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What "Germany, Germany above all" really means

The climax of all absurdity in the already absurd story of this song happened on July 4, 1954 on the soil of neutral Switzerland.

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What "Germany, Germany above all" really means

The climax of all absurdity in the already absurd story of this song happened on July 4, 1954 on the soil of neutral Switzerland. "Germany, Germany above everything, above everything in the world!" roared from the German-occupied stands of Bern's Wankdorf Stadium after the final of the World Cup - so loud that everyone in the world could hear it on their radio. It was clear to many observers: If you give this people the opportunity, they will fall into a state of national intoxication, even nine years after the end of Nazi barbarism.

But things weren't that simple. Or even simpler, depending on how you look at it. Because whether the DFB team deserved the 3-2 win against Hungary or not: the footballers in black and white did not appear like masters, just as Herbert Zimmermann always paid the opponent the utmost respect in his report . And when Captain Fritz Walter accepted the trophy with his head bowed, every one of the 60,000 spectators in the stands realized once again that they had previously thought this sight impossible. The Hungarians had been considered much too strong.

The cabaret artist Dieter Hildebrandt later summarized the consequences with the words: "What should the people do? They didn't know what else to sing." If you look at the contemporary confusion surrounding German identity, this is probably the most apt interpretation - and so lines that the world had always considered a paragon of chauvinism also played a role again at the event that historians understand as the ideal founding of the Federal Republic.

On August 26, 1841, Hoffmann von Fallersleben on Heligoland wrote the "Song of the Germans". On August 11, 1922, Reich Chancellor Friedrich Ebert, a social democrat, officially declared it the national anthem of a young republic. Of course, the National Socialists insisted on bending the first verse to suit their tyranny and always performing it together with the Horst Wessel song (“SA marches with a calm, steady step”). After the founding of the Federal Republic, there was resistance to sticking to the song.

Anyone who wants to bring order to this chaos should start with the situation that Heinrich Hoffmann von Fallersleben (1798–1874) found around the middle of the 19th century. And ends up with the insight: the poet wrote all the stanzas for the liberals. The Habsburg Francis II had to dissolve the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation, which was organized along corporate estates, after numerous defeats by France. The strategy of reviving the world of the 18th century after Napoleon's end at Waterloo was only partially successful. As a result, the German Confederation presented itself around 1840 as a loose association of more or less large states.

It was only in very few regions that the subjects could even think of having a say – and so the idea arose in the minds of the liberals that a united German nation with a binding constitution was the measure of all things, something that went above everything else. That this construct should reach from the Meuse to the Memel and from the Etsch to the Belt was just as much a dreamy fantasy as the words "when it always sticks together as a brother for protection and defence". Because in reality the exact opposite happened.

The Rhine crisis provided Fallersleben with the impulse to write his text; another confrontation with France, which was already considered the "arch-enemy" at the time. Measured against another song from 1840, the three stanzas read downright moving: Max Spiral Burger's "Die Wacht am Rhein" was not a dream, but a declaration of war against the West. The refrain "Dear fatherland, may you be calm, stands firm and true to the watch, the watch on the Rhine" might still pass as patriotism. But there are also stanzas like "As long as a drop of blood is still glowing, a fist is still drawing the sword, and one arm is still cocking the rifle, no enemy will set foot here on your beach."

Fallersleben's lines gained great popularity in the 1848 revolution. In fact, the poet formulated the goal of the insurgents, to unite the Germany of kings, princes and dukes and to provide it with a constitution - albeit under the leadership of Prussia and to the exclusion of Austria. According to earwitnesses, some revolutionaries replaced the “about” in the first line with “our”: “Germany, Germany, our everything, our everything in the world” sounds far less aggressive. But it was no use, the revolution failed. King Friedrich Wilhelm IV of Prussia refused the imperial crown, Germany remained a patchwork quilt in the middle of Europe.

The mixed experiences of the rulers of Prussia with the song then influenced the decision in 1871 not to make it the anthem of the newly founded German Empire. In 1848, the man who now acted as Kaiser Wilhelm I had had revolutionaries shot down according to the motto “Only soldiers help against democrats” when the royal brother Friedrich Wilhelm IV had hesitated.

The Prussian national anthem of 1795 suited the new national splendor better. Although it had been written with Heinrich Harries by a supporter of the Enlightenment, its content was unsuspicious: "Hail to you in the victor's wreath, ruler of the fatherland! Hail To Thee, Emperor! In the splendor of the throne, feel the high bliss of being the darling of the people! Hail To Thee, Emperor!"

Another virtue of this piece, set to the tune of "God Save The Queen," is that the music hadn't previously served another dynasty. Hoffmann von Fallersleben had set his text to notes by Joseph Haydn - and these notes had once carried the Austrian hymn "Gott erhalte Franz den Kaiser". Nevertheless, the "Song of the Germans" rose to become a kind of unofficial anthem together with the "Wacht am Rhein". In the trenches of World War I, the first verse was often heard, not only according to propaganda, to boost soldiers' morale; the original purpose of the text had now, at the latest, turned into its opposite.

For this reason, it remains questionable whether it was a wise decision by Friedrich Ebert in 1922 to decree this song for a republic that called itself the "Reich" but presented it as a permanent crisis. With a speech at the ceremony, the Reich President also opened the battle of interpretations as to which passage was the decisive one: "Unity and justice and freedom! This triad from the poet's song gave expression to the longing of all Germans in times of inner fragmentation and oppression; it should also now accompany us on our hard path to a better future.”

The words betray the good will of the head of state. But at a time when Imperial Germany was still influential and ex-military and left-wing extremists were trying to stage coups after coups, Ebert's message went almost unheard.

After the mess that the National Socialists had made with the first verse in particular, there were good arguments for getting rid of the whole piece when the Federal Republic was founded in 1949. This was the plan of the first Federal President: In March 1933, Theodor Heuss, as a Liberal, had voted for the Nazi Enabling Act and thus abolished democracy – an act that he never forgave himself. This is probably one of the reasons why he introduced the song "Land of Faith, German Land" as the future national anthem in his New Year's Eve speech in 1950.

Rudolf Alexander Schröder's text was tailored to the situation after 1945: "Land of Faith, German Land! Land of fathers and heirs, for us in life and in death, house and hostel, consolation and pledge." But “Theos Nachtlied” not only failed with the population, but also had the first chancellor, Konrad Adenauer, as an opponent.

The Rhenish CDU man firmly believed in the third stanza of the Deutschlandlied; for the conservative it reflected one of the traditions to which Germany could refer. Looking back at the 1954 World Cup final, Adenauer was wrong about the period in which "unity, justice and freedom" would seep into the consciousness of German citizens.

But the longer the state existed, the more its first chancellor was right. The third stanza of Hoffmann von Fallersleben continued to apply after 1989. With all due respect for the text by Johannes R. Becher, it was impossible to impose the GDR anthem “Resurrected from ruins” on the Federal Republic – all the more so because in the East, because of the phrase “Let us serve you for the good, Germany, united fatherland ’ was no longer allowed to be played from the 1970s onwards.

The current situation, like so many things in this country, is both absurd and bearable at the same time: History forbids the Germans from singing all the verses of a song as an anthem that originally belonged to the liberals. But wishing for one's homeland to flourish in the splendor of unity and justice and liberty is among the finest forms of patriotism human beings can conceive.

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