Heino, instantly recognisable by his blond hair and trademark sunglasses worn to hide bulging eyes caused by a thyroid condition, is best known as the baritone singer of Schlager – schmaltzy German folk songs that propelled him to fame in the 1960s and 70s.
Having laid low for years, at the age of 74 he is suddenly back, breaking sales records and securing his place in German cultural history with a new album.
Backed by an intensive PR campaign and a new wardrobe of skinny jeans and studded leather jacket, Mit freundlichen Grüßen All the Very Best has taken him into new realms. The album contains cover versions of punk, hip-hop and hard-rock hits – to the disgust of many of the bands who originally performed them. Since its release this month it has been legally downloaded more than any other German album and has sold tens of thousands of copies.
The musician has been touring Germany in a Heinomobile, a Mercedes S-class limousine embellished with his blond-haired skull logo. He has been invited to perform at Wacken Open Air, the world’s largest heavy metal festival, but in order to keep old fans on board, insists he will continue singing the ever-popular Schlager.
But despite attempts by Heino, his PR machine and his wife Hannelore – a former Miss Austria – to promote the image of a loveable rogue who sings sentimental hits about mountains and maidens, a darker side has been emerging.
Asked about his health in a recent interview, Heino – real name Heinz Georg Kramm – responded that he was “still as hard as steel, as tough as leather and as nimble as a greyhound”. The words are unmistakably taken from a speech given by Adolf Hitler to 50,000 members of the Hitler youth movement in 1935, which all Germans learn about in history lessons.
If you needed to know, this is what Schlager is: