Hasselhoff returns to Berlin to save the wall he helped to topple

Despite being celebrated for the righteous war he and his robotic car waged on criminals, for his selfless, slow-motion patrols of the beaches of Los Angeles – not to mention the hard-won wisdom he has imparted to countless Britain's Got Talent contestants – David Hasselhoff is in no doubt as to his finest hour.

In 1989, the star of Baywatch and Knight Rider stood atop the Berlin Wall and captured the hearts of millions of Germans with a New Year's Eve performance of his song Looking for Freedom.

The anthem topped the German pop charts for eight weeks and became, for many, the soundtrack to the peaceful revolution that culminated in the reunification of east and west Germany.

"I didn't realise the significance of Looking for Freedom in east Germany until a few months ago," said Hasselhof on Sunday. "On my last tour there were thousands of Germans holding up signs saying 'We love you, thank you for Mauerfall [the fall of the wall].'"

Nearly 25 years on, in one of fate's more unlikely twists, the Hoff is back in Berlin to help save the wall he once helped destroy, vowing to do everything in his power to preserve its longest surviving stretch, which is under threat from property developers who want to tear down part of the historic monument to provide access to luxury flats.

"This last piece of the wall is really sacred, it's the last memorial to the people who died and to the perseverance of freedom," Hasselhoff said as he visited Berlin's East Side Gallery and was mobbed by thousands of fans. Plans to remove part of the mural-covered wall, he said, were as outrageous as destroying the Ground Zero memorial to the victims of the September 11 attacks in New York.

After 1989, most of the wall was removed, with larger sections being sold to museums across the world and countless tiny fragments being flogged to tourists as souvenirs. A few smaller sections remain intact in Berlin, the largest after the East Side Gallery in its original spot at Bernauer Strasse in the north of the city, now the site of a permanent exhibition about life with the wall.

Demolition work on the 20-metre section of the 1.3 km-stretch of wall – decorated with dozens of paintings by artists from all over the world – was suspended this month after activists formed a human chain in front of it. The scale of the following protest, attended by 10 000 demonstrators, prompted Berlin mayor Klaus Wowereit to oppose the ''unnecessary'' demolition.

But the 60-year-old actor fears he lacks the riches needed to take on property developers Living Bauhaus, who bought the land from the Berlin senate last October. "I don't think I can afford to buy the land," Hasselhoff told the Guardian. "But we could raise the money – maybe we will." If the developers pressed on with their plans, he added, he might find himself compelled to organise an all-star celebrity benefit concert for the cause.

Events, however, may yet overtake them. Activists worry Living Bauhaus could send their construction workers back to the wall this week. Much will hinge on Monday's meeting between project investor Maik Uwe Hinkel and Berlin's senate and district government, at which alternative solutions are expected to be put on the table. But if the demolition does continue, Hasselhoff's support could help fund a legal battle to uphold the East Side Gallery's status as a protected historical monument.

"David offered to do anything to help, he said the wall was special to him," said Lutz Leichsenring, a spokesman for the Berlin Club Commission, which represents the interests of the city's clubs – and which has launched a petition that has attracted 77 000 signatures. Leichsenring added: "We've talked with him about creating an online platform to raise legal fees to fight the development."

With a bit of luck, he went on, Hasselhoff's return to Berlin would keep up pressure on Berlin's politicians. "We need him to keep media coverage up," he said.

The crowd that greeted the star was so large and so enthusiastic that he had to abandon plans to walk along the wall and retreat instead to a bus. Still, he did serenade his fans with lines from Looking for Freedom.

"David Hasselhoff was here when the wall came down and now he's here because he wants to save the last piece," said Theresa Sheppard, a 28-year-old protester. "He's the only celebrity who's trying."

But what had brought her to the barricades: the wall or the Hoff?

"Lots of people just think he's funny, they don't take him seriously," she said. "We think saving the wall is important but we probably wouldn't have come to the protest if he hadn't been here." – Guardian News and Media 2013

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