With an uncanny ability to transform herself when one path of her career starts to get old, bestselling German novelist Elke Heidenreich has won over hearts here and abroad for three decades.
Elke Heidenreich is one of Germany's most popular authors, journalists and media personalities. She has written several best-selling novels, published collections of short stories, been a regular columnist for one of Germany’s most popular women’s magazines and, for almost three decades, been a much-loved talk show host and guest.
Her quick-wit and down-to-earth approach to topics as varied as literature, politics and current affairs has secured her place in the hearts of German audiences.
Heidenreich was born on Feb. 15, 1943. After high school in Bonn, she studied German, theater history and theology at a handful of German universities. But her media career first began in earnest in 1971, when she first wrote radio plays and film scripts with her husband, author Bernd Schroeder.
Around this time, she began presenting one of Germany’s first pop music radio programs. "I did this job for 12 years," she says. "I learned my English by listening to this music. It was important for me that the listeners understood what the songs were saying. They are not just songs, but also poems. Even 'I Can't Get No Satisfaction' is interesting," she laughs.
Life is a cabaret
A career highlight of the '70s was Heidenreich's creation of the cabaret character "Elke Stratmann." The brash, provocative butcher’s wife from a village in a German province appeared regularly on air to deliver many witty soliloquies about the rich and the famous and day-to-day life.
But Heidenreich was always wary of staying on one career path for too long. Despite the great success of “Elke Stratmann,” the role became too overpowering for her. Throughout her career, she says, it has been important to know when to move on.
"It has always been difficult to categorize me," she says. "When a career started to overtake me, I left it. When my cabaret figure Elke Stratmann got too strong, I left her. When making talk shows became too public, I stopped it,” says Heidenreich. "I always wanted my career to change just as I have in life."
This ability to know when to move has served Heidenreich well. From "Elke Stratmann," she went on to write stage plays and hosted a number of television talk shows. In the '80s, she focused more of her attention on writing and published several collections of stories. She became a regular contributor to the magazine Brigitte, where her writing proved so popular that, in 1988, a collection of her columns appeared as a book.
In 1995, Heidenreich published one of her most popular books, Nero Corleone (The Cat’s Story). The tome chronicles a tomcat mafia boss and won Heidenreich national acclaim. "Animals inspire me because they don’t talk," she says, "they look at you and you don’t know what they are thinking … it might be evil or quite innocent."
Nero Corleone became an instant hit with readers of all ages, a fact that pleased Heidenreich. "I believe that a good book should be both for children and adults," she says. Nero Corleone could be the great Italian lover. He was a Mafia boss, but children don’t need to know what the mafia is to understand this book."