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National Anthems in Germany

The debate about the US anthem echoes a debate about the German anthem.  The “Deutschland über alles” text goes back to 1841 but its meaning has been and still is easily misused.  When East Germany was annexed in 1990 many suggested adopting the GDR anthem, written in 1949 by the anti-Nazi poet (and minister of culture) Johannes Becher, with lines like these:

May both peace and joy inspire
Germany, our fatherland
Peace is all the world’s desire
To the peoples lend your hand. . .
Let all paths by peace be lighted
That no mother shall again
Mourn her son in woe.

Some preferred the beautiful “Children’s Hymn” by Bertolt Brecht from 1950, with such lines as these (translated so as to rhyme):

Grace spare not and spare no labor
Passion nor intelligence
That a decent German nation
Flourish as do other lands. . .
Neither over nor yet under
Other peoples will we be
From the Oder to the Rhineland
From the Alps to the North Sea
And because we’ll make it better
Let us guard and love our home
Love it as our dearest country
As the others love their own

The music to both, melodic and easily singable, is by the great composer Hanns Eisler (after the HUAC forced him to leave the USA).  But the proposals, unsurprisingly, were rejected, and the German anthem remains the old one, with some also having problems about standing to sing it.

Victor Grossman, American journalist and author, is a resident of East Berlin for many years. He is the author of Crossing the River: A Memoir of the American Left, the Cold War, and Life in East Germany (University of Massachusetts Press, 2003).

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