As Gottlieb Wendehals, Werner Böhm let the holes fly out of the cheese. Now the pop singer has died. An obituary.
The last polonaise
Anyone who googles Gottlieb Wendehals can find out under “Users also ask” what else people want to know about him: “What is the name of Gottlieb Wendehals right” or “What does Gottlieb Wendehals actually do”? But why doesn’t anyone ask how you, as a trained upholsterer and department store decorator, come up with the idea of giving yourself such a name? Why does someone with a rubber chicken and a briefcase under his arm move across German stages as a traveling salesman when it comes to entertainment?
For his fans, checkerboard jackets, high-water pants and the fly with the unsolved crossword puzzle were a trademark. Wendehals, however, whose real name was Werner Böhm, should later refer to this phenomenon in his autobiography as “The checkered fate”.
On the night of Tuesday, three days before his 79th birthday, the pop singer died in his adopted home of Gran Canaria. The native Pole had only moved from Hamburg to the island in January. His girlfriend Helga had found him in his apartment, one suspects heart failure.
In the club with Ella Fitzgerald
Few people know that Wendehals performed as a jazz pianist in legendary clubs until the early 1960s and accompanied Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald among others. Well, only a few of the Wildecker Herzbuben know that they are really good jazz trumpeters. But as obese garden gnomes singing “Herzilein”, they earn a lot more. Seen in this way, the stage name “Wendehals” was a very good allusion – and proof of his ability to be self-deprecating.
In his mission as a Schunkel animator, he brought people to clapping and singing along: “And Erwin grabs Heidi’s shoulder from behind”. He didn’t rest until “The chaos rages and the ground sways”. He played “Waltz, Discosalaaad” like it in the song “Herbert” from 1979 means, and landed in the charts. “We are worth our fee,” he sang about himself and the rhythm machine – and that can be taken literally: Wendehals had amassed a substantial fortune of ten million marks. He also had three sons, from three wives, including singer Mary Roos.
At the beginning of the 80s he made his breakthrough with “Polonäse Blankenese”: The song landed at number one on the German charts, millions now knew it, or rather the art figure. Even Stephan Remmler’s song “Everything has an end, only the sausage has two” makes it into the charts – when Wendehals covered him.
Then the nineties came and nothing worked. People didn’t feel like confetti anymore. Now it was music TV, boy groups, Neue Deutsche Welle. The fortune was quickly earned. Because he couldn’t handle money he said in “People at Maischberger”. Then there was the alcohol, which he also had a hard time dealing with, as he confessed in his autobiography. For him it sounded something like this: “I like to drink one when I am well. And I drink when I am bad.”
Trying a comeback
In 2004 he went to the jungle camp for RTL and a year later to Big Brother’s container. It didn’t help – in 2008 the singer was officially broke and had more than half a million euros in debt. There it was again, the checkered doom: you didn’t want anything else from him than the wryneck in the checkerboard jacket. Without rubber chickens and schnauzers you couldn’t even recognize him.
It wouldn’t have been necessary, but Dieter Bohlen, of course, said exactly that in his face when Wendehals made a last attempt at “Supertalent” in 2014 at the age of 73. It almost causes physical discomfort to watchhow he sings about his musical life and failure – in a black jacket, but with a nasal wry-neck voice, accompanied by swing and “Schniffedischnuff”. Title: “And if something goes wrong”. Well, it went wrong, there was no prospect of a comeback.
And yet: Wendehals was the man who let the holes fly out of the cheese. Because he didn’t take himself so seriously. After all, he was ahead of Dieter Bohlen.