Lale Andersen

Lale Andersen (23 March 1905 – 29 August 1972) was a German chanson singer-songwriter and actress [note a] born in Lehe (now part of Bremerhaven[note b]). She is best known for her interpretation of the song Lili Marleen in 1939, which by 1941 transcended the conflict to become World War II's biggest international hit. Popular with both the Axis and the Allies, Andersen's original recording spawned versions, by the end of the War, in most of the major languages of Europe, and by some of the most popular artists in their respective countries.[1][2]

Lale Andersen
Lale Andersen in her garden, ca. 1952
Elisabeth Carlotta Helena Berta (Liese-Lotte) Bunnenberg

(1905-03-23)23 March 1905
Lehe, now a part of Bremerhaven, German Empire
Died29 August 1972(1972-08-29) (aged 67)
Vienna, Austria
Resting placeLangeoog, East Frisian Islands, Lower Saxony, Germany
NationalityGerman until second marriage by which she became Swiss
Other namesLiselotte Wilke, Nicola Wilke
OccupationChanteuse, recording artist, lyricist, music writer, actress
(m. 1922; div. 1931)
(m. 1949; her death 1972)
A memorial to Lale Andersen and "Lili Marleen" on Langeoog Island, Germany.


Early lifeEdit

Andersen was born in Lehe and baptized Elisabeth Carlotta Helena Berta Bunnenberg,[3] but known informally as ‘Liese-Lotte’—a diminutive of her first two names—to friends and family; this continued after her first marriage when she was known as ‘Liselotte Wilke’.

In 1922, aged 17,[note c] she married German Impressionist painter Paul Ernst Wilke [de] (1894–1971).[note d] They had three children: Björn, Carmen-Litta, and Michael Wilke [de] (1929–2017) the youngest of whom also enjoyed a career in the German music industry. Shortly after the birth of their last child, the marriage broke up. Leaving the children in the care of her siblings Thekla and Helmut, Andersen went to Berlin in October 1929,[4] where she reportedly studied acting at the Schauspielschule at the Deutsches Theater.[5] In 1931, her marriage ended in divorce.[6] Around this time, she began appearing on stage in various cabarets in Berlin.[7] From 1933 to 1937, she performed at the Schauspielhaus in Zürich, where she also met Rolf Liebermann,[8] who would remain a close friend for the rest of her life. In 1938, she was in Munich at the cabaret Simpl, and soon afterwards joined the prestigious Kabarett der Komiker (Comedians' Cabaret) in Berlin.[7]

"Lili Marleen" and the war yearsEdit

While at the Kabarett der Komiker, she met Norbert Schultze, who had composed the music for "Lili Marleen". Andersen recorded the song in 1939, but it would only become a hit when the Soldatensender Belgrad (Belgrade Soldier's Radio), the radio station of the German armed forces in occupied Yugoslavia, began broadcasting it in 1941. "Lili Marleen" quickly became immensely popular with German soldiers at the front. The transmitter of the radio station at Belgrade, was powerful enough to be received all over Europe and the Mediterranean,[6] and the song soon became popular with the Allied troops as well.[9]

Andersen was awarded a gold disc for over one million sales of "Lili Marleen" [His Masters Voice – EG 6993].[10] It is thought that she was awarded her copy after the end of World War II. A copy of this particular gold disc owned by the "His Masters Voice" record company was discarded during the renovation of their flagship store on Oxford Street, London, during the 1960s where, hitherto, it had been on display. However, the disc was recovered and is now in a private collection. Nazi officials did not approve of the song and Joseph Goebbels prohibited it from being played on the radio. Andersen was not allowed to perform in public for nine months, not just because of the song but because of her friendship with Rolf Liebermann and other Jewish artists she had met in Zurich. In desperation, she reportedly attempted suicide.[11]

Andersen was so popular, however, that the Nazi government allowed her to perform again, albeit subject to several conditions,[5] one of which was she would not sing "Lili Marleen". Goebbels did order her to make a new "military" version of the song (with a significant drum) which was recorded in June 1942. In the remaining war years, Andersen had one minor appearance in a propaganda movie and was made to sing several propaganda songs in English.[12] Shortly before the end of the war, Andersen retired to Langeoog, a small island off the North Sea coast of Germany.

Career after World War IIEdit

After the war, Andersen all but disappeared as a singer. In 1949, she married Swiss composer Artur Beul.[13] In 1952 she made a comeback with the song "Die blaue Nacht am Hafen", which she had written the lyrics for herself.[14] In 1959, she had another hit "Ein Schiff wird kommen...", a cover version of "Never on Sunday", the title song from the movie of the same name, originally sung in Greek by Melina Mercouri.[15]

Each song won her a gold album in West Germany. In 1961, she participated as the West German representative in the Eurovision Song Contest with the song "Einmal sehen wir uns wieder", which only reached 13th place with three points. Fifty-six years old at the time, for over 45 years, she held the record of the eldest participant at Eurovision – surpassed only in 2008 by the 75-year-old Croatian entertainer 75 Cents.[5]

Throughout the 1960s, she toured Europe, the United States and Canada, until her farewell tour Goodbye memories in 1967. Two years later, she published a book Wie werde ich Haifisch? – Ein heiterer Ratgeber für alle, die Schlager singen, texten oder komponieren wollen (How do I become a shark? – A cheerful companion for all who want to sing hit songs, write lyrics, or compose music), and in 1972, shortly before her death, her autobiography Der Himmel hat viele Farben (The Sky Has Many Colours) appeared and topped the bestselling list of the West German magazine Der Spiegel.[5]


Andersen died of liver cancer in Vienna on 29 August 1972, aged 67,[16] and was cremated at Feuerhalle Simmering. Her ashes are buried in Dünenfriedhof (i.e. Sand Dunes Cemetery), on Langeoog Island.[17][18]


  • Note a: ^ Lale Andersen often wrote her own lyrics, usually under the pseudonym Nicola Wilke.[14]
  • Note b: ^ Lehe at the time of her birth was an independent municipality. It is now part of Bremerhaven. In 1924 Lehe was amalgamated with the neighbouring Geestemünde to become the city of Wesermünde. Bremerhaven, which was founded in 1827, was merged into Wesermünde in 1939. In 1947, Wesermünde became part of the state of Bremen and was renamed as Bremerhaven.[19]
  • Note c: ^ Although some online resources give 1924 as the year of the marriage,[13][15] Lehrke's book contains a copy of the wedding announcement that had appeared in the Nordwestdeutsche Zeitung on 1 April 1922.[3]
  • Note d: ^ In her early career, Lale Andersen was sometimes billed as Liselotte Wilke.


  1. ^ "Lili Marleen An Allen Fronten". discogs. Archived from the original on 24 May 2019. Retrieved 28 February 2020.
  2. ^ "Enlightening – "Lili Marlene": the song that united Allied and Axis troops". The Economist. 11 November 2016. Archived from the original on 3 July 2019. Retrieved 28 February 2020.
  3. ^ a b Lehrke, G.: Wie einst Lili Marleen—Das Leben der Lale Andersen, Henschel Verlag, 2002; ISBN 978-3-89487-429-2. In German.
  4. ^ ""Die Lieselott vom Weserdeich": Opulenter Bildband erinnert an die Sängerin Lale Andersen – Dokumentation ist flott geschrieben" (in German). Nordsee-Zeitung. 10 August 2002. Archived from the original on 27 September 2007.
  5. ^ a b c d D'heil, S. "Lale Andersen" (in German). Retrieved 16 January 2006.
  6. ^ a b "Lale Andersen und Lili Marleen – Eine (sic) Erfolgsmärchen mitten im Krieg". (in German). Archived from the original on 29 August 2005. Retrieved 16 January 2006.
  7. ^ a b "Lale Andersen (1905–1972)". Archived from the original on 4 February 2012. Retrieved 28 February 2020.
  8. ^ "Lale Andersen". (in German). Archived from the original on 9 July 2004. Retrieved 16 January 2006.
  9. ^ "Lili Marleen". Retrieved 16 January 2006.[permanent dead link]
  10. ^ "Lili Marleen Gold Disc Goldene Schallplatte 1939". Archived from the original on 17 May 2014. Retrieved 28 February 2020.
  11. ^ Deinert, M. "Lale Andersen: Verfolgung und Auftrittsverbot". Archived from the original on 17 January 2005. Retrieved 16 January 2006.
  12. ^ Deinert, M. "Lale Andersen: Englische Propagandalieder". Archived from the original on 6 December 2004. Retrieved 16 January 2006.
  13. ^ a b Probst, Ernst. "Lale Andersen – Die Chansonette, die "Lili Marleen" sang". (in German). Archived from the original on 29 March 2006. Retrieved 16 January 2006.
  14. ^ a b Nitschke, Rainer (22 March 2005). "Andersen, Lale: Der Wachtposten und das Meer" (in German). SWR 4. Archived from the original on 29 September 2007. Retrieved 16 January 2006.
  15. ^ a b Müller, P. "Stadtgeschichte Bremerhavens: Lale Andersen". (in German). Archived from the original on 10 August 2007. Retrieved 16 January 2006.
  16. ^ "Lale Andersen Langeoog Ferienhaus "Sonnenhof"". Retrieved 28 August 2017.
  17. ^ "Lale Andersen in the Germany, Find A Grave Index, 1600s-Current". Archived from the original on 2 September 2018. Retrieved 28 February 2020.
  18. ^ "Lale Andersen (1905–1972) – Find A Grave Memorial". Archived from the original on 13 September 2019. Retrieved 28 February 2020.[non-primary source needed]
  19. ^ "LEHE im Internet" (in German). Archived from the original on 28 November 2019. Retrieved 16 January 2006.

Further readingEdit

  • Ahlborn-Wilke, D.: Wie Einst: In Memoriam Lale Andersen 1945–1972, Gauke Verlag, 1978; ISBN 978-3-87998-023-9. In German.
  • Ahlborn-Wilke, D.: Lale Andersen. Erinnerungen – Briefe – Bilder, 4th ed.; Gauke Verlag, 1990; ISBN 978-3-87998-058-1. In German.
  • Magnus-Andersen, L.: Lale Andersen, die Lili Marleen, Universitas Verlag, 1985; ISBN 978-3-8004-0895-5. In German.

External linksEdit

Preceded by
Germany in the Eurovision Song Contest
Succeeded by