Featured Bios

Notable Austrians, Germans and German-Swiss

Many people from the German-speaking countries have played a significant role in European and world history in the fields of politics, education, science, the arts and technology.


Hollywood film director Billy Wilder in 1942. Wilder was born in Austria in 1906.
PHOTO: Paramount Pictures

In this section you will find links to full biographies of notable Austrians, Germans and German-Swiss. These are more detailed biographies than our mini bios. Below are summary descriptions of each person with a full biography. Click on a name to go to that biography. You can also select a name from the menu on the left.

Featured Biographies
In alphabetical order by last name

  • Konrad Adenauer (1876-1967) was West Germany’s very first chancellor.
  • Ursula Andress (1935- ) is the Swiss actress who was the first Bond girl.
  • Fred Astaire (1899-1987) – The American dancing icon was born Frederick Austerlitz in Omaha, Nebraska to an Austrian father and a mother whose parents came from Germany.
  • Michael Ballhaus (1935- ) is the German cinematographer behind famous Hollywood films such as Air Force One, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and The Departed.
  • Albert Ballin (1857-1918) was the German shipping line owner who invented the ocean cruise. He also created BallinStadt, a special facility to house impoverished emigrants before they sailed to the New World aboard his ships.
  • Benedict XVI (1927- ) – Joseph Ratzinger became Papst Benedikt XVI (Pope Benedict XVI) in April 2005. In February 2013 he became the first pope in almost 600 years to resign rather than die in office. Take a virtual tour of Marktl am Inn, his birthplace, and the house where he lived as a child, now a museum.
  • Wernher von Braun (1912-1977) was a charismatic German-American rocket scientist (and former Nazi) who helped put Americans on the moon.
  • Bruce Darnell (1957- ) is an African American who became a TV personality in Germany.
  • Leonardo Dicaprio (1974- ) has a German mother, and his middle name is Wilhelm.
  • Marlene Dietrich (1901-1992) was a German film star who came to the US in 1930.
  • Harmut Esslinger (1944- ) is a noted German industrial designer.
  • Marc Forster (1969- ) is a Swiss-German Hollywood film director (World War Z, Quantum of Solace).
  • Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) was the Austrian founder of psychoanalysis.
  • Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) was Germany’s greatest author, dramatist and poet.
  • Thomas Gottschalk (1950- ) is the most famous TV personality in Germany, even if you have never heard of him.
Birthday and Holiday Calendar
A special downloadable calendar with birth dates of notable people, plus holidays and observances in the German-speaking world

Famous Graves in Germany – Where are they buried?

Donna Summer and the Spago-Moroder-Puck Connection – No, Boston-born Donna Summer, the “Queen of disco,” was not German, but she spoke German and her music career got its start in Munich, Germany in the 1970s. More…

  • Steffi Graf (1969- ) is a former German tennis champion, now living in Las Vegas, Nevada with her American husband Andre Agassi. Graf and Boris Becker were Germany’s “dream couple” of tennis in the 1980s.
  • Walter Gropius (1883-1969) was a German architect who helped found the Bauhaus.
  • Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859) was a Prussian explorer, scientist, writer and philosopher. See this book review and bio: The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt’s New World by Andrea Wulf
  • Martin Kaymer (1984- ) is a German golf pro. Kaymer held the No. 1 spot in world golf for eight weeks in 2011. Following a long slump, he has made a dramatic comeback in 2014.
  • Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) visited East and West Berlin in 1964.
  • Heidi Klum (1973- ) is a German-American fashion model, television host and producer, fashion designer, businesswoman, and actress who lives and works in both southern California and Germany.
  • Hedy Lamarr (1914-2000) was an Austrian-born film actress who became a big Hollywood star in the 1940s and ’50s. She was also an award-winning inventor!
  • Fritz Lang (1890-1976) was the Austrian-born film director of Metropolis, Frau im Mond, M, Fury and The Big Heat.
  • Peter Lorre (1904-1964), best known for his roles in Casablanca and The Maltese Falcon, came to Hollywood from Austria and Germany.
  • Ludwig II of Bavaria (1845-1886) was the famous King of Bavaria (1864-1886) who built Neuschwanstein Castle and other palaces. Learn more about the king and his Wittelsbach dynasty.
  • Martin Luther (1483-1546) was the German Protestant reformer who created the Lutheran church.
Germans in Hollywood
Germans, Austrians and Swiss in Hollywood
  • Tarzan in AcapulcoJohnny Weissmuller (1904-1984) was born in Austria-Hungary, in what is today Romania. The Olympic swimming champ later became Tarzan on the silver screen. But why is he buried in Acapulco?
  • Teobert Maler (1842-1917) was a noted Austrian/German amateur archaeologist who photographed Maya ruins in the Yucatan.
  • Karl Marx (1818-1883) was a German philosopher, writer and journalist who published the “Communist Manifesto” in 1848.
  • H.L. Mencken (1880-1956) – The German-American “Sage of Baltimore” was an author, journalist, essayist, magazine editor, satirist, and a controversial critic of American life and culture.
  • Angela Merkel (1954- ) is Germany’s current chancellor (since 2005).
  • Thomas Nast (1840-1902) is the German-American political cartoonist who helped create the modern image of Santa Claus.
  • Jesse Owens (1913-1980), African American athlete who won four gold medals at the 1936 Olymics in Berlin.
  • Elvis Presley was a GI in West Germany in the early 1960s, the only time he traveled outside the United States!
  • Wolfgang Puck was born in a small town in Austria in 1949, studied cooking in Europe, went to America and became one of the first celebrity chefs in the USA.
  • Dean Reed (1938-1986), the “Red Elvis,” was an American rock star in East Germany who died under mysterious circumstances.
  • Manfred von Richthofen (1892-1918), the Red Baron, was a German World War I flying ace.
  • Leni Riefenstahl (1902-2003) was a controversial film director during the Nazi era.
  • Max Steiner (1888-1971) was the noted Austrian film music composer for Casablanca, Gone With the Wind, King Kong and many other Hollywood films.
  • Conrad Veidt (1893-1943), best known as the evil Major Strasser in Casablanca, was a German film actor who worked in Hollywood during both the silent and talkies eras.
  • Tarzan: Johnny Weissmuller (1904-1984) was born in Austria-Hungary, in what is today Romania. The Olympic swimming champ later became the most famous Tarzan on the silver screen.
  • Billy Wilder (1906-2002) was an Austrian-American film director. His classic films include Double Indemnity and Some Like It Hot.
  • Tim Williams – The Trivago Guy – Americans have seen him in many Trivago commercials, but they probably didn’t know this Texas-born actor and musician lives and works in Berlin. And did you know that Trivago is a German company?
  • Hans Zimmer (1957- ) is a noted German-born Hollywood film music composer (Thelma & Louise, Lion King, Inception, Interstellar).
  • Konrad Zuse (1910-1995) invented the first digital, programmable computer.

Next | Mini Bios A-Z

Donna Summer and the Spago-Moroder-Puck Connection – No, Boston-born Donna Summer, the “Queen of disco,” was not German, but she spoke German and her music career got its start in Munich, Germany in the 1970s. More…

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