Hape Kerkeling

Ruby’s Rap by Ruby Comer

What a journey! In 2001, German comedian and entertainer Hape Kerkeling, trekked 500 miles on foot through the Pyrenees of northern Spain to Santiago de Compostela. Legend has it that apostle St. James walked the same route and is buried in the ancient town. The trek is a thousand-year-old tradition. Hape (a derivation of his birth name, Hans Peter) documented his travels in the delightfully engaging book, I’m Off Then. He also recalls his visits to an AIDS ward in the early days of the epidemic to perform his standup routine for the patients.

Hape’s zany talents are a mix of Carol Burnett and Seth Meyers, with a little Bette Midler sassiness tossed in. He was the German voice for Panda Po in Kung Fu Panda and currently he’s piecing together “Hape’s Enchanted Christmas Eve.” He resides in Berlin with his partner of twenty-eight years, Angelo, and is a member of the board of trustees of Deutsche AIDS-Hilfe. Hape’s Camino de Santiago trek is intriguing—and overwhelms me….

Today, though, I’m on my own journey. Back from Europe, I’m on the road once again here in picturesque Solvang, California, just up the coast from my pad in L.A. What a relief to be away from that addictive computer keyboard for a few days!  Here to participate in an AIDS Walk tomorrow, I’m camped out at the friendly Hadsten House, a stylish inn that includes the Haven Day Spa and a grand swimming pool.

Hape and I decide to meet at the Inn’s restaurant, which resembles a cathedral: hanging glass lights from a steeple ceiling with shimmering white candles on the tables. There’s almost an ambiance of reverence—but stuffy it ain’t, as the contemporary Danish décor is so alluring. Arriving a few minutes late, I’m ushered to the table by the restaurant’s lively hostess, Stephanie, where a smiling Hape greets me. She then introduces us to Jeffrey, our cutie affable waiter.

Ruby Comer: [Low bossa nova music plays in the background.] Such a cozy place, huh? Hape, in a nutshell, how did walking the Camino de Santiago affect you?

Hape Kerkeling: It made me understand that there’s a special pace and rhythm hidden in each one of us, which we simply have to discover and obey.

I’ll…be…diddly…damn. [Blown away.] That’s worth the trudge, I guess. Would you recommend it?

I loved the pilgrimage, but for others, gardening or just staring out of the window might do just as well.

Uh, huh. I get it. [When we order, Jeffrey tells me that the chef is willing to work with me on my allergies of soy, wheat, dairy, and sugar.] How nice. I like this restaurant!  Hape, when I mention AIDS, what comes up for you?

It’s one of the biggest catastrophes in human history since World War II. The ignorance and hardheartedness of many politicians all over the world comes to my mind as well.

Righto, Hape. How did you first hear about the epidemic?

It was in the early eighties and I read a little newspaper article that talked about a strange and enigmatic form of “gay cancer.” I was scared to death.

Undeniably, yes. How has the epidemic impacted you?
I lost a very, very dear friend in the late eighties. He was twenty-eight at the time. I still can’t find the words to talk about it. [He stares down and then gazes directly into my eyes.] The way he was discriminated against by society left me speechless….

Unforgivable. [For a few minutes, we eat in silence. Hape dives into his spinach pasta in crème tomato sauce topped with plump shrimp and I chow down on the stuffed chicken breast with goat cheese, avocado, and roasted peppers. I break the silence.] Tell me about your association with Deutsche AIDS-Hilfe, Hape.
I’ve been with them for over a decade. In years past, we’ve raised three million dollars for several AIDS related institutions and organizations in Germany, Mozambique, and South Africa by organizing events and showcases.
Fabelhaft, Hape, Fabelhaft! Have you ever been to Los Angeles?
I love Los Angeles! I traveled there with my TV comedy show. Some of my guests were Celine Dion, Ricky Martin, Barbara Eden [A&U, July 2004], David Hasselhoff, and Pamela Anderson.

Kerkeling as Uschi Blum

What a lineup. You interviewed I Dream of Jeannie herself! She’s magical in many ways, isn’t she? [He nods.] As you know HIV infection is on the rise, especially in the younger generation. Any idea what line of ammunition we can use to enforce safer sex?
You cannot force someone to practice safer sex. It’s all about education and it has to start when people are kids! [Dessert arrives and we both spoon into the scrumptious, moist flourless chocolate cake made with pecans—yum! Hape flashes those sexy baby blues at me.] But in the end, Ruby, we’re all just human beings…and humans fail. That’s part of our nature. We struggle, but we move on. And I hope this shit is over soon. Help us God!

Ruby Comer is an independent journalist from the Midwest who is happy to call Hollywood her home away from home. Reach her by

Photos © Thomas Rodriguez. All rights reserved.

September 2010

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