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GDR TV star Herbert Köfer: One of the three great grandfathers of television

2021-07-26T15:45:24.583Z

He was a character actor who switched to comedy after friction with the state and became a star in the GDR. An obituary for Herbert Köfer, Germany's oldest actor.



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Actor Köfer: Prussian with firm principles, likes to be well dressed and with a distinctive sonorous voice

Photo: Matthias Hiekel / picture alliance / dpa

If someone is already there and famous when you are born, and if he stays while you have passed half of your life, then, contrary to all reason, you think he will stay forever.

Evidence in this case: Herbert Köfer.

At least in the 1980s and the GDR, Köfer was one of the three great grandfathers of television.

In addition to Erwin Geschonneck and Fred Delmare, he was reliably booked for grandpa roles at that time.

The characters were clearly distributed: Geschonneck was the creaky, rough leg with a soft core, Delmare the somewhat confused cuddly opa, Köfer the principled Prussian, like being well dressed and with the distinctive sonorous voice.

That had brought him to television.

Born in 1921 and trained as a theater actor during the Nazi era, the Berliner began reading the news - or rather: Announcements - of the "Current Camera", the main news program on GDR television, in 1952.

Because the Tagesschau started five days before the first broadcast, it made him the first German news anchor.

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But he did not stay long, then he worked as a presenter for television, in revue programs such as "Fernsehkarussell" and "Da lacht der Bär", in which he gave conferences and hits for the best until the mid-1960s.

At the same time the cinema had noticed him.

In 1963 he played a fanatical SS officer in Frank Bayer's Buchenwald drama "Naked among wolves" (with Geschonneck and Delmare), and two years later he played the estate manager Studmann in the Fallada film adaptation "Wolf Among Wolves", the first DEFA production also ran in the other Germany.

Köfer, with a piercing look and the already mentioned distinctive voice, would have had the chance to make a career as an outstanding dramatic supporting actor in the GDR - had it not been for the 11th plenum of the SED Central Committee, the notorious Kahlschlag plenum. In 1965, almost an entire annual production of DEFA films was banned there, including two films with Köfer: "Just don't think, I'm crying" by director Frank Vogel, whose characters are relatively openly quarreling with everyday life in the GDR, and "Hands up or I'll shoot" , a harmless crime scene in which the GDR police saw themselves being ridiculed.

Perhaps that was the break that made Köfer switch back to the camp of shallow conversation.

While critical actors like Armin Müller-Stahl (who worked with Köfer in his two "Wölfen" films) and Manfred Krug continued to move away from the regime and finally left the country, Köfer played among others in the propaganda pieces "Krupp and Krause" and "The murder that never expires" (about the murder of Liebknecht and Luxemburg) with what can be read as an excuse for the regime: Köfer stayed, at least externally, in line.

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On the other hand, one can interpret Köfer's almost complete concentration on comedy from the 1970s, after almost twenty years as a character actor, as an inner emigration. In any case, it was the time of his greatest glory until the end of the GDR. Omnipresent, not least because of frequent repetitions, he was the leading actor in series such as the proverbial »Pensioners Never Have Time« or in »The Neumann Family«, whose main character, a state-loyal GDR citizen, he embodied not only in 31 episodes on TV, but also in over 600 radio episodes. Köfer was always the one who was weird because everyone else went mad around him, except him.

He made guest appearances in the "Maxe Baumann" tweets broadcast annually on New Year's Eve and in several "Police Call" episodes. Like many GDR actors, Köfer was one of those who played visibly below level, who were too good for the often flat scripts - sometimes you had the impression that he seemed to know that while watching. Even in harmless roles, he looked a little sinister, and even his nicest characters, like the socialist Neumann, perhaps not by chance had a tendency to outbursts of anger. If Geschonneck and Delmare with their unconditional love were the TV grandfathers that the children wanted, then Köfer was the grandpa that parents wanted for their children: first came the moral principle, then love.

At the age of 100, actually already well into retirement, he was considered the oldest active actor in Germany.

Did Köfer quarrel with the GDR?

In his autobiography he portrayed himself as a proud citizen of the state whose audience declared him to be the darling of the public several times in a row in the annual poll of the television magazine "FF Do".

And yet he was one of the celebrities who were clearly visible at the demonstration on November 4, 1989 on Alexanderplatz.

After the fall of the Berlin Wall, his move to the easy subject ensured a relatively smooth transition to all-German television. Until shortly before his death he played guest roles in productions such as "Gute Zeiten, Bad Zeiten" or "Unser Charly". In addition, he revived his theater career, especially in Dresden. At the age of 100, actually already well into retirement, he was considered the oldest active actor in Germany. Herbert Köfer died on Saturday in Berlin.

Source: spiegel

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