Although she had to wait until early 1970 before she enjoyed her first hit, German singer Katja Ebstein’s involvement in the hippy and student scenes of the late 1960s meant she was often perceived as a voice of the 1968 generation.
She was born Karin Witkiewicz on 9 March 1945 near what was then the German town of Breslau and is now Wroclaw in Poland. She and her mother fled the approaching Red Army and ended up in Berlin.
After swapping Karin for Katja, the young singer became a familiar face on the local music scene. She performed backing vocals for local group Insterburg and Co and for orchestra conductor James Last.
In 1966 she landed a recording contract with the Ariola label, where she released her first single, Irgendwann. That year she also took part in the Knokke Cup in Belgium, appearing alongside singers such as Britain’s Truly Smith and Belgium’s Ariane.
Wo ist das Schiff, backed with Ob du das weißt, a cover of the Donovan’s Colours, was picked as the follow up.
But after two singles and without a hit to her name, the label lost interest in her and she filled her time providing backing vocals for other artists.
She met Liberty label bosses at a German Woodstock-type festival in Burg Waldeck and they showed an interest in signing the singer.
With the addition of a surname, which she adapted from the name of the street where she lived, Ebsteinstraße, she joined the Liberty label in 1969.
Der Draht in der Sonne, a version of Glenn Campbell’s Witchita lineman, backed with Wie ein Kind, became her debut release for the label.
Another 45, the excellent Und wenn der Regen fällt, soon followed.
Although the hits were slowing in coming, Katja continued to work hard on raising her profile. She cut Wovon träumt ein Weihnachtsbaum im Mai, a version of Do you know how Christmas trees are grown, for the German soundtrack from the James Bond film On her majesty’s secret service.
An album was also issued. Entitled simply Katja, it included, amongst other things, sitar-tastic updates of The Beatles’ A hard day’s night, Marion’s Er ist wieder da and Petula Clark’s Don't give up (Gib nicht auf). Also on it were also Ohne Geld und Namen (see our Motown males tribute special) and Mein Bilderbuch (see our Dusty Springfield tribute special).
The LP didn’t prove the breakthrough she had been hoping for, nor did the single Warum ist die Welt so schön. Interestingly, the B-side, Die letzten Sterne, was a version of Good morning starshine from the musical Hair, and gave an indication of the direction the singer’s career would later take.
Within months, however, she shot to fame with Wunder gibt es immer wieder. Although the song was Germany’s entry for the 1970 Eurovision song contest, it was far removed from the lighter Lieder of previous years and is now considered a classic. The song finished third, behind Ireland’s Dana and the UK’s Mary Hopkin, but outclasses both. It is arguably one of the best 1960s records to come out of the 1970s.
She recorded versions of the song in English (No more tears for me, with lyrics by Brit girl singer Sylvan), French (Un miracle peut arriver) and Spanish (Siempre hay algun milagro), as well as in Japanese.
She consolidated her success at home in the autumn of 1970 with Und wenn ein neuer Tag erwacht and scored a host of hits in subsequent years, many of which penned by her (first) husband, Christian Bruhn.
Among the most successful were 1973’s Der Stern von Mykonos, 1974’s Es war einmal ein Jäger and 1980’s Abschied ist ein bisschen wie sterben. 1980’s Dann heirat’ doch dein Büro has also become something of a camp cult classic.
She represented Germany again at the 1971 and 1980 Eurovision song contests, and remained a big name in music and theatre in the 1970s and 1980s.
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