With a suit in the “Disco” – Ilja Richter turns 70

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Ilya Richter
The presenter, actor, writer and director Ilja Richter turns 70. © Joerg Carstensen/dpa

Of course, many think of this “lights out – whomm!, spotlight on – yes!”. But the “disco” times are long behind Ilja Richter. The eternal sunny boy is 70 years old. He doesn’t like to remember everything.

Berlin – He does not 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.

On November 24th, the seemingly 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 with the German Press Agency. 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. “The designations East Berlin and West Berlin are of course an anachronism, because thank God we no longer live in four sectors. On the other hand, the topography is correct.”

He also says: “One shouldn’t take part in covering up traces.” For example at the Palace of the Republic, the GDR’s flagship building that was demolished after reunification due to asbestos. In the heart of Berlin, the Humboldt Forum now stands behind an imitation Baroque façade. “For me, the reconstruction of a castle is the Disneyisation of history.”

Covering tracks knows Richter from the family. “I’ve lived certain things, I just shouldn’t say that to the outside world. The parents didn’t want that. Neither about Judaism nor about the fact that dad was a communist. All of that was 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. Before he was hidden, now he is shameless.”

Richter calls himself a Five Minute Jew. “I still like the term. 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.”

His mother brought Ilja to the radio at the age of eight. He is the mouse Kukuruz in the radio play “Schwarz auf Weiß”, the film adaptation of the fairy tale by Ephraim Kishon makes him a child star. Theater roles follow, ZDF gets him for a series. There Richter took over at the age of 16, first as a co-moderator and later alone on the music show “4-3-2-1 Hot & Sweet”.

“Disco” as a general store

This becomes “Disco” in 1971. Richter’s trademark does not represent his taste in music. “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 should have a high audience rating.” It 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!”

All: “Whomm!”

Judge: “Spot on!”

All: “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 because I was wearing a suit.” One reason: “My youth took place in the television studio and not on demos.”

“Death is a co-worker with God.”

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 today I also call myself a chansonnier. This is my youngest career.” At 70, there are also thoughts of an end. “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 it comes.”

– Ilja Richter “Take it personally. Portraits of people who shaped me.” Elsinor Verlag, Coesfeld 2022, 176 pages, ISBN 978-3-942788-70-0, 19 euros. dpa

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