The ‘Song of Germany’ celebrates 70 years as the national anthem of the Federal Republic

Seven decades ago, the third stanza of ‘Deutschlandlied’ became the national anthem of the Federal Republic of Germany. However, it is much older and has not been without controversy.

National anthems around the world can get pretty violent. “Let the blood of the enemy water your fields”, the French sing since 1792, the Italians are “willing to die fighting for peace and freedom” (1847) and the Argentines swear “with glory to die” for those same ideals (1813 ).

In contrast, the German anthem seems rather peaceful, although its lyrics also date from the mid-19th century, a time when nationalism and warlike tones were the order of the day. The “Song of the Germans”, popularly known as ‘Deutschlandlied’ (“Song of Germany”), has a turbulent history. From May 2, 1952, only its third stanza was adopted as the national anthem of the Federal Republic of Germany. It begins with the lines: “Unity, justice and freedom for the German fatherland, let us all fight for it, fraternally with hearts and hands!”.

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The text was written on August 26, 1841. The poet Hoffmann von Fallersleben (1798-1874) composed his verses as a call to his countrymen to create a united German empire. At that time, Germany was still fragmented into innumerable small states under the rule of different princes. Von Fallersleben adapted his text to the melody of the ‘Kaiserquartett’ (string quartet “Emperor”) by Joseph Haydn (1732-1809).

In the Weimar Republic, the ‘Deutschlandlied’ became the national anthem for the first time, as decreed by the Social Democratic Reich President Friedrich Ebert on August 11, 1922. Even under National Socialism it remained the German anthem, but only the first stanza. His phrase “Deutschland, Deutschland, über alles in der Welt” (Germany, Germany, above all else in the world) seemed made for the ideology of the Nazi regime, although what Hoffmann von Fallersleben had in mind in the mid-nineteenth century was a German national state.

After the end of World War II, the song was linked to the Third Reich and in the US occupation zone it was even banned for a time.

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While Johannes Robert Becher’s ‘Auferstanden aus Ruinen’ was chosen as an anthem in the GDR immediately after its founding in 1949, it was some time before the Federal Republic, founded in the same year, had an anthem again.

This caused problems, above all, at official receptions, where, in the absence of a German anthem, carnival songs such as “Wir sind die Eingeborenen von Trizonesien” (‘We are the natives of Trizonesia’) were performed, alluding to the three zones of occupation of the western powers. It didn’t help that the then Federal Chancellor, Konrad Adenauer, who was from the Rhineland, famous for its carnivals, was quite familiar with the music of this festival: an official anthem was needed!

After the war, the popular and student patriotic song “Ich hab mich ergeben” (‘I have surrendered’), composed in 1820 by Hans Ferdinand Maßmann, was often sung at official events. He says like this:

“I’ve given up
With the heart and with the hand,
To the land of love and life
My German homeland.”

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