Christian Bruhn

Born: October 17th, 1934, Wentorf bei Hamburg (Germany)
Nationality: German

Eurovision record
Professor Christian Bruhn represented West Germany in the Eurovision Song Contest on two occasions: first, in 1962, he composed ‘Zwei kleine Italiener’, performed by Conny Froboess, which came sixth but managed to do very well in the international charts. Eight years later, in 1970, his song ‘Wunder gibt es immer wieder’ won the West German selection show. Interpreted by Katja Ebstein, it managed a third place and, again, a considerable hit success. Whilst the Eurovision orchestra for ‘Zwei kleine Italiener’ was led by Rolf-Hans Müller, Bruhn arranged and conducted ‘Wunder gibt es immer wieder’ himself.

Close-up, 2014

Christian Bruhn was born in a village in Sleswick-Holsatia, not far from Hamburg. His father originally was an art painter and publisher of modern art, but his company was shut down in 1933 due to the Nazis’ degenerate art policies. Subsequently, he worked as a sales representative. After the Second World War, he made a new career change, running a new publishing house as well as a post-order bookshop. Christian’s mother, who had been educated to be a primary school teacher, was a reasonably good pianist. “My father also knew how to play the piano”, Bruhn adds, “especially when he had had a little glass of wine – which was not very often. Unlike my mother, he did not read music. Both of them loved classical music, though. Although my father was opposed to it, mother started teaching me the piano when I was five years old. We had a piano at home and, when she discovered I was interested in the instrument, she decided my musical education should be better than the one my father had had. Mother used the book ‘Schule des Primavistaspiels’ (= School of sight-reading) by Leonhard Deutsch, a learning method to which I owe a lot.”

A considerable part of Christian Bruhn’s youth was spent in Austria. There, together with his mother and his younger sister Cornelia, he lived out most of the war years. His father felt the Alps would be a safer environment for his family than a part of Northern Germany which was fully exposed to British air strikes. Continuing his work as best he could, Max Bruhn occasionally visited his wife and children in the various towns in Tyrol and Carinthia where they happened to be staying. “My most vivid memories are of Bad-Kleinkirchheim”, Christian recalls. “We lived there for over four years and I made lots of friends. My mother had a hard time being accepted by the locals who never truly accepted her as part of the community, but my sister and I did not fully realize that at that time. We actually grew up amongst the other children of the village and got along well with them. Due to many teachers being called away to serve in the army, my mother took up her old job and later on even became headmaster at the local school where I was a pupil. All the while, she continued teaching me my piano lessons, whilst also explaining me the basics of harmony. In 1942 and 1943, we met our father for Christmas in Salzburg. To show my progress at the piano to my father, I had to play Haydn, Bach, and Schumann for him. It was an intimidating experience, as my father was not the easiest of characters. He must have cherished the dream of my becoming a piano virtuoso, but there was no escaping the fact that I lacked the talent. At the same time, I loved improvising at the piano. At eight years of age, I came up with my first ‘composition’, a simple melody hardly worth that epithet.”

Christian as an adolescent

After a short episode in Eastern Bavaria in the first half of 1945, Martha Bruhn and her two children travelled by train across a Germany devastated by the war, back to Sleswick-Holsatia. Christian Bruhn: “Nowadays, many people in Germany refer to the end of the war as our ‘liberation’. That is a lie. Most Germans supported the Hitler regime to the bitter end. For us, the 8th of May should forever be a day of quiet reflection, not of celebration. Otherwise, we run the risk of creating wrong perceptions on what has happened with younger generations. Of course, it was only long after the war that I gave all of this any thought… after all, I was only ten years old at the time. It took years before life became some sort of normal again. There was a lack of everything… of food, to begin with. Nonetheless, my father’s publishing company did not fare badly, so he had the luxury of spending some money. Just after the war, he took me to a concert of Haydn’s music in Hamburg. Afterwards, we went to a dancing hall where the Juan Llossas Orchestra played jazz music. This second performance fascinated me to bits. Still in 1945, I heard Glenn Miller’s ‘In the mood’ on the radio for the first time. Though I was not fully conscious of it then, I found something in light entertainment music which no classical composer could give me. Later on, I found out why… though many classical composers have always been gods to me, classical music lacks the groove of jazz! Having said that, it would take me several more years before learning how to swing…”

For the moment, young Christian continued his classical music studies, first with Hans Bittner, who taught him the piano as well as harmony and counterpoint; later onwards with Irma Holmquist. During his high school days, he took private lessons with Prof. Ernst G. Klussmann. Bruhn: “I consider myself lucky to have met Klussmann. Being an experienced teacher at Hamburg’s music school, he imbibed me with a thorough knowledge of music theory. Moreover, thanks to him, I discovered I had a talent for composing short themes rather than longer classical forms, such as sonatas. Smilingly he would say: “You are like Johann Strauss, playing one theme after the other!” At a point, I felt there was nothing more to learn – of course, this was a mistake – and stopped my music studies. Thanks to Klussmann, I had all the knowledge I needed to do what later became my profession: composing and arranging popular music. Incredibly for these days, he even took an interest in the pieces I was writing, using his contacts at Sikorski Music Publishers in Hamburg to allow me to try to sell some of my first Schlager compositions there. I must have been sixteen years of age at that time. When my songs were rejected for being too complicated – which they were – he cheered me up, claiming: “You will write your first world hit when you are eighteen!” Well, as a matter of fact, I never wrote a real world hit in my life, but things would work out really well nonetheless – and for that I owe eternal gratitude to professor Klussmann.”

Christian playing the accordion in Black Stars, one of the bands he played in during his high school days

Meanwhile, Christian had become a Gymnasium student. Though he liked literature lessons and Latin, he was not an ambitious pupil. “My teachers did not motivate me sufficiently”, he says now. To the dismay of father Max, his son’s fascination for jazz and dance music grew and grew while his school marks sank lower and lower. Listening to the radio, he discovered more and more Anglo-Saxon jazz music as well as the fledgling dance orchestras of West Germany’s new broadcasters. Already at fourteen, he formed a music band with some fellow students. One band followed the other, and before he knew it, he was touring Hamburg and the surrounding towns with groups such as Black Stars and Kolibris. “In the beginning”, Bruhn recounts, “we simply played at parties for our classmates. Sometimes, I played the drums rather than the piano! Our repertoire? Simply the tunes we had heard on the radio… mainly Schlagers, though, later onwards with Black Stars and Kolibris, we switched to dance music. In the years after the war, swing-jazz was the most popular form of entertainment music. At a point, I also formed my own jazz trio with Wolfgang Schönrade on bass and Horst Kabsch as the drummer. With this so-called Christian-Trio, we aimed at bringing real jazz in Erroll Garner style. We were well sought-after and performed regularly at the Winterhuder Fährhaus in Hamburg.”

Due to his musical activities as well as a lack of motivation, Christian quit high school. As his parents had discovered their son had a predilection for painting as well as for music, he absolved a craftsman training as a painter at the Otto Schmarje company in Hamburg. Bruhn: “This apprenticeship enabled me to perform in my bands during the weekends. During weekdays, I went to the company and did my job. Within two-and-a-half years, I passed my exams. The encounter with the working class was a very important experience, as it has shaped my political position forever. After finishing with Schmarje, I tried to obtain a gymnasium diploma for a second time by following lessons at a private school. My parents were overjoyed, as such a diploma was some sort of obligatory for the son of a middle class family, but before long I was bored to death and gave up. By then, I had a girlfriend and I started making some really decent money as a musician. In 1955, I was hired as a professional at various gigs in bars and nightclubs in and around Hamburg. Later that same year, I joined a group with which I played the piano and accordion for some months at the casino in Flensburg. By then, I had had enough experience on the road to play entertainment music and some decent jazz piano as well. Moreover, thanks to a Hamburg cinema owner called Werner Grassmann, I was asked to compose music to a short film, ‘Ware unterwegs’. It was for the first time that I was commissioned to write my own music. I distinctly remember recording the music in the Amerika-Haus, downtown Hamburg. I was the pianist in the trio during the session, but, already during the first take, I made a hash of it. “Herr Bruhn has played a wrong note”, the production leader exclaimed as he stopped the session. Already by then, my limitations as a pianist were becoming painfully obvious!”

Freelancing as a pianist at a students’ party in Hanover, c1955

Around that same time, Bruhn composed some jazz pieces as well, but these were never performed. Meanwhile, he joined the Rudy René Swingtett, which was hired to play in bars and soldiers’ barracks in Frankfurt and Heidelberg (1956). “We mainly played for American GI’s”, Bruhn explains. “Our performances lasted deep into the night, for as long as these soldiers wanted to dance with the German girls they were courting. One evening in Frankfurt, after having packed up to go home to get some sleep, the bar owner ordered us back in to go down into the so-called cellar bar, as he wanted us to replace another group of musicians. So back in we went. Downstairs, I saw the band which we had to replace. They were just playing their last notes… three grey-haired gentlemen wearing old-fashioned suits. I could clearly see and hear they did not enjoy their job at all. Right at that moment, I fully realized that continuing as a performing musician was not what I wanted to do in life. These three poor old chaps were my wake-up-call. True, I stayed with the Rudy René Swingtett for some more months, but when a petty conflict with my colleagues arose over a tip of one dollar I had been given by an American guy, my time had come to move on. With my girl, I went down to Munich. We had a couple of friends there… James Krüss amongst others, the brilliant poet who had published his debut work at my father’s company back in 1946. Nevertheless, it was not the easiest of times. At one point, I even had to pledge my accordion.”

Being forced by circumstances, Christian Bruhn had to take up his old job of freelance pianist for a while, but in 1957 he was hired by Tempo as a sound engineering assistant. Tempo was a record company which mostly released cover versions of hit melodies. These records were sold at a lower price than the original recordings. Bruhn: “Of course, Tempo was always in need of arrangements. It was not long before I started writing orchestrations for them as well as taking care of the sound department. The job was pretty straightforward: listen to the original record carefully and write an exact transcript of the original. This turned into the last part of the education I needed. By following the work of the best hit arrangers of other record companies, especially Polydor, I closely studied which elements were needed in producing successful Schlager songs, ranging from Caterina Valente to Peter Alexander, and from Lolita to Freddy Quinn. In those days, Munich was not the epicentre of the recording business in West Germany yet. We found it hard to reach the level of Hamburg, Berlin, or Cologne. For recording sessions, the orchestras of band leaders such as Ernst Jäger, Lutz Dietmar, and Josef Niessen were hired. We usually recorded after midnight, when the record pressing machines in the company’s factory hall had been switched off.”

During his stay at the Tempo record company in Munich, ± 1959

Thanks to his work as an engineer and arranger, Bruhn could finally say goodbye to the nightclub circuit. Gradually, apart from his contract work for Tempo, freelance commissions came his way as well; amongst other things, he wrote orchestrations for the BR Tanzorchester, the light entertainment orchestra of Bavaria’s state radio station. During his time at Tempo, Bruhn met Georg Buschor (1923-2005), former singer-guitarist turned lyricist. In spite of the age gap, the two men became close friends. Also artistically, they turned out to be a good team. In 1960, the songwriting duo has its first hit: ‘Midi-Midinette’ by Conny Froboess, released at the Electrola label. Bolstered by this success, Bruhn decided to leave Tempo, preferring to work as a freelance composer and arranger. “For the rest of my life, I have remained a Freiberufler”, Bruhn comments. “As almost all other composers of entertainment music at that time – at least, those who were able to read music, which is not an absolute requirement to be a really good pop songwriter – I accepted requests from colleagues to arrange their work. As a composer, writing the string and brass parts to a melody can be left to someone else without any problem, as long as the arranger is true to the intentions of the songwriter… which was not always the case. However, throughout my career, I have preferred to arrange my own compositions. The way I look at my job, creating a sound, with strings and brass, is as much part of the deal as inventing a melody.”

As an arranger, amongst other commissions, Christian Bruhn worked on ‘Hotel Victoria’, a television show with Vico Torriani, as well as an album of Max Greger. In 1961, a new hit was born, as the Bruhn-Buschor creation ‘Kommt ein Schiff nach Amsterdam’, performed by Caterina Valente, came third in a nationwide TV song contest, the Deutsche Schlager-Festspiele, held in Baden-Baden. A year after, Buschor and Bruhn took part again, this time with singer Conny Froboess and ‘Zwei kleine Italiener’, which stormed to victory and was a huge chart success, not only in West Germany. With this super hit under his belt, Christian Bruhn suddenly became one of the country’s most sought-after songwriters. In the 1960s, one hit followed the other; amongst these are ‘Mitsou’ for Jacqueline Boyer, ‘Liebeskummer lohnt sich nicht’ for Siw Malmkvist (another Schlager-Festspiele winning entry in 1964), and ‘Wärst du doch in Düsseldorf geblieben’ for Dorthe Kollo (1968). The lyrics for all these songs were penned by Georg Buschor, with whom Bruhn continued collaborating extensively until the mid-1970s. Other songwriting partners of this period include Hans Bradtke and Fred Jay. Apart from writing songs, Bruhn also scored several musical films starring the most popular German artists of the day. With Berlin-based lyricist Günter Loose (1927-2013), Bruhn penned ‘Er ist wieder da’ for Marion Maerz (1965). The best-remembered of all Bruhn’s hit successes, however, is a song recorded by a guy from Berlin without prior success in the pop business, Drafi Deutscher.

Christian Bruhn, Siw Malmkvist, and Georg Buschor celebrating victory after winning the 1964 Deutsche Schlager-Festspiele with ‘Liebeskummer lohnt sich nicht’

“I first learned about Drafi’s existence at a talent show in West-Berlin at which music publisher Peter Meisel and I were jurors”, Bruhn comments. “As he was one of the most promising participants, we duly signed him and produced several records of his, none of which met with much popular acclaim. Then, one day, in Peter Meisel’s office in Berlin, Drafi took his guitar and played a couple of bars: “Làlala-lalà-làlala, dam-dàm, dam-dàm…” – and then he stopped. My reaction was: “This is a good start… could you sing us the rest of this song as well?” Drafi’s reply, however was: “Det machst du(Berlin dialect for “You take care of that”). And that is what I did, working with Günter Loose. The hardest bit was finding a catchphrase for the chorus. Peter Meisel wanted it to sound as ‘The concrete and the clay’ by Unit4+2, and after some hard thinking I came up with the famous line often used in autograph books, ‘Marmor, Stein und Eisen bricht (Aber treue Liebe nicht)’ (in English: “Marble, stone, and iron bend, but true love does not”). Peter instantly liked the idea. Thereupon, Drafi and I created the double-time part. During the recording of the song, the input of Drafi’s band, The Magics, was quite important, giving the song even more energy than it would have had in the first place. I added an arrangement of brass and background vocals, and… a hit was born. Already at that time, we were quite sure this was going to do well. That was the birth of a cult song – though we did not quite know what a cult song was back in 1965! This is a song which, even today, sounds fresh. It does not need a dance mix or something like that to appeal to younger audiences.”

Within a year, over 800,000 copies of the single release were sold in West Germany alone, whilst the song also charted in several other Western-European countries, most notably Austria and the Netherlands. The English version, ‘Marble breaks and iron bends’, met with minor chart success in the USA. In the second half of the 1960s and the early 1970s, Christian Bruhn continued enjoying immense success as a composer of German hit songs, including ‘Ein bisschen Spass muss sein’ (for Roberto Blanco, 1972 / lyrics: Günter Loose), ‘Der Stern von Mykonos’ and ‘Ein Indiojunge aus Peru’ (both for Katja Ebstein, 1973 / lyrics: Georg Buschor). The collaboration with Katja Ebstein, which had begun by Bruhn composing her Eurovision entry ‘Wunder gibt es immer wieder’ in 1970, grew into a tighter bond; between 1972 and 1975, Bruhn and Ebstein were husband and wife. For Katja, apart from Schlager material, Christian Bruhn created the music to an album of Heine poetry as well.

In a Hamburg recording studio with Drafi Deutscher (1969)

Between 1969 and 1980, Bruhn was producer and songwriter for Mireille Mathieu, a French songstress with parallel careers in her home country and in West Germany. Mostly working with Georg Buschor, Bruhn created a German repertoire of nearly one-hundred songs for her, including hit melodies as ‘Hinter den Kulissen von Paris’ (1969) and ‘Akropolis adieu’ (1971). Working with lyricist Michael Kunze, Bruhn also came up with a song for Mathieu which charted in France, ‘Mille colombes’ (1977). ‘Hinter den Kulissen’ was Mathieu’s first chart success on the German market. “Georg Buschor and I had known of Mireille long before she came to Germany”, Bruhn comments. “Thanks to Gerhard Hämmerling, a French language expert turned music publisher, we got in touch with her and her manager Johnny Stark. At my house, we received the three of them to introduce Mireille to two songs we had composed for her, ‘Martin’ and ‘Kopenhagen’. I played the melodies for them at the piano. The second title did not please Mireille at all… which was a problem, as a single record has two sides! Sneaking towards the piano, Georg mumbled to me: “We have still got ‘Hinter den Kulissen von Paris’, remember?” That was true, but we just had this single line – there was no song! Rambling away at the piano, I improvised the rest of the melody on the spot. After some moments, Johnny Stark jumped up, exclaiming: “C’est ça! Justement – That’s it!”, and he was right… That was the start of Mireille’s career in Germany with one hit song following the other.”

In the 1970s, Bruhn broadened his working field by composing television and radio jingles as well as music for advertising. The most famous melody he came up with in this respect is ‘Die zarteste Versuchung seit es Schokolade gibt’ for Swiss chocolate brand Milka. After fifteen years, however, he decided he had seen enough of this corner of the business. “Over the years”, Bruhn explains, “I have had much work in the advertisement industry. As budgets were high, I had the opportunity to team up with some of the best singers around. It was not long before I was some sort of a star for advertising agencies, but some elements of the industry got on my nerves. For example, I was once asked by a not-completely-sober art director if I could create a heavy metal tune for a coffee advertisement. Drinking a glass of whiskey with him, I tried to explain that this music genre did not really match the profile of coffee drinkers... Conversations like this happened to me more and more often – and my frustration grew as a result. Increasingly, music of mine which I thought was not good at all was picked for advertising campaigns… and, in the end, I said to myself: “If you are only in it for the money, you should not be doing this at all.” Since, I have been a poorer man, but a happier one as well.”

At work in the studio, recording a demo

For television, Christian Bruhn wrote two children’s musicals for WDR, North-Rhine Westphalia’s state broadcaster; amongst these titles was ‘Der Sängerkrieg der Heidehasen’ (1979), the libretto of which had been written by Bruhn’s old friend James Krüss. Moreover, he composed the title music to the German versions of two children’s animation series, ‘Wickie’ (1974) and ‘Heidi’ (1978). The latter melody was a huge hit success for German folk duo Gitti & Erica. Erica Goetz was Bruhn’s fourth wife; their marriage lasted twenty-five years. For Erica, Christian composed and arranged dozens of more songs. In the course of the 1980s and 1990s, many more commissions for drama series, children’s animations, and television films followed, including ‘Timm Thaler’ (1979), ‘Captain Future’ (1980), ‘Jack Holborn’ (1982), and ‘Alle meine Töchter’ (1994).

Bruhn, dwelling on the qualities of a film composer: “When working with a director, the composer has to know how to be subservient. My job is to help the director to make his script and the actors more credible. The music serves to deepen the emotions felt by the spectators. With quite some directors, I worked just once; on some occasions, my melodious compositions were not cool enough for them, sometimes too dominant to suit their taste… they preferred anonymous, interchangeable sounds, whilst I had only tried to support the scripts, which often were weak and without any tension or emotion. There are exceptions to this rule, however. In this respect, a quote of East German director Frank Beyer deserves attention. He once said: “Music can add new dimensions to a film, if only it is given room to shine.” Unfortunately, it was not too often that I encountered directors with an equal amount of talent as Beyer.”

Solo record from 1972, ‘Krischans Klimperkasten’, with instrumental versions of popular hit songs in ragtime style

In the 1990s and 2000s, Bruhn’s productivity as a composer somewhat diminished, though he still found time to compose the children’s musical ‘Mein Freund Wickie’ (2003) and produced two albums with entertainer Donato Plögert, published in 2013 and 2016 respectively. From 1981 onwards, however, Bruhn was a board member for GEMA, Germany’s Association of Composers, Authors, and Music Publishers, being elected president in 1991; whilst holding on to the GEMA presidency for eighteen years, he also was involved in governing CISAC, the International Association of Composers, Authors, and Music Publishers, of which he was vice-president (1998-2002) and president (2002-2004). For his role in the music business as a whole, Christian Bruhn received countless awards and prizes, including the Paul-Lincke-Ring (1993) and GEMA’s Richard-Strauss-Medaille (1999). In 2002, he was named an Honorary Professor at the Music Academies of Augsburg and Nuremberg.

Looking back on his career, Christian Bruhn regrets not having worked more in jazz music: “After the war, I fell in love with American jazz music – and, with me, an entire generation of musicians. Bearing this in mind, it would have been logical for German entertainment music to develop itself at least slightly in the direction of these examples from across the ocean – this happened in the odd case, but, generally speaking, from ‘Pferdehalfter an der Wand’ to ‘Anton aus Tirol’, our music history is a string of very simple melodies. To my regret, I must admit to have succumbed to the preferences of German music audiences too. After my first compositions had been rejected as being ‘too complicated’, I decided to try with easy melodies; that is life, and, after all, I wanted to make a living as an artist… which is what I succeeded in doing.”

With his colleague and friend Ralph Siegel at the October Festival in Munich, ± 2000

Christian Bruhn in the Eurovision Song Contest
In 1961, Christian Bruhn and his close songwriting partner Georg Buschor were working on a new song for the Deutsche Schlager-Festspiele, a nationwide song festival. Bruhn had come up with a polka melody in typical German folk style. As the song was supposed to be performed by three singers – a lead vocalist and two backings – Buschor’s initial idea was to write lyrics about three sailors travelling the seas with their boat. Working on this plan, however, both soon agreed the lyrics did not work well with the melody. Thereupon, Buschor thought of a completely different theme: ‘Zwei kleine Italiener’ (Two little Italians). Christian Bruhn was not enthusiastic about this idea from the outset.

“I had some reservations about the song title”, he explains. “‘Little Italians’ sounded slightly disdainful, but Georg already penned the lyrics to Lale Andersen’s hit ‘Kleinen Marinero’ and convinced me there was nothing to worry about. It was the first song about immigrant workers; ten years later, Udo Jürgens and Michael Kunze wrote a title around the same theme, ‘Griechischer Wein’, which was better than ours – but they only wrote it after producer Ralph Siegel turned down their original idea for the lyrics, ‘Sonja, kehr heim’ (Sonja, come home). Sometimes, the stories behind the hit songs are really strange.”

From left to right, lyricist Georg Buschor, performer Conny Froboess, and composer Christian Bruhn with their ‘Golden Record’ and ‘Golden Dog’, the awards due for 1,3 million sold copies of ‘Zwei kleine Italiener’

“Georg and I wrote ‘Zwei kleine Italiener’ with Rocco Granata in mind”, Bruhn continues. “He was the guy who wrote ‘Marina’. We wanted Rocco to sing it with two backing vocalists, which were needed because there is hardly time to breathe in between the verses. I put together a demo version with my wife Charlotte, her sister Ulrike and myself as the vocalists. In the end, Electrola bosses Günter Ilgner and Heinz Gietz decided that Conny Froboess should sing it… solo. The selection jury of the Deutsche Schlager-Festspiele allowed their record company to produce the song; Georg and I had no say in that whatsoever. Luckily, the recording turned out fine and, thank God, Electrola’s arranger Gerhard Eisenmann wrote down the orchestration by exactly following each and every note in the demo version. Helped by the directions of Heinz Gietz, Conny did a wonderful job on singing this song as a soloist – completely opposed to the original idea of three singers, but it worked well!”

In 1962, the Deutsche Schlager-Festspiele were a national event in West Germany. It was the second time the competition between songwriters from all over the country was held under this name. The winning song would go on to represent West Germany in the Eurovision Song Contest, but the popularity of the event, held in the spa town of Baden-Baden, was such, that Eurovision was on nobody’s mind. Competition for Conny Froboess was stiff. Amongst others, Carmela Corren, Margot Eskens, and Wyn Hoop took part. When the voting started, it soon turned out it was a two-horse-race between ‘Zwei kleine Italiener’ and ‘Die Wege der Liebe’, a ballad composed by Hans Wittstadt. Its performer was Swedish songstress Siw Malmkvist. The tension was immense and there was just the Hamburg jury left to cast its vote… but the votes from Hamburg never arrived.

Conny Froboess on stage at the 1962 Eurovision Song Contest in Luxembourg

Bruhn: “Probably, if the votes from Hamburg had come in, we would have lost to ‘Die Wege der Liebe’. It was a tight vote. The votes from the audience in the hall in Baden-Baden were already in, but the expert juries from the radio stations all over the country had their say as well. There was no answer from Hamburg. That day, a flooding disaster had taken place up there. The telephone lines had broken down and obviously people up there had something else on their mind than a song festival. So, in the end, it was decided upon not to wait for the Hamburg jury and simply accept the scores as they were. At that point, our ‘Italiener’ were just in the lead – and as a result, we were declared winners. I had to console Hans Wittstadt. He was really frustrated. The expert juries tended to favour subtle compositions over real sing-a-long type songs, and his composition ‘Die Wege der Liebe’ was a really beautiful song. Next thing I knew, Georg Buschor and I were on stage receiving our award from GEMA president Prof. Erich Schulze.”

High-brow media frowned upon ‘Zwei kleine Italiener’, which was perceived as a simplistic song, but record buyers thought differently. In less than a month after the victory in Baden-Baden, it topped the domestic charts – and in several other countries as well. The single sold some 1,3 billion times; including the cover versions which were released all over Europe, from Finland to Spain, even over 2 billion copies. As hit success had already been secured, the Eurovision Song Contest in Luxembourg was no more than a bonus.

Conny Froboess’ performance at the 1962 Eurovision Song Contest in Luxembourg with Rolf-Hans Müller as her conductor

Rolf-Hans Müller, who had conducted all songs at the Schlager-Festspiele in Baden-Baden, was West-Germany’s musical director at the contest, but the songwriting team of Georg Buschor and Christian Bruhn were there as well. Bruhn, asked about his memories of Luxembourg: “My most vivid recollection in Luxembourg is that we won the contest in the dress-rehearsal. We were invited onto the stage to receive the winners’ medals, pretending we had won the contest. In the end, we came sixth, which was not that bad at all for a German polka melody which had never been intended for an international audience anyway. More important than Eurovision, ‘Zwei kleine Italiener’ was my real breakthrough as a songwriter. Everything Georg Buschor and I wrote in the following years, was snatched from our hands by eager producers.”

Eight years later, Christian Bruhn participated in West Germany’s Eurovision pre-selection again, this time with ‘Wunder gibt es immer wieder’, a song he had penned for Katja Ebstein. The lyricist was Günter Loose. “Günter and I had known each other since 1960”, Bruhn comments. “Publisher Peter Meisel thought we could be a good composer/lyricist duo and arranged for a meeting between the two of us. Günter came over to my place. Instead of talking about creating new songs, we discovered we had a mutual love for jazz music… so instead of thinking about Peter Meisel, we drank slivovitz and listened to some fine jazz records. Günter, or ‘Rudi’ as I called him, became a friend – and we turned into one of Germany’s most prolific songwriting teams for several years on end. Some of our creations were written in under thirty minutes. Günter wrote his lyrics extremely fast. ‘Wunder gibt es immer wieder’ was one of our most memorable songs. One evening, shortly before the deadline of the German Eurovision heats, Günter called me: “You there, listen: do you remember that country song we worked on, ‘Wunder gibt es immer wieder’? We should submit it to the Grand Prix! It is a good catchphrase, and a good chorus. Compose some good festival music to it, perhaps somewhat slower and more dignified than we had had in mind originally. I can change the lyrics completely if need be”.”

“As it turned out, there was no need to change the lyrics at all”, Bruhn continues. “Next morning before dawn, I got up to find Günter’s lyrics in the folder where I kept his drafts – Ordnung muss sein! – and, having found them, sat down at the piano. I felt it required a grandiose intro, reminiscent of Richard Strauss’ ‘Also sprach Zaratustrah’ – and then turn into rhythm & blues… and only then, after having created a sheer unbearable tension, Katja Ebstein should appear on stage and start singing. To cut a long story short: the idea was to have a composition which had some drama, having in mind that Eurovision is a TV event. Once I had the basic idea, the notes followed more or less automatically. Günter’s words fitted in wonderfully well and the slower tempo was a better idea anyway than the original plan to turn it into a country song. By nine o’clock in the morning, our Eurovision song was ready!”

Katja Ebstein was a young and promising singer from Berlin. Bruhn had written songs for her and even an entire album, but the real breakthrough had failed so far. Meanwhile, the singer and the star-composer had fallen in love. Bruhn: “Katja had moved in to my place in Munich and I was terribly keen to advance her career, so she was a logical choice for a Eurovision participation. We recorded a demo in the Union Studio, Munich. From the start, I expected it to do well. I was particularly pleased with my arrangement of strings and brass. My gut feeling did not fail me: the song won the German pre-selection in Frankfurt and so we could start thinking of the international contest. In the Trixi Studio, we made a new recording with backing vocalists, a big orchestra and one of the best sound engineers around, Willi Schmidt. The drummer in the recording was Charly Antolini, a guy who had just moved from Cologne to Munich; he was so good that I had regularly travelled to Cologne to work with him prior to his arrival in Bavaria. The result was really good; even today, the recording of ‘Wunder gibt es immer wieder’ sounds excellent.”

Katja Ebstein (to the right) having a moment of relaxation at the contest in Amsterdam with Mary Hopkin, the UK competitor in the festival

Unlike in 1962, when he had not written the arrangement himself, let alone conducted his Eurovision song, Bruhn this time took it upon himself to lead the orchestra for his Eurovision entry in the international contest. That year’s final was held in Amsterdam. For promotional purposes, the German delegation had taken some copies of the record with them to the Netherlands. Once the rehearsals started, Bruhn was happy to have one of those copies available in his pocket: “As a matter of fact, the orchestra’s Hammond organ player had trouble playing the all-important intro phrase, even after I had demonstrated to him what it should sound like; I knew what I wanted – after all, I had played the organ in the record version myself! I gave him one of the single records to listen to and practice at home. This did the trick; in the concert, he performed it just fine.”

Of course, as a studio arranger, Christian Bruhn had picked up conducting experience for some years. Nevertheless, he could have been excused for being nervous to lead the Metropole Orchestra, the light-entertainment orchestra of the Dutch public broadcaster, for an audience of millions of television viewers, but, according to Bruhn: “Conducting a light music orchestra is rather easy. Usually, in pop music, the entire song is played in the same tempo, whereas real conducting starts when rubato occurs in the score, or when cuing specific musicians or groups of musicians in the orchestra becomes necessary. The most important thing in a pop song is the correct tempo – and, therefore, eye-contact with the rhythm players, especially the drummer, is really important. In Amsterdam, this was especially true: when counting in ‘Wunder gibt es immer wieder’, I started in a tempo which was just a little bit too slow. By finding eye-contact with the drummer, I forced him to speed up gradually.”

Christian Bruhn counting in ‘Wunder gibt es immer wieder’ for his then-girlfriend Katja Ebstein at the contest in Amsterdam, 1970

Given that the West German delegation had high hopes of doing very well in the contest with this modern song, it came as a disappointment that ‘Wunder gibt es immer wieder’ was ignored by the first national juries. Bruhn: “Nervously, I walked up and down the corridors of the festival hall, watching the television screens as the votes came in. Fortunately, in the end, thanks to the votes from Spain and some other friendly countries, we finished third. While I felt relief, Katja was less impressed. According to her, we would have won if Germany had not been so unpopular in the rest of Europe due to its guilt in the Second World War. What counted, though, was that we had a huge hit in Germany, overshadowing the success of the two songs which had finished in front of us (‘All kinds of everything’ by Dana for Ireland and ‘Knock knock who’s there?’ by Mary Hopkin for the UK, BT).”

In spite of Katja Ebstein’s disappointment at not winning the contest, ‘Wunder gibt es immer wieder’ finally heralded her breakthrough as a pop singer, not only on the German market. “After the Eurovision Song Contest”, Bruhn recalls, “Katja was invited to be a guest of honour at another festival, the Rio de Janeiro Song Festival in Brazil. Back in Europe, she toured with James Last’s Orchestra in Germany and with the Big Band of Paul Kuhn in the Soviet Union. All the while, I accompanied her, though it was not out in the open yet that we had a relationship. Finally, in 1972, we were married. In the following years, Katja had several hits which I had written for her, such as ‘Der Stern von Mykonos’, but, with Katja, my aim was always to create genuine art. Hence, on each album we made, there were songs which did not necessarily fit the Schlager vocabulary – and of course in 1975 we recorded the LP ‘Katja Ebstein singt Heinrich Heine’. Whatever she recorded, be it ‘Ein Indiojunge aus Peru’ or a 19th century poem, Katja always managed to upgrade the composition thanks to her beautiful voice. Unfortunately, our marriage did not last. Fittingly, shortly before our breakup, Katja recorded a song of mine called ‘Ich bau mir ein Haus auf einer Insel’ (= I am building myself a house on an island)… which was not only true in the metaphorical sense of the word; at the time, Katja had a house built on the North Frisian island of Amrum!”

Christian Bruhn with Katja Ebstein in Rio de Janeiro, August 1971

Other artists on Christian Bruhn
So far, it has not been possible to gather memories of other artists about Christian Bruhn.

Links & sources
  • Christian Bruhn’s magnificent memoires (in German): “Marmor, Stein und Liebeskummer”, ed. Schwarzkopf & Schwarzkopf: Berlin, 2005.
  • Thanks to Christian Bruhn for answering some additional questions about his Eurovision involvement for this online biography.
  • Photos courtesy of Christian Bruhn and Ferry van der Zant.



Songs conducted
1970: Wunder gibt es immer wieder