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Supermensch in the supermarket

INTERVIEW: From East German puppeteer to global Youtube star, bearded 58-year-old wanderer Friedrich Liechtenstein is beyond "Supergeil". Catch him performing Silly Love Songs at Haus der Kulturen der Welt on Sat, May 10.

Image for Supermensch in the supermarket
Photo by Ralph Anderl

From East German puppeteer to global Youtube star, bearded 58-year-old wanderer Friedrich Liechtenstein possesses a career trajectory that is anything but linear.

Liechtenstein’s slightly sleazy reworking of his music video “Supergeil” for grocery chain EDEKA went viral, with 9,656,719 views as of publication, and counting. A crooner and flaneur of the old school comparable to Louie Austen, Liechtenstein aka “Dolphin Man” has a new album, Bad Gastein (Heavylistening) forthcoming along with the campy, atmospheric video and single “Belgique, Belgique”. You might call it dumb, but so does he: he’ll be performing Silly Love Songs at Haus der Kulturen der Welt on Saturday, May 10 as part of its Doofe Musik (Stupid Music) series, along with Adriano Celentano Gebäckorchester, Justus Köhncke and Lifafa.

In “Belgique, Belgique” you say you’re 72 years old. Surely not!

No, I’m not. But the biography that I create for myself there is that of an older man. I feel older with the beard; if I shaved, no one would recognise me. But my age is irrelevant. Sometimes I feel younger, say 20, but sometimes I feel very old.

And for a Youtube star, you are.

The viral thing on the net has nothing to do with me. When people click on it, I don’t notice anything; it’s not a physical action. I just danced through some supermarket shelves and it went online and people click on it, and it doesn’t have any consequences for me. But then I was at the Echo Music Awards and there were so many people who wanted snapshots of me – which is a physical action – and then I noticed right away how much people love it. I have to see how I deal with it. It was really too much.

In “Belgique Belgique,” you have several nicknames: “Dolphin man”, “Kinky King”…

The Dolphin Man is a guy who communicates in an unconventional manner. Dolphins can really see right through you, they scan you, they perceive the whole of you. I try to approach people the same way: I stand opposite a person and take three seconds to scan the whole person. Also, dolphins look a bit phallic and I think, “OK, I’m kind of a phallic guy.” Dolphin Man is the continuation of Superman or Spiderman. When I performed on the MS Europa cruise liner, some Englishmen liked me and dubbed me the Kinky King.

You’ve done more in your life than just videos.

Yes: I’m a flaneur. I walk around the city a lot. Right now I have less time. In artistic terms, I’m also a flaneur, which I’m very proud of. I show up everywhere, from the opera to Kit Kat Club, on the radio, with Deichkind, on TV, across Europe – and it makes me happy that so many different places think I fit in well.

Including Bad Gastein, in the Austrian Alps.

I once ended up there by chance. Some hoteliers invited me. When I arrived, it was love at first sight. It was like the fairytale Frau Holle. I saw so many unresolved themes there, this emptiness, a kind of strange morbidity. But the whole thing is still worth seeing, like East Berlin after the fall of the Wall: here’s the empty Palast der Republik, large empty hotels, Tacheles, flats. That’s what it feels like in Bad Gastein – room for imagination. And healing springs, too!

What’s your fascination with Belgium?

Bad Gastein is a concept album, comprised of related stories, and “Belgique, Belgique” is the story of the journey to the place Bad Gastein, in which I tell where I come from and where I want to go, I want to go to the mountains and heal. Of course, it’s a metaphorical story which is interwoven with my reality. Stories are also reality. In a way, art is also real because it is anchored in reality. It has its poetic logic. A lot of people ask me, “Who is that guy?”

A former puppeteer, for one thing.

I attended the Ernst Busch Theatre School and they offered a specialisation in puppetry. I come from the East. East Germany specialised in certain fields that didn’t work so well in the free market, such as puppet theatre or certain types of sport. It was perfect for me, because it was really on the fringe of society. One didn’t feel under surveillance. In this small, poetic niche, one could act relatively freely. My kids were still small – I did puppet shows for them. I didn’t do puppet theatre for long, though. I began to do one-man shows.

Do you possess any Ostalgie?

Not really, to be honest. I’m happy that things move on. I still have an unfulfilled yearning for glamour. It really was very, very grey in the East. The clothes looked bad. Nothing was done right – nothing was really rocking. I’m interested in the Western world, and all the refinement and glamour, especially of earlier times, which is why I am so fascinated by Bad Gastein.

And now your album is sponsored by trendy sunglasses brand ic!Berlin.

I’ve been working with them for a very long time. I am like their ornamental hermit, a hermit who lives in an English park because the English lords like it. As an ornamental hermit one plays loneliness, at the edge of society. The funny thing is that, with this, I landed in the middle of society, amidst branding and marketing.

You’re performing at the Doofe Musik [Stupid Music] Festival, a kind of an intellectual look at escapism in music. How do you understand the concept of stupid music?

It’s an ambivalent situation. I find escapism fundamentally good. There is actually really stupid music, meaning really dumb. But I take it as when you love someone and you tell them, “You’re being silly” – it’s more of an embrace. For me, that’s a compliment. Of course, if everyone is escapist, the world will fall apart. But we need people at the edges of society who build side streets into the unknown. And when they return and walk back-and-forth, it becomes a main street on which other people can walk back-andforth – and this is how reality expands. Escapism is very important. Artist are escapists. Lovers and alcoholics are escapists. There are many attempts to escape this world, and thereby one expands the world.

Is this what you mean when your website declaims, “We’re not in this world to love the wrong women. Do you understand me?”

Actually, it’s a literal declaration of love. It’s a hugely flirty thing to say to a women you’re trying to seduce. “We’re not in this world to love the wrong women” implies that this is, perhaps, the right one.

Doofe Musik: Silly Love Songs w/ Adriano Celentano Gebäckorchester, Justus Köhncke, Friedrich Liechtenstein, Lifafa Sat, May 10, 20:00 | Haus der Kulturen der Welt, John-Foster-Dulles-Allee 10, Tiergarten, S-Bhf Bundestag