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Talking Germany

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The very thoughtful Peter Maffay

From Stalin City to cuddle-rock 

Why do so many people in what used to be East Germany like Peter Maffay so much? Easy answer: because he understands them. After all, he spent the first 14 years of his life in communist Romania. In the Transylvania town of Brașov to be precise, which for the first decade of his life had another name: Orașul Stalin. That’s right – Stalin City! He hated it! “It was totally un-free,” he tells me: “Totally! We were cut off from the rest of the world.” Peter Maffay, singer-songwriter: my latest guest on Talking Germany.

Why do so many people in what used to be West Germany like Peter Maffay so much? Well, he likes to present himself as a bearded, leather-clad, biker: as a real rocker. (Favourite bands, by the way: “ZZ Top and Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers.”) But, when the chips are down, he’s always managed to steer that bike right down the middle of the road. But that’s precisely what’s kept him in the frame for more than four decades. Man of the people, Mr. Maffay – that’s his appeal.

What’s more, he’s a curious mixture of rough and … how should I put it? Well, let’s say, it’s easy to imagine why so many women find him so cuddly. He’s very petite, very gentle (for a man who always carries a knife – and he does!!). In fact the very personification of what Germans love to call Kuschelrock. Yes: cuddle-rock! But here’s the coup: Peter Maffay isn’t just very charming. He’s also a polyglot. And – I’m really spilling the beans now – a closet philosopher.

Very intimate, too. We’ve only been talking for a short while and I sense that he’s straining to perhaps call me ‘du’ – the familiar form in German (and incidentally the name of his breakthough song way back in 1970). So, I ask, how’s his young son? Who lives in Mallorca, with his mum, with dad flying in when he can. “Fine, he tells me. Speaks Spanish, Catalan, German and English.” And, just a short while later, he goes on to add, unprompted: “You know, in a way, we’re both aware that my time is limited. After all, I’ve had a tough life. I hope to make it through to his eighteenth birthday at least. That’d be great. For both of us.” Touching, modest, pragmatic perhaps: but I, of course, hope for much more for the generous and very compelling Mr. Maffay.


February 6, 2012