Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Das National•Lied: Einigkeit und Recht und Freiheit

While there's plenty of controversy regarding Germany's national anthem, Joseph Hayden's melody is not part of it. Hayden composed a song that not only has appropriate pageantry, (even though written for a completely different text; one, which honored "Kaiser Franz"), but is also in a singable range. Controversy instead, comes from the text by author, Hoffmann von Fallersleben. It bears taking a closer look.

To help understand all 3 verses of this National Anthem correctly, let’s look back to when it was written: 1842. Von Fallersleben wrote it while exiled on the (then British; now German) island, Helgoland, not long after the Vienna Congress of 1815. By then, the hopes which many citizens had had for a unified Germany were soundly trounced by European aristocrats, who preferred the status quo. Anyone who actively still sought a united and democratic Germany were persecuted (they were primarily exiled or imprisoned).

In the first stanza's "Deutschland, Deutschland über alles", von Fallersleben is pleading for unity, rather than trumpeting German superiority. Simply and poetically, he recognizes the German speaking territory between these 4 water ways: the Maas to the WEST; the Memel to the EAST, the Etsch to the SOUTH; and the Belt to the NORTH, with the vision of bringing these lands together in a single nation.

Only to the north, the Belt, which is a strait, separating the North and Baltic Seas, is close to Germany's present-day border (with Denmark).

Are you curious about the 3 other water references?

• "Die Maas" (la Meuse) meanders WEST of present day Germany: through France, Belgium (Liége), and Holland (Venlo), where it merges with other rivers, which flow into the North Sea.

• "Die Memel" EAST of Germany, flows into the Baltic through Lithuania.

• "Der Etsch" (Adige) flows to Germany's SOUTH, through South-Tyrol and the Italian Alps into the Adriatic Sea.

The National Socialists interpreted the first stanza under totally different circumstances. After 1933, and while they held power, only this stanza was sung officially. The difference today, is that there is no effort to unify these territories. The rivers mentioned are no longer part of the German nation. Therefore, the first stanza is no longer sung as Germany's national anthem.

As to the other 2 stanzas:

• Stanza 2 is quite romantic and traditional.

• Stanza 3 spells out what this new united state of Germany should be like ("Einigkeit und Recht und Freiheit"), namely unified, fair to all her citizens, and free from oppression. Stanza 3 stands alone as Germany's National Anthem today.

Have a look at v. Fallersleben text for Verses 1 and 3.

Strophe 1:

Deutschland, Deutschland über alles,
-- über alles in der Welt,
wenn es stets zu Schutz und Trutze
-- brüderlich zusammen hält,
von der Maas bis an die Memel,
-- von der Etsch bis an den Belt,

(x2) Deutschland, Deutschland über alles,
--------- über alles in der Welt!

3. Ein-ig-keit und Recht und Frei-heit
für das deu-tsche Vaterland:
Da-nach laßt uns al-le stre-ben* *=to strive (reach) for
brü-der-lich mit Herz und Hand!
Ei-nig-keit und Recht und Frei--heit
sind des Glü-ckes Un-ter-pfand*. *das Pfand=pledge
(x2) -- Blüh’ im Glan-ze die-ses Glü-ckes,
-- blü-he deut-sches Va-ter-land! --

With that, are you ready to listen to Heino singing all 3 stanzas?

--> See how much of the 2nd stanza can you understand without having the text here? Which words do you recognize?

On YouTube, there are versions of just the National Anthem (Stanza 3) being sung at football games. You may be interested to know that this Anthem is not sung on a daily bases, even in schools.

How would you answer Professor Kuhn-Osius's two questions?

1. Is the stanza 1 text worse than the French “Marseillaise,” which refers to spilling 'impure blood' [meaning Germanic blood]?

2. Is it overly patriotic compared to the famous patriotic song "Rule Britannia”?

My thanks to Hunter College Professor Eckard Kuhn-Osius and History Teacher Marcus Krallek for their observations on the subject, submitted to the AATG Listserv Sept 1, 2010.



  1. This is my ROUGH translation of Strophe twei just from listening. I don't think that I got all of the words...
    Germany free, Germany free
    Germany in the world is ----
    Here is an old beautiful (land?)
    Next to long life
    Germany free, Germany free

    1. It is hard to compare the two texts, in a way. On the one hand, the French text is more violent. However, one has to consider them within context. I come from a background where I am very aware of the reasons that people are and were very frightened of the idea of German dominance. It is not common, but also not unusual for people in my congregation to look at me in horror when I tell them that I take German. I made a very conscious choice to do so, because I think that it is important for people to recognize that today's Germans are not Nazis any more than I was involved in dropping the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. However, I do think that there is a valid point to be made in saying that "Deutschland über alles" is inflammatory because of the history that cannot be ignored. However, I keep waffling back and forth on my answer because I really do think that as it was intended the song is actually quite good.

    I also cannot help but note the similarities between "Einigkeit und Recht und Freiheit" and the French revolution's "liberty, equality, fraternity." I wonder what the writer of "Marseillaise" would think of that!

    2. I looked up the lyrics to this one, as I did not know it. Both of them speak about rule over others in some way, as there is the line in the german song about "Schutz und Trutze". Still, I think that "Rule Britannia" seems a little bit over the top...


  2. Interessant, Emma. Es stimmt genau, dass, aus verschiedenen historischen Perspektiven, die Welt immer wieder anders aussieht. Groß Britania, z.B. versucht nicht mehr die ganze Welt zu beherrschen. Als wir uns das heutige Vereingte Königreich (das UK) überlegen, denken wir nicht mehr an Sieg und Überwindung. Das gehört zu seiner Geschichte.

    Das wir uns hier das Deutsche Nationallied überlegen, muss es entschieden werden: aus welchen historischen Perspektive? Das es mehrere davon gibt, könnte man auch leicht die aller peinlichste Perspektive überblicken. Genau das darf man nicht tun. Daher glaube ich auch, dass es heute mehrere Grunden gibt, nur die dritte Strophe als Nationallied zu singen.

    Hier, den Text zur zweiten Strophe. Ich finde die verschiedene Themen interessant:

    Deutsche Frauen, deutsche Treue,
    Deutscher Wein und deutscher Sang
    Sollen in der Welt behalten
    Ihren alten schönen Klang,
    Uns zu edler Tat begeistern
    Unser ganzes Leben lang –
    Deutsche Frauen, deutsche Treue,
    Deutscher Wein und deutscher Sang!
    Deutsche Frauen, deutsche Treue,
    Deutscher Wein und deutscher Sang!


  3. so now that their is like hundreds of years after the person that made their anthem is dead, they just want to go and change everything on him now that is just plainly not right. Maybe if the tried to make the athem more personal to their country then maybe it would be alright but other then that it is not okay. probaly dont know what iam talking about but whatever.

  4. I think there is a certain amount of "we totally pwn everybody" in most every national anthem in the world. It's to be expected, like you'd expect a cheer squad's routine to be declaring that their team is the best and will defeat all the others. Few people take it to be highly literal, it's just having pride. Though Britain's is a bit over the top, being written at a time period where they were taking over everywhere in the world that they possibly could and all...