. In photos you can see her with the long eyelashes and darkly made-up eyes. A call to Berlin make-up artist Rene Koch. He plans to display quite a few mementos in his lipstick museum on the anniversary of Knef’s death. If you ask him what kind of person Hildegard Knef was, he recalls the documentary "A Woman and a Half". "She was more than a woman – she was a woman and a half," the 76-year-old says. She had possessed much strength and had been a "stand-up woman. "When you think of what she’s been through, not?"

Knef was born in Ulm in 1925, she grew up in Berlin. In the past, she did not correspond to the type of the time, Knef said in the SWR interview. In those days, the girls were beautiful and even. "Little ladies", adds the reporter. "Yes, little ladies. And very authoritative and so." She had a slightly too big mouth and a somewhat asymmetrical face, he said. But their drama teacher believed in them.

The stages of Knef’s career sound adventurous. She made the first German post-war feature film, "Die Morder sind unter uns" ("The Murderers Are Among Us"). In it, she played a concentration camp survivor who returns to bombed-out Berlin. After an unsuccessful attempt in Hollywood, she took the title role in the film "The Sinner" in Germany. He showed a nude scene and caused a scandal because of his theme. If you look through documents from back then, you realize what a time it was. Photos were still black and white, and the "Stern" cost 40 pfennigs. Many documents can be found today in the Deutsche Kinemathek in Berlin, which manages Knef’s estate. in the boxes are a thank-you letter from the ex-chancellor Willy Brandt ("your very devoted one") and typescripts of her books.

Letters from Marlen Dietrich and praise from Ella Fitzgerald

Also included: letters that Hildegard Knef and Marlene Dietrich wrote to each other. "Dearest Hildekind," Dietrich wrote in 1975. Dietrich complains that she has to pack her suitcase again. "I am reading and reading to fill the loneliness."

Besides acting, Knef started other world careers. On Broadway, she played hundreds of performances of "Silk Stockings". Ella Fitzgerald is said to have once said about her that she was the greatest singer without a voice. She wrote her own song lyrics for her chansons and also had quite some success as a book author ("Der geschenkte Gaul"). She also painted. She also experienced diseases. Had three husbands. And in the queer community it has a special position until today.

For him there were two people, says Rene Koch. There was the "Hilde", who had something maternal ("Come on, let’s go for coffee"). "And if she had the eyelashes on, then she was the Kneeeeeef."Once she wrote to him that she was sitting on the edge of the bed and could not sleep. "I just wanted to tell you that you were right. I really need more grease cream. You’ll be surprised: My skin eats the cream like the boa constrictor eats the rabbit."

For him, she was a philosopher, says Koch. Was Hildegard Knef then a happy woman? "I don’t think a star can be happy in that category," counters the connoisseur. She also sings in one of her chansons: "Happiness only knows minutes. The rest is waiting."

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