Friendship has many faces

Famous Friends


#09 Freundschaft


Miriam Holzapfel


Gerd Schröder



Friendship has many faces. And even if no two are ever quite the same, the famous twosomes we present on this page embody the universal qualities that connect people who feel attached to one another: acceptance, trustworthiness, empathy and loyalty – sometimes even above and beyond death.

The friendship between Siegfried Fischbacher and Roy Uwe Ludwig Horn is rooted in shared backgrounds. Both German-born sons of alcoholic fathers, they managed to tap their talent and ambition to escape oppressive home environments. As a duo they achieved global fame as one of the most successful and expensive acts in Las Vegas; their performances with the white tigers were legendary. When Roy lost consciousness onstage in 2003, he was seriously mauled by a tiger named Montecore. For weeks Roy was at death's door. By this time the two magicians were no longer an item, but they remained close. In the hospital, Siegfried played his friend a piece from the opera "Thais," the signature song for the big cats’ arrival on stage. "When I saw a tear run down his cheek, I knew he had heard and understood me. And that’s when I knew that everything was going to be okay," Siegfried said. For some, this may testify to the intense rapport that fuels true friendship. For others, it is pure magic.

According to today's scientists, computers will soon be performing many tasks better and more cheaply than humans. In the 1980s, however, this vision was confined to early-evening TV series, and fueled by a desire to be protected by supernatural powers. Let's be honest: who wouldn't want a reliable friend who is always there when the going gets tough? Michael Knight – of the famed "Knight Rider" series – had struck lucky. All he needed to do was whisper “KITT, I need you buddy!” into his digital watch and the supercar of the same name came at turbo speed to his rescue. In 1982, the four-season series conquered the United States and then the world, with David Hasselhoff and a Pontiac Firebird Trans Am in the leading roles. And although the actor is now over 60, the series is being revived. Of course, Hasselhoff has changed a bit, but so have his 'wheels:' he now drives a black Shelby GT500KR Mustang. But the basic formula remains the same: car meets computer meets man.

Laura Dahlmeier and Gabriela Koukalova are friends – and yet fierce rivals. Both rank among the world's top biathletes and race against each other at major events. But away from the cross-country trails and shooting ranges, the two women are the best of buddies – despite having very little in common beyond their sporting prowess. Koukalova, who adores shopping sprees, would never enter a race without makeup, while Dahlmeier prefers the outdoor life and enjoys mountaineering. "I find shopping terribly exhausting – unless I'm in the market for climbing boots. And I would never dream of competing in full makeup." Koukalova, on the other hand, has no interest in rock faces – and doesn’t care that Dahlmeier pursues different hobbies. "She's a very special person with a great personality; she’s simply fantastic. When I think of her only good things come to mind." Similar, yet so very different: for Dahlmeier and Koukalova this seems perfectly natural. And at the end of the day, the better biathlete wins, but life still goes on.

Going through thick and thin, standing up for each other – in Friedrich Schiller's ballad "Damon and Phintias" fiery pledges such as these – normally uttered in the heat of the moment – are submitted to the toughest of tests. When Damon is sentenced to death for plotting to murder the tyrant Dionysius, and he requests a delay so that he can attend his sister's wedding, Phintias courageously offers himself up as surety. If Damon fails to return on time, he even agrees to die in his place. With the minutes running out, Damon returns – only to be warned that time has run out:

"Go back – the time is past to save your friend. / So save your own dear life. / His death is hanging by a thread! / He waited forever throughout the strife, / In hopes of your return." But Damon has no intention of taking this option, preferring to die with his friend instead: "Still, if it be too late! / For him to welcome his savior! / We can be reunited in death." In the end, Dionysius is so moved by their devotion to one another that he sets them both free. Dionysius evidently hoped they would befriend him too, but that outcome remained shrouded in secrecy.

Some friendships come in threes. Anyone accessing the website in 2017 will find a report in the "Current News" section that is 10 years old! It contains the announcement of Georg Danzer's death. A further decade earlier, Rainhard Fendrich, Danzer and Wolfgang Ambros had created the band Austria 3 – originally for a single charity event in support of the homeless. Inspired by the huge success of their act, the three Austrian musicians were persuaded to continue performing as a trio. The group’s name alludes to a cheap brand of non-filter cigarettes that the company Austria Tabakwerke was still producing into the 1970s and, in a bitter twist of fate, Danzer was diagnosed with lung cancer shortly after the group disbanded. He died a year later. There was no way of replacing Georg Danzer, and relations between Fendrich and Ambros broke down in 2011 over a proposed reunion. In that sense, the article on Danzer’s death really is still current news. If one out of three goes missing, the sum of the remainder may be far less than two.

Miriam Holzapfel is a cultural scientist, author and editor for the Atlas.

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