A life like no other

On 27 September 2021, Freddy Quinn, singer, sailor, circus artist and much more besides, celebrates his 90th birthday.

His early years were spent in Vienna. Freddy Quinn was born Manfred Nidl in 1931 in either Vienna, Niederfladnitz (Lower Austria) or Pula (Croatia), depending on the source; his parents were Austrian journalist Edith Nidl and Irish merchant Johann Quinn. As a child, he lived in Vienna and went to primary school in the 8th district.

But the adventurous young man was keen to see the world and soon left his home behind. His travels took him from Vienna to the USA and back again, via Hungary, Ellis Island and Antwerp, through Southern Europe and North Africa, and included extensive spells at sea and in the circus as well as basic training with the Foreign Legion, which he eventually decided not to join. His fascinating biography could probably fill a whole series of adventure novels. 

In the 1950s he eventually cast anchor in Hamburg and started his extraordinary career in the music industry, cultivating the ‘authentic’ character of the singing sailor whose true home is the sea and who always yearns for faraway places. Legend has it that his first songs were released under the name Freddy because no one at the pressing plant knew how to spell his last name.

Like many other stars in show business, ‘the boy with the guitar’ did not write his songs himself but made every song his own with his unmistakable voice and distinctive style of singing. Among his many hits were the chart-toppers ‘La Paloma’ and ‘Heimweh’, the German-language version of Dean Martins’s biggest hit ‘Memories Are Made Of This’. Many cover versions by younger bands, among them Element of Crime, underline the cross-generational appeal of this larger-than-life artist.

Freddy Quinn also starred in successful musical films and TV shows where he had viewers on the edge of their seats when he walked the tightrope without a safety net or harness – forever the cool daredevil, a bold jack of all trades, straightforward, upright, unsentimental. He is among the top 3 best-selling singers in the German-speaking world, with 60 million records sold and 6 number one hits from 1956 to 1966. Quite a few of these records may have found their way into the collection of super fans Brigitta and Eduard Klinger who run the Freddy Quinn Archive in Vienna’s 23rd district and lent the Josefstadt District Museum a wide variety of items for an exhibition celebrating the singer’s 75th birthday in 2006. 

What the Klingers, like many other fans, admire most about their hero is his amazing stylistic range. As Eduard wrote in the exhibition catalogue, it encompasses ‘musicals, operettas, folk songs, Christmas carols, murder ballads, country and western, South American folk songs, Schlager music, and maritime songs’. Freddy Quinn has released songs in 15 different languages, including Japanese, Serbo-Croatian and Latin. A true child of the Josefstadt and its multilingual, cosmopolitan atmosphere …

issue 02/2021