Ilja Richter made television history with the music show "Disco" in the 1970s. Even though a lot has happened in his life in the fields of theatre, film and literature since then, it is still mainly addressed to him today. Even now that he's celebrating his 70th birthday.
He doesn't roll his eyes. After an exchange about theatre, film, humour, his life as a Jew in Germany or his book, Ilja Richter also accepted questions about "disco" seemingly without resistance. The music show, which has become a cult with trash elements, made its moderator famous in the 70s. However, that was half a century ago.
This Thursday, the apparently eternal Sonnyboy will be 70 years old. A lot has happened in that time, Richter has done a lot. And yet there will be talk about "disco" - then just a little later.
Richter suggests a cemetery park in East Berlin for the conversation. He was born in 1952 in Karlshorst, at that time still a district of the capital of the GDR. A little later the family moves to the west of the city, in the meantime they go to Cologne. Richter lives in East Berlin again, he calls it that. "Of course, the terms East Berlin and West Berlin are an anachronism because, thank God, we no longer live in four sectors. On the other hand, the topography is correct."
He also says: "One should not participate in covering up tracks." For example, at the "Palace of the Republic", a model building of the GDR that was demolished after reunification due to asbestos. In the heart of Berlin, the Humboldt Forum now stands behind a mock baroque façade. "For me, the reconstruction of a castle is the Disneyization of history."
Covering tracks knows Richter from the family. "I lived certain things, but I shouldn't say that to the outside world. The parents didn't want that. Neither about Judaism nor about the fact that my father was a communist. It was all taboo," says Richter. There's a reason. "So that I'm fine and nothing happens." According to his observations, anti-Semitism in Germany has "become more shameless. It used to be hidden, now it's shameless."
Richter calls himself a Five Minute Jew. "I still think the term is good. I'm not a representative of the Jewish community, but I have Jewish roots. The Jewish people are closer to me than the others, because at that moment it becomes familiar."
This becomes "Disco" in 1971. Richter's trademark does not represent his taste in music. "The 'Disco' was a musical general store," he says. "The editorial team spread it so widely that everything was included, from German hits to country, rock and pop, because it was supposed to get a high viewer rating." That works.
As an "anachronism" he introduced cabaret, classical music, jazz and musicals. Richter's sketches he wrote, played and sang ranged to banal slapstick. Rituals are part of his stamp on the show. For example, the presentation of a special studio guest:
Judge: "Lights out!"Everyone: "Whomm!"Judge: "Spot on!"Everyone: "Yeah!"
The saying, which is known to this day, was also used by the Dutch presenter Mies Bouwman in her show "Eén van de Acht".
Richter in a suit, shirt and tie stands out among his mostly casually dressed studio guests from the 1970s, which were also characterized by hippieism. "The suit was my combat suit," says Richter. "I suffered from the fact that many leftists believed I was right-wing because I was wearing a suit." One reason: "My youth took place in the television studio and not on demos."
Richter counted 143 "disco" programs up to 1982. Since then he has been in front of TV and film cameras or on theater stages. He plays and sings. Sometimes he writes the plays himself or directs them. Or both. Richter dubs films, speaks radio plays and audio books. He also writes books, most recently the volume "Take it personally" with portraits. "It's about me. Why these people concerned me or still concern me."
How does he describe himself with this range? "I am a writing actor and now I also call myself a chansonnier. This is my youngest career." At 70, thoughts of an end also arise. "Death is a co-worker with God. Death is not evil." He quickly sends his winning judge's smile afterwards: "I'm not thrilled when he comes."