The German National Anthem: Das Deutschlandlied

The German national anthem is called, “Das Deutschlandlied“, or “The Song of Germany”, and has been used in full and in part as the official German national anthem from 1922-1945 and 1952-present day.

The German national anthem itself wasn’t created in one effort, rather it was cobbled together, chopped, and changed over the course of 200 years. Created at the end of the 18th Century in direct response to Great Britain’s “God Save the King“, at a time where the concept of “national anthems” was gaining traction, Das Deutschlandlied‘s history is complicated to say the least.

The Melody of the German National Anthem

German National Anthem

The melody was composed in 1797, by the famous Austrian classical composer Joseph Haydn, a contemporary of Mozart, Beethoven and older brother of the slightly underappreciated composer Michael Haydn.

At the time of the melody’s composition, Joseph Haydn was widely celebrated as the finest composer in all Europe (and therefore the world), with most of his career spent as a “Court Composer”, writing music for monarchs and other royals.

So enormous was his contribution to music as a whole, that Haydn is frequently referred to as “The Father of the Symphony”.

The melody Haydn wrote that would eventually become the melody for the German national anthem, was part of a collaborative effort to accompany the birthday poem “Gott erhalte Franz den Kaiser” (“God save Francis the Emperor”), written by Lorenz Leopold Haschka, (mirroring the British national anthem adopted in 1745) as a gift for the Austrian Emperor Francis II, then the (last) Holy Roman Emperor.

The joint effort between Haydn and Haschka was well-received by all and became the de facto national anthem for Austria, seeing updates to the lyrics in 1826 and 1854, before its end as the official national anthem with the dissolution of the Austrian monarchy in 1918.

By all accounts, Haydn was proud of the rousing anthem he had created, and the melody enjoyed popularity among the German-speaking world.

The melody itself became known as “The Emperor’s Hymn” and has since been used as the melody for a number of hymns and inspiration for many of Haydn’s contemporaries, further cementing his legacy.

See Related: Meaning of the Flag of Germany

The Words and Meaning of the German National Anthem

It was this popularity and familiarity among the German-speaking folk that likely drew the attention of one August Heinrich Hoffman von Fallersleben (phew!) to the tune, as a vehicle for his patriotic poetry.

Hoffman was a revolutionary poet from Lower Saxony, and one of the millions opposed to the reassertion of the Holy Roman Empire‘s grip on the German-speaking nations of Europe, following the French Revolution and the defeat of Napoleon.

While most German nations balked at the idea of revolution and sided against the French during the Napoleonic Wars, many of the ideals of the French revolution (such as the end of the feudal system, embracing science over religion and liberty for all) permeated into European societies and would inevitably lead to mass societal reforms across the entire continent, including most notably and consequentially the unification of a German state in 1871.

The Holy Roman Empire, fashioned as a direct descendant of the real Roman Empire (it was anything but), was a vast, complicated confederation of hundreds of monarchist states, big and small of primarily German-speaking peoples. The Empire was loosely controlled from the throne in Vienna and was mired in a feudal system of serfdom that only benefitted the nobility.

These systems were challenged with the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, as states across the Holy Roman Empire began to modernize, lifting few of the working class into the new “middle class” and casting many into obsolescence.

By the 1840s, the majority of the working classes still existed in terrible conditions, tied to the land they lived on and were essentially considered property of the landowner.

The rapidly expanding middle classes, born out of the need for skilled and educated workers for industry, were hardly treated any better, and with their burden of education, had a better idea of how they were being mistreated by their “betters”; the wealthy and the gentry who enriched themselves from the efforts of the working and middle class.

While efforts to combine the plethora of German states began in 1815 with the German Confederation, by 1841 little real progress had been made and the majority of the population (outside of the nobility) still clamored for a departure from predominately feudal systems.

As a unification revolutionary, Hoffman’s desire, like many others, was to see a nation for all Germans to be proud of, that promised unity and justice and freedom, but would be more than ready to defend her honor, in a curious blend of anti-monarchist liberalism and nationalism.

It was here in 1841 that Hoffman while holidaying in Heligoland, wrote the words to what would become the German national anthem. Pairing his lyrics to Haydn’s popular melody, “The Song of Germany” became an instant hit among those who wished to see a united, fairer Germany.

The message was simple; Germans should desire and be loyal to a united Germany, before loyalty to any other entity, a celebration of what made Germany great, and a call for unity, justice, liberty, and happiness for all Germans, not just those who held titles and land.

Unfortunately for Hoffman, the idea of loyalty to the larger state, as opposed to loyalty to one’s ruling Prince, King, or Emperor, was regarded as treasonous by many German states, and Hoffman was forced into hiding for 7 years.

Sadly for Hoffman, infighting amongst the liberals and republicans made it easier for the monarchist factions to break the movement, and his dream of a German republic would have to wait.

His anthem, however, continued to grow in popularity, becoming a rallying call for republicans and liberals during the German Revolutions of 1848-49 and would remain a German patriotic staple into the next century.

See related: The Flag of Germany

History of the National Anthem of Germany: Adoption, adaptation, and augmentation

Germany was formally unified as a nation in 1871, but would not officially adopt the song as the German national anthem until 1922, following the dissolution of the Austrian Monarchy, which essentially freed up the melody for German use.

Although it was recommended that only the third stanza be used (concerning unity, justice, and liberty) the entire song was used as the official German national anthem to satisfy those who resented the loss of the German Empire and those who believed in the republican and liberal ideas that had led to Germany’s unification in the 19th century.

Following the Nazi seizure of power in 1933, the anthem was augmented to become a “co-national anthem” with the “Horst-Wessel-Lied” or “Horst-Wessel Song“, the official anthem of the Nazi Party. The new co-anthem began with the first stanza of “Das Deutschlandlied”, followed by Horst Wessel’s creation.

It is this adaptation that is the most likely source of the bad reputation “Das Deutschlandlied” has endured. At the beginning of the 1936 Olympics, to the backdrop of swastikas, thousands of Germans with outstretched arms bellowed “Deutschland, Deutschland über alles” which forever, (if unfairly) bound the anthem to a hateful ideology.

See related: World War II Facts

The National Anthem of Germany After World War II

Following Germany’s defeat in the Second World War, “Das Deutschlandlied” was briefly dropped as the national anthem for both East and West Germany, being replaced in East Germany by the new anthem “Auferstanden aus Ruinen” or “Risen from Ruins“.

In West Germany “Das Deutschlandlied” was once again adopted as the national Anthem in 1952, with only the third stanza being adopted as the official West German national anthem.

The reason for dropping the first two stanzas from the official national anthem was mostly a desire to depart from the image burned into the global psyche of a Nazi Germany “above all”.

While the first two stanzas weren’t adopted (nor outlawed, as is commonly misconceived) they remained part of the official German national anthem, but remained “unsung”.

In November 1991, following the unification of East and West Germany in 1990, President Richard von Weizsäcker and Chancellor Helmut Kohl agreed that the third stanza alone would become the official German national anthem of their new German Republic, the opening lines Einigkeit und recht und freiheit” (“Unity and justice and liberty”) becoming something of an unofficial, but lauded national motto.

See related: Berlin Wall Facts

The Future of Das Deutschlandlied

Recently, the current form of the German national anthem has come under renewed scrutiny, this time from feminist and equal opportunities advocates.

A debate over the use of masculine language has opened, with some calling for terms such as “fatherland” and “brotherhood” to be changed into more gender-neutral language, as seen with the Canadian national anthem in 2015.

This notion to amend the lyrics to better reflect the population as a whole has not gained much support as of yet, a spokesman from Chancellor Angela Merkel’s office stating in 2018; “The Chancellor is very happy with our nice national anthem as it is”.

See Related: Funny German Jokes That’ll Crack You Up

Lyrics of the German National Anthem –Das Lied der Deutschen” (In German and English)

(Note; the final stanza is the official German national anthem. The first two stanzas are no longer considered part of the national anthem)

Deutschland, Deutschland über alles,
Über alles in der Welt,
Wenn es stets zu Schutz und Trutze
Brüderlich zusammenhält.
Von der Maas bis an die Memel,
Von der Etsch bis an den Belt,
Deutschland, Deutschland über alles,
Über alles in der Welt!
Deutschland, Deutschland über alles,
Über alles in der Welt!

(Germany, Germany over all
Over everything in the world!
When it comes to protecting and defending,
Our unity unites us.
From the Maas to the Memel
From the Etsch to the Belt,
Germany, Germany over all
Over everything in the world!
Germany, Germany over all
Over everything in the world!)

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!

(German wives and fidelity,
German wine and melody
Shall all persevere in the world.
Their fair and ancient tone,
Resounds in us our noble goal
Throughout our entire lives.
German women, German trueness
German beer, and German chorus!
German women, German trueness
German beer, and German chorus!)

Einigkeit und Recht und Freiheit
Für das deutsche Vaterland!
Danach lasst uns alle streben
Brüderlich mit Herz und Hand!
Einigkeit und Recht und Freiheit
Sind des Glückes Unterpfand –
Blüh’ im Glanze dieses Glückes,
Blühe, deutsches Vaterland!
Blüh’ im Glanze dieses Glückes,
Blühe, deutsches Vaterland!

(Unity, justice, and liberty
For the Fatherland!
Let us all strive for that
In brotherhood with heart and hand!
Unity, justice, and liberty
Are the foundation for happiness;
Bloom in the radiance of this happiness,
Flourish, ‘O Fatherland!
Bloom in the radiance of this happiness,
Flourish, ‘O Fatherland!)

Updated: June 8, 2021 — 9:43 am

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