At 70, yodeling as much as ever
VAIL – As a boy, Helmut Fricker wanted to study music but never had enough money.”That was a dream,” he said.Even his primary education was limited because it was interrupted by World War II. His home, in Karlsruhe, Germany, was bombed three times. After one bombing, he was trapped for 50 hours in his basement with no way out, huddled with his mother, brother, two sisters and another family.”We knew we were going to die,” Fricker said.They feared they would run out of air, and didn’t burn candles to save oxygen. They were finally saved by rescuers.”No matter how old you get, you never forget it,” he said.
A scared boy in wartime is a far cry from Fricker’s ebullient persona as perhaps the most recognized performer in Eagle County.Clad in lederhosen and toting an accordion or alpenhorn, he has entertained visitors at Beaver Creek since the resort opened in 1980, yodeling, cracking jokes, doing magic tricks and unabashedly flirting with women.”I lost my phone number, can I have yours?” is a favorite line for ladies.Fricker celebrated his 70th birthday last weekend. With that milestone, the Helmut Fricker Scholarship has been established through the Vail Valley Foundation. Fricker’s friends established the fund in hopes that the scholarship will give opportunities to aspiring musicians that Fricker didn’t have.Fricker started performing when he was a teenager in Germany, and continued when he moved to the U.S. He helped start the Larimer Square Oktoberfest in Denver.He’s been entertaining in Vail since 1970, when the manager at Manor Vail saw him perform in Denver and invited him to come perform at the hotel.”I said, ‘Where is Vail?'” Fricker said. “‘It was seven years old.”His German folk singing fit in perfectly with Vail’s Tyrolean village theme. He acknowledges that he couldn’t have been so successful in Breckenridge or Steamboat.He started performing regularly in 1974 at the Blue Cow, at the site of the old Tyrolean Inn.He befriended former president Gerald Ford, and has met celebrities like Bob Hope, Jack Lemmon, King Hussein and Queen Noor. Dick Cheney snapped pictures with Fricker last week at the World Forum.Even as Vail undergoes massive redevelopment, Fricker said the town will maintain the Tyrolean feel.”It will always have that flavor,” he said.
The war ended when Fricker was 9. A few years later, he took up the trade of bookbinding, going on to earn a master’s degree. When he came to the United States in 1969, he expected to continue to bind books.He still spends about 50 percent of his work time binding books. The workshop in his home is full of projects under way, including Bibles, scrapbooks and an old military journal. Some of the books are more than a century old.”I tell the young people, learn bookbinding,” he said. “The work is endless.”He never thought he would become a performer, he said.
“My hobby is my job, and my job is my hobby,” he said.He will only stop performing when his doctor says he can’t do it any more, he said.”Because I love it too much,” he said. “I miss it when I don’t play.”Staff Writer Edward Stoner can be reached at 748-2929 or email@example.com.Vail, Colorado