Referee, wrestler, police officer, and entrepreneur. Hans-Jochen Herrmann has led quite a life both in and out of the squared circle. The referee Stampede Wrestling fans loved to hate is probably best remembered as the evil official who enjoyed tormenting the beloved Hart children and other babyfaces around the Calgary territory. However, the story of Hans Herrmann goes far beyond his days in Western Canada.
Born in Hanover, Germany, on May 25, 1945, Herrmann began his life long love of combat sports in grade six. Boxing first sparked the young Herrmann’s interest, followed a year later by freestyle wrestling. “I wasn’t too successful in wrestling but continued boxing and won the mid-heavyweight championship in 1961,” remembers Herrmann. “I boxed until 1964, when I got suspended from the sport for unnecessary roughness.”
Joining the police academy in 1962 and later becoming a plain clothes robbery and homicide officer, Herrmann had all but given up on a career involving sports. However, in 1971, while on duty, Herrmann’s chance meeting with Edmond Schober would change his life forever. “Shober was the promoter for CWO, which held the biggest wrestling tournament in Germany,” Herrmann remembers. “Edmond said that I had potential as a wrestler.”
This was a huge decision for Herrmann to make. Did he dare give up his respected and stable job in law enforcement for the life of a travelling wrestler? After much consideration Herrmann decided that he would try and do both. “I thought it best to wrestle under a mask, because it was deemed unprofessional for a police officer to take part in such events,” he recalls.
Soon Herrmann was using his time off from the force to tour Europe, and wrestle for various promotions. One promoter named Arpat Webber held many tours across Hungary and Poland, and actually introduced Herrmann to what would become his true calling in the business — refereeing.
In one such journey following a series of flopped shows across Poland, Herrmann found himself stranded in the country with well known Stampede Wrestling villain Gama Singh. “The flight to get home was cancelled so Gama Singh and I were detained for three days in a Polish jail! For those three days we ended up eating only a 1-1/2-inch burger and water that a tribesman in Africa wouldn’t touch between us. Arpat Webber finally got things figured out and got us out of there!” laughs Herrmann.
It was in 1976 at the annual wrestling tournament in Hanover, Germany that Herrmann’s career really started to take off. A chance meeting between Bruce Hart and The Dynamite Kid (Tom Billington) proved to be the opportunity of a wrestling lifetime. Hart suggested to his new found friend that the German native come work for his father Stu Hart in Stampede Wrestling. “This sounded pretty exciting. I had always had an interest in seeing North America.” Herrmann continues, “I came over in 1979 and refereed for Stu. I fell in love with Canada and knew that I would live there someday.”
It was around this same time period when Herrmann began to shift his primary focus onto officiating. In the late 1970s Ross Hart recalls that Herrmann was starting to gain the reputation as being a no-nonsense referee. “Hans was making a name for himself as the ‘Iron Judge’ in Germany where he handled the tournaments in Hanover,” Hart explains. The year 1981 saw Herrmann gain recognition for his hard-nosed style in Stampede Wrestling as well. “He was named Referee of the Year that year. Starting in 1979 Hans was brought in as guest referee for the Calgary Stampede Cards in July until moving to Canada in 1986 at which time he became a full-time official for the promotion.” says Hart.
At the time of Herrmann’s arrival in Calgary the booker for Stampede was the entertaining and always controversial Bruce Hart. Although many wrestlers at the time could not stand Hart’s antics behind the scenes, Herrmann never had too many problems with him. “Bruce was not difficult to work with. A little annoying at times because he had such a bone for pranks and most of them were performed using storylines in the ring. I believe these jokes caused a lot of the shows to look silly, even to the fans,” he said. Herrmann counters those points with, “but I have to say that he did book some awesome angles that drew a lot of heat and helped the business.”
One topic that Herrmann did disagree on with Bruce Hart was the name given to him on his first few years with the promotion. Herrmann told SLAM! Wrestling that Hart thought he could get some good heat by naming Herrmann’s character ‘Jergen Himler’. “Jergen Himler was one of Hitler’s right-hand men in the war and during the Holocaust. Any Nazi related stuff is not something to joke about or base entertainment on, but it was Bruce’s idea to grab even more heat from the fans.”
This was a touchy subject for Herrmann because the name is such a horrible connection to the past of Germany. Hermann never really pressed the issue with Bruce because Stu and Helen Hart treated him so well that he didn’t want to create any more turmoil in the family.
Overall the character never bothered Herrmann because the fans hated him so much, inside and outside the arena, that it was good for business. His son Dennis, on the other hand, was not so understanding when Bruce pulled a practical joke on him. Wrestling as the Pitbull Kid for the new Stampede Wrestling, Bruce thought it would be funny one night in Taper, Alberta to announce Dennis as ‘Dennis Himler’ instead. Herrmann explains that the tribute to his old name was not appreciated by his son. “Dennis always had a sore spot for Bruce because of naming me Jergen Himler in the old days … after the match Dennis took Bruce by the collar and told him his heart would end up on some school’s shelf if he ever pulled a stunt like that again. Needless to say, the name didn’t bother me as much as Dennis.”
Having been a part of Stampede Wrestling during its last big run in the late 1970s and early 1980s Herrmann was witness to some of the greatest matches and angles in the promotion’s history. When SLAM! Wrestling asked Herrmann what stars he felt drew the most money and who were involved in the most successful feuds, his answer contained the same names. “Any program involving the Hart children always did well. Especially Bret and Owen. As much as the fans loved them they equally hated anyone who tried to harm them.” As far as heels went Herrmann remembers, “The Dynamite Kid, Tom Billington, was one of the best villains I’ve ever seen. Whenever he and one of the Harts fought, the technical wrestling was so good it always got the crowd going crazy.”
According to Ross Hart, Herrmann’s legacy in Stampede Wrestling will be one of toughness and innovation. The German referee was widely respected by both wrestlers and management as a no-nonsense enforcer in the ring. The innovation side came in the form of the official’s card system. In conjunction with Stampede, Herrmann helped to bring the soccer-style penalty card system to wrestling, putting a unique spin on otherwise typical matches.
Ross Hart explains the format: “A total of two yellow cards would be displayed by officials for less serious infractions. A third offence or any major offence would result in a red card and an automatic disqualification; black cards would be displayed for the most serious offences resulting in suspensions.” This arrangement was designed to give the referees more authority and control in the often wild Stampede matches.
Since his retirement from the squared circle, Hans Jochen Herrmann has kept himself busy with a variety of activities. One of his proudest past times has been getting to enjoy his son Dennis, “The Pitbull Kid”, compete in the same promotion he refereed in for so many years.
Besides that, Herrmann has become an entrepreneur. The former Stampede official owns and operates Heidi’s Food-Saloon (named after his wife), on a part-time basis to keep busy and continue to be involved within the community. The restaurant’s main clientele are rodeo riders on the cowboy trail, but they also receive some local and Hollywood celebrities from time to time. Stampede Wrestling legends Keith and Ross Hart, and the Cuban Assassin are often in for breakfast, while Clint Eastwood and Gene Hackman have also stopped by during a movie shoot.
The humble police officer from Hanover, Germany has led an amazing and exciting life spanning two sports and three careers. As far as becoming involved in today’s brand of sports entertainment Herrmann told SLAM! Wrestling that he has no urge to get back in the ring. “I don’t think I’d be able to keep up with all the craziness in today’s wrestling. I enjoyed my time in the business and now it’s time to let the young kids have their chance.” Whether it is in the memories of Stampede Wrestling fans, or in his current role as a saloon proprietor, Herrmann has undoubtedly made his mark on Calgary’s local culture.
To visit Hans-Jochen Herrman’s “Heidi’s Food-Saloon” go to Longview, Alberta (45km southwest from Calgary on Highway 22), which is along Cowboy Trail. Or simply visit www.cowboytrail.com, then click on restaurants.