Hans Philipp August Albers (22 September 1891 – 24 July 1960) was a German actor and singer. He was the biggest male movie star in Germany between 1930 and 1945 and one of the most popular German actors of the twentieth century.
Hans Albers was born in Hamburg, the son of a butcher, and grew up in the district of St. Georg. He was seriously interested in acting by his late teens and took acting classes without the knowledge of his parents. In 1915 Albers was drafted to serve in the German Army in World War I, but was wounded early on. After his release from the Hospital in Wiesbaden where he had been treated, he performed in the local Residenztheater in comedies, antics and operettas. After the war Albers moved to Berlin, where he found work as a comedic actor in various Weimar-Era Berlin theatres. His breakthrough performance was that of a waiter in the play Verbrecher (Criminals). It was also in Berlin that Albers began a long-term relationship with half-Jewish actress Hansi Burg (1898–1975). The relationship ended only when he died in 1960.
When the Nazis came to power in 1933, Albers and his Jewish girlfriend Hansi Burg moved to Starnberger See in Bavaria. While Albers himself never showed public support for the Nazi regime, he became the most popular actor under Nazi rule. The actor nevertheless, avoided an overly close association in public. As the ultimate sign of his popularity, the Nazis even silently accepted his relationship with Hansi Burg for a long time. But Albers finally gave in to the pressure. Hansi Burg went to Switzerland and then to Great Britain in 1939, but they secretly remained a couple with him even managing to send her financial support. They were reunited after the war, when she returned to Germany in a British uniform.
In 1943, Albers was paid a huge sum of money to star in UFA's big-budgeted anniversary picture Münchhausen but was careful not to give the impression that he was endorsing the National Socialist regime, which was indeed, never asked of him. Also in 1943, Albers starred in another classic German film Große Freiheit Nr. 7 with actress Ilse Werner. Some of the scenes are said to have been shot in Prague because of bomb damage to Hamburg. The sailing ship Padua for the outdoor scenes of the film has survived under Soviet and Russian flag until this day as Kruzenshtern.
After World War II, well-funded Albers avoided the financial plight and professional banning many actors faced on account of his association with Hansi Burg. Nevertheless, German "heroes" were considered undesirable by the occupation government that wanted to promote their own. This accounted for a major break in his career and made him hard to cast. Eventually he found an opening with respectful wisdom-with-age type character parts with some public acclaim, but with these never again enjoyed the huge stardom of the 1930s and early 1940s. By the early 1950s, his age finally showed and his powerful presence and freshness was almost gone. This was promoted by his increasing alcoholism during the 1950s. Yet he remained active in movies until the very end.
Hans Albers collapsed during a theater performance with massive internal bleeding and died three months later on 24 July 1960 at a sanatorium in Kempfenhausen near Lake Starnberg at the age of 68. He was cremated and subsequently buried at the Ohlsdorf Cemetery in Hamburg, the city of his birth.
Hans Albers statue in the Hans-Albers-Platz, Hamburg-St. Pauli. By Jörg Immendorff, 1986
Similarly influential in German culture as was John Wayne in the U.S., Albers' name will forever be closely associated with his hometown of Hamburg, in particular the district of St. Pauli where there is a square named Hans-Albers-Platz in his honour. Today he is probably better known for his music than his films; many of his songs remain familiar to young German people even today.
Inscription at the base of the Hans Albers statue: Auf der Reeperbahn nachts um halb eins
Outside of Northern Europe, Albers remains virtually unknown; however the image of an older man in a seaman's cap and raincoat playing accordion and singing remains familiar internationally. As a case in point, McDonald's used such an image in an American television ad campaign in 1986. Albers actually had no significant experience on the water, this being restricted to a one-day trip to Heligoland.
Many of Albers' songs were humorous tales of drunken, womanizing sailors on shore-leave, with double entendres such as "It hurts the first time, but with time, you get used to it" in reference to a girl falling in love for the first time. Albers' songs were often peppered with expressions in Low German, which is spoken in Northern Germany. One of his signature songs is Auf der Reeperbahn nachts um halb eins, ("On the Reeperbahn at Half Past Midnight") which has become one of the best-known songs about Hamburg and also an unofficial anthem of the St. Pauli district where the Reeperbahn itself is located. Hans-Albers-Platz, one block south of the Reeperbahn, features a statue of Albers, created by the German artist Jörg Immendorff.
Eberhard Spieß: Hans Albers. Eine Filmographie. Herausgegeben von Hilmar Hoffmann und Walter Schobert in Zusammenarbeit mit dem Deutschen Institut für Filmkunde, Wiesbaden. Verlag: Frankfurt am Main: Kommunales Kino, 1977
Uwe-Jens Schumann: Hans Albers – seine Filme, sein Leben. (= Heyne-Filmbibliothek, Band 18) München: Heyne, 1980, ISBN3-453-86018-7