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Protocol Office Article 2012.04.01 Na­tion­al an­them

The Deutschlandlied, the German national anthem, dates back to the liberal national movement of the 19th century. The words stem from the pen of August Heinrich Hoffmann (who added “von Fallersleben” to his name), a patriotic liberal poet and literary scholar who lost his professorship in Prussia in 1842 because of his works.

He wrote this "Song of the Germans" on the island of Helgoland, then a British possession, on 26 August 1841, weaving into the text quotations from and allusions to other popular songs. The melody, which predates the poem and was already envisioned by the poet as the music to which the poem should be set, was composed by Joseph Haydn in 1797 for the Austrian imperial anthem Gott erhalte Franz den Kaiser (“God Save Emperor Francis”).

The Deutschlandlied was initially unable to compete successfully against other songs. After 1871 the Prussian royal anthem Heil dir im Siegerkranz (“Hail to Thee in Victor’s Laurels”), which had been designated the imperial anthem, was sung wherever Emperor William I appeared. Hoffman’s song did not become popular until the turn of the 20th century.

In 1922, in a speech marking the third anniversary of the Weimar constitution, Reich President Friedrich Ebert publicly proclaimed the Deutschlandlied, although he did not use the term “national anthem”. In his speech, President Ebert stated: “Unity and right and freedom – in times of internal fragmentation and oppression, this triad from the poet’s song voiced the longing of all Germans; may it now accompany us on our arduous path to a better future.”

During the era of National Socialist tyranny, this state symbol – like the flag – was reinterpreted to serve the purposes of the dictatorship: The first verse of the Deutschlandlied was sung together with the Horst-Wessel-Lied (“Horst Wessel Song”), a Nazi fighting song

After World War II, the newly founded Federal Republic of Germany had difficulty deciding on a national anthem. Although it specifically refers to the federal flag, the Basic Law does not make any provision for a national anthem; no arrangement was made until 1952, when Federal Chancellor Konrad Adenauer asked the Federal President, in a letter of 29 April, to recognize “the Hoffmann-Haydn song as the national anthem. At state functions the third verse should be sung.” In his letter of 2 May, President Theodor Heuss gave his consent, after his earlier attempt to find a new anthem was unsuccessful.

A separate anthem was created for the German Democratic Republic (GDR) in 1949. The text – Auferstanden aus Ruinen (“Risen from Ruins”) – was written by the communist poet Johannes R. Becher and set to a melody composed by Hanns Eisler. Starting in the early 1970s, however, the lyrics were no longer sung; only the melody was played, because the text declared commitment to the unity of Germany, which by that time was no longer a political aim of the GDR regime.

One passage from this text nevertheless came to have a belated but profound historical impact: During the peaceful revolution in autumn 1989, East German protesters chanted the words Deutschland, einig Vaterland (“Germany, united Fatherland”) in the streets of the GDR to express their demand. After the reunification of Germany, in an exchange of letters in August 1991, Federal President Richard von Weizsäcker and Federal Chancellor Helmut Kohl declared the third verse of the Deutschlandlied to be the national anthem.

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