'Deutschlandlied', the German National Anthem Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

'Deutschlandlied', the German National Anthem

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In 1797, Austrian composer Franz Josef Haydn wrote what is arguably his most famous song: 'Gott erhalte Franz den Kaiser'. Haydn hoped to give hope to Austrians in their upcoming face-off against Napoleon's troops. France had 'La Marseillaise' to inspire its citizens, and Britain had 'God save the King', but what did Austria have? Haydn set a tune with lyrics by Lorenz Leopold Haschka and chose to present it to Franz II, Austria's Kaiser (or Emperor) on his birthday. As the decades went by, new emperors came and went, and the words were changed accordingly by different lyricists. Austria's current national anthem, adopted in 1946, bears no relation to the song Haydn wrote in 1797.

Haydn's tune, though, has been set by different lyricists over the years, including a poet and professor named August Heinrich Hoffmann von Fallersleben, who wrote new words for it in 1841. He called it 'Das Lied der Deutschen'.

Verse one starts with the words: 'Deutschland, Deutschland über alles' ('Germany, Germany above everything' in some translations), reflecting a desire for the independent states to set aside their individual interests for the greater aim of German unity, though Germany as a country did not yet exist. The words can also mean 'first in our hearts'. The song contained some liberal desires that were not shared by the ruling houses of many of these countries. Three rivers and one strait are mentioned, they enclose German-speaking lands. Hoffmann von Fallersleben lost his teaching post in Prussia at least in part because of the song.

In the second verse, Hoffmann von Fallersleben evokes and eulogises the traditions and people of Germany, emphasizing its women and patriots and fine wine and music.

Finally, in the third verse, Hoffmann von Fallersleben takes the high road, urging unity, justice and freedom, for a flourishing fatherland. His song was popular among people who wanted to see Germany united.

In the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, it was not unusual for countries to adopt national anthems, especially after new governments were formed. Such a new government came to Germany after World War I, when Kaiser Wilhelm II abdicated. The country adopted Hoffmann von Fallersleben's song as a national anthem in its entirety in 1922. Then the Nazi party came along, headed by Adolf Hitler. Hitler retained the anthem, but used the first verse as a slogan that Germany should 'rule over' all other countries. Germany was divided into West Germany and East Germany in 1949. Neither country wanted to use Hoffmann von Fallersleben's anthem because of its association with the Nazis. When Germany was reunified in 1990, the anthem was reinstated, but only the third verse was used, with its emphasis on justice and freedom:

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!

Unity and justice and freedom
For the German fatherland!
Towards these let us all strive
Brotherly with heart and hand!
Unity and justice and freedom
Are the pledge of happiness;
Flourish in the radiance of this happiness,
Flourish, German fatherland!

Although performance of the other two verses are discouraged for official use, they are not illegal. Still, those who perform the first verse are apt to be viewed as right-wing extremists.


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