Jun
20
2009

What is Germany’s National Anthem?

Flag of Germany - courtesy Will Palmer - CC-BY

Flag of Germany - courtesy Will Palmer - CC-BY

Das Deutschlandlied (The Song of Germany), has been used as the national anthem of Germany since 1922.

It is mostly known by the opening words of the first stanza, “Deutschland über alles” (Germany above all), but this has never been its title.  In 1841, when August Heinrich Hoffmann von Fallersleben wrote the poem, it was about unifying the loose collection of  German-speaking kingdoms, duchies and even smaller entities, not about Germany superior to other  nations.  By chance, the poem could be sung to a melody by Haydn, allowing it become popular.

After the reunification of Germany, in an exchange of letters in August 1991, Federal President Dr. Richard von Weizsäcker and Federal Chancellor Dr. Helmut Kohl designated only the third verse of the “Deutschlandlied” as the national anthem. Ever since, Germans have been singing the third stanza as the official anthem but with a marked lack of enthusiam. Most national anthems are at least a little politically incorrect by modern standards, and Germany’s is no worse than other countries.

Now, slowly but surely, “Das Deutschlandlied” is being reclaimed, and sports, such the World Cup might, mark something of a turning point. It seems that football has done what politics could never do, give a voice to a generation to whom patriotism is not a dirty word.

The “Deutschlandlied” was initially unable to compete successfully against other songs. After 1871 the Prussian royal anthem “Heil dir im Siegerkranz” (“Hail to Thee in Victor’s Laurels”), which had been made the Imperial Anthem, was sung wherever Emperor William I appeared. Not until around the turn of the century did Das Deutschlandlied become popular.

The words of the third stanza are:

Unity and justice and freedom
For the German fatherland!
For these let us all strive
Brotherly with heart and hand!
Unity and justice and freedom
Are the pledge of fortune;
Flourish in this fortune’s blessing,
Flourish, German fatherland.

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