As the votes rolled in on the night of April 24, 1982, it quickly became clear that Germany was about to win Eurovision for the very first time. The song, “Ein bißchen Frieden” or “A Little Peace”, received the maximum 12 points from more than half of the 17 other countries competing that year and received support from all but one of the international juries. (Luxembourg was the lone holdout.) Considering that the annual song contest got its start as a salve on the fresh wounds opened by World War 2, the momentousness of the occasion wasn’t lost on anyone … least of all the petite 17-year-old singer at the center of the excitement. As she sat there, gripping the hand of the song’s co-writer and producer Ralph Siegel, Nicole was dazed. As she later put it in an interview:
“A win would change everything. My whole life would change – and at the moment I didn’t know if I wanted that.”
Nicole was born on October 25, 1964, in the then-West German city of Saarbrücken, located on the country’s border with France. Three years earlier, East Germany had constructed the Berlin Wall, a literal manifestation of the Cold War-era Iron Curtain that separated the democratic and socialist republics on either side. She started performing young, singing in French army barracks by the age of four. At seven years old, she began entering local music competitions, singing and accompanying herself on the accordion and guitar. Her formative years were spent performing at school and local events, but a serious career in the music industry seemed like a faraway dream. That all changed in early 1980, when the then-15 year old was discovered at a music festival by songwriter and producer Robert Jung.
Robert Jung had nearly two decades of experience working in the German Schlager music scene by the time he crossed paths with Nicole. His biggest success so far had been a collaboration with Schlager superstar producer and (by then) five-time Eurovision songwriting veteran Ralph Siegel. After hearing Nicole‘s covers of a couple songs by American folk singer Joan Baez, Jung arranged a meeting between her and his previous collaborator. Quickly, Nicole was signed to Siegel‘s label, Jupiter Records, and her Jung-penned debut single, “Flieg Nicht So Hoch, Mein Kleiner Freund” or “Don’t Fly So High, My Little Friend”, was released in 1981. (See below.) The song was a hit across Europe, and Nicole‘s debut album of the same name was released shortly thereafter.
While Nicole was busy launching her professional music career, Siegel and his songwriting partner Bernd Opinioner were on the hunt for Eurovision glory. (They penned Germany’s entries for 1980 and 1981, both of which ultimately placed 2nd.) Inspired by the modern debate over nuclear disarmament, the specter of Cold War tensions, and the looming possibility of The Falklands War, the two composed “Ein bißchen Frieden” as a plea for peace between peoples and nations. Nicole was recruited to sing the song, and after a dominating victory at the German national final, was off to Harrogate.
The entire team was confident about the song’s chances. Nicole later claimed in an interview that Siegel burst into tears during the very first studio recording session, claiming “we’ll win Eurovision with this.” Needless to say, the pressure was on, and Nicole felt it. She knew that a victory at Eurovision would transform her life, and, for a moment, she began to doubt herself. Right before going on stage, Siegel encouraged her to seize the moment. And seize it she did, winning the night in a landslide.
Nicole returned to the stage for her winner’s reprise … only this time she delivered the song’s message in an even more universal way. After beginning the song in its original German, she switched to English, French, and Dutch in the following verses. (See below.) The audience response was massive.
Perhaps the biggest victory of the night came from a place Nicole and the rest of the team were least expecting. As Siegel put it on the night:
“Twelve points from Israel, that’s unbelievable.”
For the first time, Germany had been awarded maximum points by the Israeli jury. And it had been for a peace anthem. Three months later, Nicole was invited to Tel Aviv to perform the English-language version of “Ein bißchen Frieden” for an audience of IDF soldiers.
“I was sitting on a chair outside the barracks [when] suddenly they came out, very young people with their weapons, and sat down in front of me on the hill,” Nicole recalled in an interview with BBC in 2015. “And when I started singing ‘A Little Peace’, something happened I will never forget in my life. They put down their weapons, took each other by the hand and listened to me for three minutes. It was such a great moment.”
After winning the contest, “Ein bißchen Frieden” was a hit across Europe. The song went #1 in several countries, eventually selling over five million copies, and Nicole recorded versions of the song in Dutch, French, English, Italian, Russian, and Spanish. (See below.) Over the following years, cover versions of the song have also been recorded by other artists in Finnish, Swedish, Slovene, Hungarian, and Afrikaans.
Nicole never again had a hit on quite as global a scale as “Ein bißchen Frieden”, but then again … how could she? As she once said in an interview:
“You only succeed in singing a song like that once in your life, and you have to enjoy it.”
Still, she wasn’t hurting for international acclaim. She competed with the song “So Viele Lieder Sind In Mir” at the 1983 World Popular Song Festival in Tokyo. (She placed 2nd.) In 1987, she continued her streak of successful international competitions by winning the Silver Lyra and the audience award at the Czechoslovakian music festival Bratislavská lyra. (See below.) Her song, “Song for the World”, was multilingual, carrying on the tradition Nicole set in her Eurovision winner’s reprise. She also won the very first edition of the German Song Festival, Schlager ’91, with the song “Ein Leises Lied“.
In addition to flexing her competitive muscles, Nicole was kept busy by a booming touring and recording career in the three decades following her Eurovision win. In late-1982, Nicole released two versions of her follow up studio album, one in English and one in German. She followed up that success with the release of THREE albums the very next year and continued to be a prolific recording artist over the course of the next two decades, more or less releasing at least one album per year. In all, she has released 29 studio album, including one, 50 is the New 25, in 2019.
She has also had a number of hit, award-winning singles over the course of her career. In fact, she is the most decorated artist in the history of popular German music countdown program ZDF Hitparade, winning 17 times. She achieved that status with songs like 1985’s upbeat, synth-y number “Allein in Griechenland“, early-’90s R&B ballad “Steh wie ein Mann zu mir“, 1996’s Caribbean-Schlager fusion “Voulez-vous danser” (see below), and country pop ditty “Wer schläft schon gern allein” from 1998.
Around the release of Nicole‘s 2009 album Meine Nr.1, she began performing in a series of unplugged tours in Germany, playing primarily in churches. She liked the atmosphere and acoustics of those venues. Plus, it’s not as much of a departure as one might initially think. As she explained in an interview last year:
“I sing songs that deal with faith, hope, and love, but also with death, grief, and loss.”
For an artist as prolific and visible as Nicole, there has been very little scandalous tabloid activity in her life. Besides good parenting and a sense of self-preservation, there’s an easy explanation for that. In 1984, two years after her Eurovision victory and just as her career was taking flight, she married her high school sweetheart, Winfried Seibert, Winfried was an auto mechanic at the time of their nuptials and has since become her lawyer and manager. The couple have two children, at least one grandchild, and live near Nicole‘s hometown where she is surrounded by friends and family who knew her before she was introduced to the rest of the world.
This strong community came in handy over the last two years. In April of this year, Nicole announced on Instagram that she had been battling breast cancer for the past 16 months. The fight had been difficult, but, with the support of friends and family, she had come out the other side. She made her return to the stage in May at a charity show in The Dominican Republic, performing at a show for Fly & Help. (The organization promotes education and the building of schools in developing nations.) Since then, she has jumped straight back into her music career, and fans were delighted last month by the release of her new single, “Ich bin zurück”. (Watch the official music video below.)
With all of her success, it would be easy for Nicole to be dismissive of her Eurovision experience or resent its dominance in her career narrative. Not so. In fact, she embraced that part of her legacy head on. She still owns the dress she wore on that night in Harrogate (it still fits) and the white guitar she gently strummed. The dress, as a matter of fact, is on display. It sits on a mannequin in her foyer.
In 2017, she honored the contest with a tribute album titled 12 Punkte. On it, she performs Schlagerfied, German-language covers of winning Eurovision songs … including “Only Teardrops“, “What’s Another Year“, and “Ding-a-Dong“. Also included is her take on the Olsen Brothers’ “Fly on the Wings of Love”. Jørgen and Niels actually joined her for a live performance of the song on German television. (See below.)
As for “Ein bißchen Frieden” itself? Surely she’s tired of it? Happily, she’s just as happy to perform it now as ever. In 2015, she even appeared on BBC’s 60th anniversary Eurovision special, singing the song that will always be her most potent legacy. (See below.)
As far as legacies go, a performer could do a lot worse than a track like “Ein bißchen Frieden”, a song that’s (sadly) just as relevant now as it was 40 years ago. As Nicole once stated: “The weirdest question I get asked is, ‘how many times have you sung this song?’ And I say, ‘not often enough.’ Look around the world, what’s going on … I won’t get tired of singing this song as long as I know deep in the hearts of all mankind is the wish for peace.”
Thanks for tuning in to ESCUnited’s look back at Eurovision 1982! We hope #YOU enjoyed reading it as much as we did researching it. Which other years do #YOU think deserve the retrospective treatment? Sound off in the comments below, in our forum, or on social media @ESCUnited.