It's been a popular meme that David Hasselhoff is much loved in Germany, and while there are of course exaggerations to the claim, it does have a strong element of truth.
It was a case of 'right time, right place.'
From 1982 to 1986 he starred in the TV series Knight Rider which became a global phenomenon and by 1980s standards even bigger than his later hit Baywatch. It garnered him particular popularity in Europe which he attempted to cash in by launching a pop singer career.
His first single was a cover of Looking for Freedom, a song originally performed in 1978 by German singer Marc Seaberg. It was released in late 1989 and took a steady position in the charts around the beginning of November, thanks to his Knight Rider fame. He would even perform the song on stage standing on the TV show's talking car K.I.T.T.
Then on the 8th of that month the political turmoil in East Germany reached its height as crowds stormed the checkpoints between East and West Berlin. By the 9th the Berlin Wall fell, and by coincidence it was the Hoff's song Looking for Freedom that was playing on radios.
The song's message of a desire and search for freedom spoke to the general sentiment of freedom and liberty Germany collectively experienced in that fateful week of unity. Suddenly the decades-old dream of reunification became true and the Hoff was on the radio singing about it.
Realizing the sudden rise in popularity as the song hit #1 the following days, David flew to Berlin and performed the song on New Year’s Eve just weeks after the fall right at the Wall from a cherry picker to a German-flag waving throng. This performance was televised and is credited with cementing his status as a German nigh-patriotic icon.
The historic performance at the Brandenburg Gate in 1989 that made him an icon
As such the song became an unofficial anthem to the German reunification, and the Hoff its messenger. For weeks TV images of the Wall tumbling down would be accompanied by the Hoff belting out his message of freedom. Smartly he followed this up by performing concerts throughout Germany, Austria and other European countries, leading at all times with Looking for Freedom.
In the following years he would star in various German movies and TV shows, some produced in Europe, others produced in the US for the European market. In almost all of them he would at one point or another perform a song, more often than not Looking for Freedom. He would frequently be paired with Thomas Gottschalk, Germany's most popular and loved actor/TV host and often be a guest on Gottschalk's shows.
This popularity flowed smoothly into his production of Baywatch and the show took off throughout Europe and the world. While his popularity in the US has waxed and waned, he remains a pop icon in Europe, still performing the odd concert (where Looking for Freedom is a must) starring in TV shows and movies and even hosting his own talk show in Norway.
To this day Looking for Freedom -- and by extension Hasselhoff -- stirr sentiments of nostalgia and freedom in Germans and Europeans in general who lived and saw the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Looking for Freedom performance at the Brandenburg Gate on New Year's Eve 2015