Feb 19, 2013

Deutschlandlied/Song of Germany

written by Kelly Smithson

Having grown up in Germany, I am well aware of the nation’s attempts at coming to grips with its Nazi past. These efforts include omitting the first and second stanzas of the national anthem during official events. While the values promoted in the third stanza are certainly laudable, I believe the “Deutschlandlied” (“Song of Germany”) is incomplete. It seems to me that the second stanza could be included at all occasions.

I can see why the first stanza would be omitted. The first phrase already sends chills down my spine, and I’m sure others share that sentiment. One cannot help but associate the first stanza with German nationalism. As Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deutschlandlied) points out, the Nazis used two anthems for official events: the first stanza of the “Deutschlandlied,” followed by the “Horst-Wessel-Lied” (“Horst Wessel Song”), which is more political and militant in tone (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Horst-Wessel-Lied). 

The German version of Wikipedia (http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lied_der_Deutschen) further explains that the first stanza of the “Deutschlandlied” was retained in order to evoke a sense of continuity with Germany’s history prior to the Weimar Republic. It also points out that the original purpose of that text, which was written in 1841, was to express the desire (common at the time) for a unified Germany that, unlike the Roman Empire, could defend itself against France. Obviously, the meaning of the first stanza has changed over time with the country’s political atmosphere, including the national borders. Inhabitants of former German territories would undoubtedly feel uneasy if the text was still part of the official national anthem of Germany.

Wikipedia states that the “Deutschlandlied” has often come under fire for “the somewhat male chauvinist attitude in the second stanza.” I think the criticism indicated here is exaggerated. As the German version of Wikipedia explains, the author of the text simply wanted to commemorate a love interest of his youth, and the “Deutschlandlied” was meant as a drinking song (hence the mention of wine, women, and song in the second stanza). Yes, Germany has been known as a paternalistic country. It is referred to as the “Vaterland” (“fatherland”), after all. However, that does not mean that women aren’t valued there. As in other countries, women over time have had the opportunity to pursue more and more non-domestic activities, including political careers (as in the case of Chancellor Merkel). There will always be men who want to dominate women, but the German government no longer expects all women to be nothing more than stay-at-home wives and mothers.

I see another meaning to the second stanza that can be applied in this day and age: national identity. All nations should strive for the values identified in the third stanza of the “Deutschlandlied” (unity, justice, and freedom). However, each country should also have something unique to be proud of (such as the star-spangled banner in the US national anthem). Germany’s dark past shouldn’t automatically disqualify Germans from feeling any pride for their country. Not all of German history and culture has brought about massive evil and destruction, and neither mine nor my father’s generation of Germans had anything to do with the Nazi atrocities. The second stanza of the “Deutschlandlied” could be seen as a call for national production at a time when even life’s basic essentials are being manufactured abroad. If the mention of women is indeed a major issue, the word “Frauen” could be replaced with “Bürger” (“citizens”), which might reflect the unity of the German people, a nation that includes a lot of immigrants. Of course, Germany does make good wine, but I think it would make more sense to mention beer here wink

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