“Even as a first-grader he may not have been the most studious one, but always the funniest one.” — Thomas Gottschalk’s mother, Rutila (1922-2004)
Unless you live in German-speaking Europe, Thomas “Thommy” Gottschalk is the most famous TV personality you’ve never heard of. Although he has appeared in a handful of German and Hollywood movies (Sister Act 2), Gottschalk is best known as the moderator and “Showmaster” of Europe’s most successful television show of all time. Before his 2011 semi-retirement, each airing of Wetten, dass…? (“Wanna bet?”) drew as many as 15 million viewers when it was broadcast from various German and European cities. But the famous TV star got his start in radio.
It is difficult to describe his TV show or to compare Gottschalk’s fame to American circumstances. In Germany he is as famous as Jimmy Fallon or Stephen Colbert are in the US. (Gottschalk also hosted a late-night TV talk show). It was his megastar status in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland that prompted Gottschalk to move his wife and two sons to southern California in 1987, the same year he began hosting the “Wetten, dass…?” show. (He bought his first home in the Hollywood Hills with money from his first German McDonald’s TV commercial.) In Los Angeles and Malibu, the German celebrity and his family can enjoy a level of anonymity and freedom that is impossible in his homeland.
Thomas Johannes Gottschalk was born into a middle-class, conservative, Catholic family on May 18, 1950 in the Bavarian/Franconian town of Bamberg. His father, Hans, was a lawyer. His mother, Rutila (nee Kossorz), was a full-time housewife. He and his younger siblings, Christoph and Raphaela, grew up in Kulmbach. When Thomas was only 14, he lost his father to stomach cancer. His mother would die of heart failure at age 82 in 2004. (Gottschalk flew from the US with his family to be by her side just before she died.) Even as a teenager in Kulmbach, Thomas was known for his bizarre atire: colorful sports jackets, loud shirts, and unusual pants. To this day, Gottschalk is notorious for the rumpled, sometimes bizarre outfits that he likes to wear.
Though never an outstanding student, Gottschalk completed teacher training, but then decided he didn’t really want to become a high-school teacher (German, history). In the early 1970s he began a modest career as a disc jockey and radio announcer for the third (pop music) channel (BR3) of Bayrischer Rundfunk, the Bavarian public broadcast network. Later he moved to the European commercial station Radio Luxembourg (RTL), where he became popular as “Mr. Morning” for the German program.
In 1976 he broke into television at BR as the host of a music-video show later known as “Pop Stop.” A year later he became the host of the regional television call-in quiz show “Telespiele,” which later went nationwide. Gottschalk appeared in his first movie (Piratensender Powerplay) in 1982, and co-wrote the script for his next film with co-star Mike Krüger. Die Supernasen (“The Super Noses,” 1983), a comedy about two bumbling private detectives, became a German box-office success, and a couple of semi-sequels soon followed. Gottschalk’s wife, Thea, whom he married in 1976, played the role of Princess Fatima in Supernasen.
Gottschalk did his last radio show for BR3 in 1989. In the meantime he continued his German TV and film work. His 1992 late night talk show also featured the “Model ’92” contest, in which Heidi Klum won a modelling contract prize, paving the way for her international modelling career.
But Gottschalk’s true fame would begin on the fateful evening of September 26, 1987. His friend and colleague Frank Elstner had been the host of “Wetten, dass..?” since inventing the show in 1981. Ready to retire from TV, Elstner asked Gottschalk to take over as host of the popular show. Except for a two-year pause, Gottschalk remained the host of “Wetten, dass…?” since his first broadcast in 1987. With over 100 broadcasts behind him, Gottschalk became the undisputed “Mr. ‘Wetten, dass.’”
The 34-year-old show (which Gottschalk hosted for 24 years), aired on Germany’s ZDF (Zweites Deutsches Fernsehen) public TV network seven times per year, was seen in all of the German-speaking countries until it was cancelled in 2014. “Wetten, dass..?” was a major European TV phenomenon, consistently drawing very high ratings up until its final years. As the show’s host, Gottschalk welcomed not only famous German entertainers and prominent politicians, but many international celebrities, including Madonna, Elton John, Shania Twain, Michael Jackson, and Green Day. The two-hour show, broadcast from a different city each time, was a sort of combination of “The Tonight Show” and “Beat the Clock.” There is nothing remotely like it on American TV, yet many American stars (Cameron Diaz, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Kevin Costner, Faith Hill, Carlos Santana) have appeared on “Wetten, dass..?” (Their English is heard in German by German TV viewers. English-speaking guests have earpieces in which they hear the host’s German spoken in English.) Although Gottschalk is fluent in English, he rarely speaks it during the broadcast of “Wetten, dass..?”
Contestants on the show attempted to pull off various odd feats, while some celebrity guests, called “bet sponsors” (Wettpaten), bet on whether a contestant could actually do it or not. If a Wettpate lost the bet, he or she had to do some stunt – usually some kind of minor public humiliation – that has been agreed on in advance. Other celebrities appeared on the show merely as performers.
The “Wetten, dass..?” shock
With such record-breaking TV fame, it was a major shock when Gottschalk announced in February 2011 his retirement as host of “Wetten, dass..?” Following an accident that seriously injured a contestant during a car stunt, Gottschalk said there was a shadow cast over the show that meant he could no longer merely play the cheerful host, as before. The summer broadcast from Mallorca on June 18, 2011 was his last regular show. He hosted three special retrospective broadcasts in the fall of 2011 that featured highlights from the 30-year history of “Wetten, dass..?” at that time.
The next host of “Wetten, dass..?” was former RTL news announcer Markus Lanz (b. 1969). Born in the German-speaking South Tyrol region of Italy, Lanz has been with ZDF since 2008. He took over Gottschalk’s former position for the 2012 season. The June 2013 “Wetten, dass..?” broadcast (now known as the “Mallorca disaster”) hosted by Lanz drew fewer than seven million viewers, only about half the number Gottschalk used to get. Most observers (including Gottschalk himself) felt the show’s quality had dropped since Gottschalk’s departure, but even before that, the show came under criticism for “hidden advertising” and secret deals with various companies to feature their products. The show’s last broadcast was on December 13, 2014, ending a 34-year run.
Gottschalk continues to make occasional guest appearances on television and at various live events. In early 2016 there were rumors that RTL might offer the entertainer a quarterly talk show for “Spiegel TV,” but that has not been confirmed.
Their home is their castle
In November 2004 Gottschalk purchased Schloss Marienfels, a castle on the Rhine in the famous town of Remagen near Cologne, for 3.5 million euros (about $4 million US). The family’s new 18-room residence was intended to help end wife Thea’s homesickness for Germany. In 2006 the Gottschalks moved into their new German residence, while continuing to maintain their home away from home in Malibu, California. In late 2012 Gottschalk sold the renovated castle to the German millionaire Frank Asbeck, dubbed the “Sun King” for his solar energy investments.
In June 2013, following speculation that he might move to Potsdam just south of Berlin, the German media reported that Gottschalk had purchased an apartment in the Prenzlauer Berg district of Berlin, in the capital’s now trendy eastern section. He was living in Berlin in order to be closer to the TV studios there.
Miley Cyrus Buys Gottschalk’s Malibu “Guest House”
In February 2016 Variety and other media sources reported that “Haribo confectionary spokesperson Thomas Gottschalk” had sold a “guest house” (4 bedrooms, 3.5 baths on 2 acres) in a “gated Malibu enclave” for about $2.5 million to Miley Cyrus. According to German media reports, the house had been set up for Gottschalk’s sons (Roman and Tristan), and it adjoins property owned by Liam Hemsworth (The Hunger Games), with whom Cyrus has been linked. Gottschalk originally offered the house to Hemsworth, but it was then bought by Cyrus. According to Gottschalk, his wife is happy to have her new neighbor because when he is away, she will be guarded by Cyrus’s security detail. Cyrus still owns her California ranch-style residence in the hills above Studio City, purchased in 2011 for $3.9 million.
Thomas Gottschalk’s wealth is estimated to be between 85 and 130 million euros, with some 40 million of that invested in real estate. German public broadcaster ARD was criticized in 2015 for continuing to pay Gottschalk about 2 million euros even after his “Gottschalk live” talk show for that network was cancelled in 2012.
Also see the links for Gottschalk below.
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Thomas Gottschalk Films and TV
In the early 1980s Gottschalk began his film acting career in Germany. Along with comedian Mike Krüger, Gottschalk wrote the screenplays for and appeared in a series of fairly nonsensical comedy films, the first in 1982. Including his made-for-TV films, Gottschalk has appeared in about 20 motion pictures. He also earns a good living making German TV commercials for McDonald’s, Haribo, and other brands in German-speaking Europe. In 1990 he acted in his first English-language, Hollywood film, Think Big. He also played the role of Father Wolfgang in Sister Act 2 (1993) with Whoopi Goldberg.
SELECTED FILMS in Germany
Piratensender Powerplay | Pirate Radio Powerplay (1982)
As Thommy; this first film about “pirate radio” (with partner Mike Krüger) reflected Gottschalk’s real-life career in radio, back in the days when no commercial radio stations were allowed in Germany.
DVD > Buy Piratensender Powerplay (PAL, in German)
Die Supernasen | The Super Noses (1983)
As Tommy Jürgensen/Prinz Faruk; Gottschalk’s wife, Thea, plays the role of Prinzessin Fatima. Most critics consider this private detective spoof the best in a series of banal Gottschalk/Krüger comedies that very much reflect the 1980s. Gottschalk also wrote the screenplay.
DVD > Buy Die Supernasen (PAL, in German)
Zwei Nasen tanken Super | Two Noses Fill Up with Super (1984)
As Tommy; Gottschalk wrote the screenplay for this second installment of the series.
DVD > Buy Zwei Nasen (PAL, in German)
Die Einsteiger | The Transporters (1985)
As Tommy; with Mike Krüger; two guys use a special video remote control to take part in adventure films.
DVD > Buy Die Einsteiger (PAL, in German)
Zärtliche Chaoten | Lovable Zanies (1987)
As Richy; another comedic spoof, this time with Michael Winslow, Helmut Fischer, and Pierre Brice (as the indian Winnetou); three guys are working on the production of a Winnetou movie before they all get fired and more chaos ensues; also known as Three Crazy Jerks in the UK. Some critics describe this film as being so bad, it’s good (or just plain bad).
DVD > See box set below.
Zärtliche Chaoten 2 | Lovable Zanies 2 (1988)
As Frank Nordmann; two office workers use a time machine to try to get get rid of their boss – by making sure he was never born; with David Hasselhoff; also known as Three Crazy Jerks II in the UK.
DVD > Buy Die Choaten Box (1 & 2 – PAL, in German)
Late Show (TV movie, 1999)
As radio moderator turned TV talk host Hannes Engel; with German late-night show host Harald Schmidt, Veronica Ferres. Director: Helmut Dietl. A drama about the business of TV in Germany.
DVD > Buy Late Show (PAL, in German)
1½ Ritter – Auf der Suche nach der hinreißenden
Herzelinde | 1½ Knights – In Search of the Ravishing Princess Herzelinde (2008)
As King Gunther; comedy with Julia Dietze, Til Schweiger and Udo Kier.
Das Traumschiff | Dream Boat (“Love Boat” type TV series, 2009)
Gottschalk appears in the “Peru-Miami” episode, as himself.
Think Big (1990)
As Mr. Roberts; with Billy Dee Williams, Dom Deluise, Milton Berle. Gottschalk’s first Hollywood film was a low-budget comedy with Martin Mull. “Two somewhat retarded truckers hired to transport toxic waste across the country get caught up with a teen genius who stows away on their truck.” (Amazon.com)
Driving Me Crazy (1991)
As Gunther Schmidt. Director: Jon Turteltaub. IMDb: “An eccentric, East German inventor/defector travels to Los Angeles to sell a prototype revolutionary new car that runs on vegetables and produces no pollution, but he runs into one madcap after another to find a buyer and financier for mass production.”
Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit (1993)
As Father Wolfgang; this Whoopi Goldberg sequel is not as good as the original.
DVD > Buy Sister Act 2 (US DVD)
Breakfast with Einstein (TV movie, 1998)
As Martin; Cheech Marin and Priscilla Presley appeared in this film about a boy and his dog (named Einstein).
The Zookeeper (2011)
As a fashion designer (voice). With the voices of Sylvester Stallone, Adam Sandler, Cher. Animated film about the animals at a zoo that decide to break their code of silence in order to help their lovable zookeeper woo a woman.
All of these books are in German (from Amazon.de).
- Herbstblond: Die Autobiographie by Thomas Gottschalk. Kindle, hardcover or audio edition (from Amazon.de) – Gottschalk’s 2015 autobiography
- Thomas Gottschalk, Die Biographie by Gert Heidenreich. Hardcover (from Amazon.de)
- Thomas Gottschalk, Die Biographie by Gert Heidenreich. Paperback (2006, from Amazon.de)
- Thomas Gottschalk, Die Biographie by Gert Heidenreich. Four audio CDs Steinbach Sprechende Bücher (from Amazon.de)
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AT THE GERMAN WAY
- Berlin’s Boulevard der Stars is that city’s answer to Hollywood’s Walk of Fame.
- Mini Bios A-Z – More brief biographies of notable people from the German-speaking world
- Featured Biographies – More detailed bios of notable people from the German-speaking world
- Notable Women from Austria, Germany, Switzerland
- Famous Graves in Germany – Where are they buried?
- Germans in Hollywood – German, Austrian and German-Swiss people in Hollywood
ON THE WEB
- Thomas Gottschalk – IMDb – Internet Movie Database
- Wetten, dass..? (Wikipedia, in German – ZDF)
- Wetten, dass..? (Wikipedia, in English – ZDF)
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