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TODAY IN BERLIN: DEATH OF HANNS EISLER AND THE GDR NATIONAL ANTHEM

On September 6, 1962 East Berlin newspapers received the news of the death of Hanns Eisler, the composer of the East German national anthem. The artist, who worked with Bertold Brecht in the Berlin of the Weimar Republic but as an active communist was forced to leave Germany to escape Nazi persecution, the man who in Hollywood became friends with Leonard Bernstein, Charlie Chaplin and Igor Stravinsky but who in 1948 was forced to leave the US as an alleged communist spy (“the Karl Marx of music”), is almost entirely forgotten today. Again completely undeserved. Here is a short story of his most famous, although true Eisler music connoisseurs would probably disagree, work.

Regardless of political views and personal sentiments many people would openly admit that in terms of their national anthem, the former German Democratic Republic definitely managed to do something right. Auferstanden aus Ruinen – “Risen from Ruins” – had a gripping melody and an intensely moving text. The song became the official national anthem of the GDR on November 5, 1949.

Nationalhymne_der_DDR

On that day the new state´s (the GDR itself was born only in October that year) chief executive body, the Council of Ministers of the GDR, announced its decision concerning the choice of the national anthem. With music written by Hanns Eisler (in a record time of three weeks!) and the lyrics by a poet Johannes Robert Becher who later became the East German Minister of Culture, the song was melodious without being too difficult, poignant without being overwhelming and focused on the most burning issue in German politics at the time: the unity of all Germany (something that would change along with the intensification of the conflict along the East-West line and the ensuing Cold War).

A day later, on November 6th, the text and the notes were published in the big national newspaper “Neue Deutschland” (still published today) and the anthem had its official premiere at the Deutsches Staatsoper, then still residing in the Admiralspalast in Friedrichstraße. The day was not chosen at random: November 7th, 1949 would mark the 32nd anniversary of the outbreak of the Great Socialist October Revolution in Russia (the insurrection took place on October 25th according to the Julian calendar used in Russia at the time but corresponding to November 7th in the New Style calendar popular in Europe, hence the confusion).

The reactions were mixed: the comrades in the GDR found it appropriate and fitting, not to mention quite pleasant to the ear, while the “other Germans”, those living in the West, responded with the heaviest and sometimes bordering on paranoid – in a manner usually ascribed to their Eastern neighbours – critique. Gullyrutscher-Hymne (“gutter-surfer´s anthem”) and Eislerpampe (“Eisler-sludge”) were only two of many colourful terms of endearment created to discuss the qualities of the song. But that was not all: the composer was accused of plagiarism, too. He allegedly stole the melody from a 1939 hit “Goodbye Johnny” written by Peter Kreuder for a film called Wasser für Canitoga (here the original song). The similarity, however, was limited to the first eight notes and could be found in many musical pieces. Such as Beethoven´s “Freudvoll und leidevoll”.

All this came to an end in the 1970s when the GDR authorities banned the text of the song from being sung in public as being “too conciliatory” and politically inconvenient. With the world caught in a steady march towards the Cold War “unity” was not something anyone was prepared to consider important or, come to that, desirable. And so until the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989 only the instrumental version of the anthem was performed. The text, although never replaced by a new one, was meant to be forgotten. It was a bygone of a different time.

Auferstanden aus Ruinen returned together with the German unity it paid homage to. Until 1990, when the DDR accepted the West German constitution and per default gave up all of its own national symbols, it was again performed and sang on the top of the former comrades´ lungs. Soon its place was taken by Das Lied der Deutschen or what we know as the German anthem today (and whose melody is based on the Kaiserlied (or Gott erhalte Franz, den Kaiser ) von Joseph Haydn. Shortly before that Lothar de Maziere, the first and the last democratically elected Prime Minister of the German Democratic Republic, put forward an official proposal that part of the old East German anthem be incorporated in the anthem of the new, united Germany. The idea was rejected by the united Germany´s Chancellor, Helmut Kohl.

The anthem of the DDR was last broadcast on October 2nd, 1990 – it ended the last day on air of the old East German radio station, Radio Berlin International. The version they played was a complete one.

Auferstanden aus Ruinen
und der Zukunft zugewandt,
laßt uns Dir zum Guten dienen,
Deutschland, einig Vaterland.
Alte Not gilt es zu zwingen,
und wir zwingen sie vereint,
denn es muß uns doch gelingen,
daß die Sonne schön wie nie
über Deutschland scheint,
über Deutschland scheint.

Glück und Friede sei beschieden
Deutschland, unserm Vaterland.
Alle Welt sehnt sich nach Frieden,
reicht den Völkern eure Hand.
Wenn wir brüderlich uns einen,
schlagen wir des Volkes Feind.
Laßt das Licht des Friedens scheinen,
daß nie keine Mutter mehr
ihren Sohn beweint,
ihren Sohn beweint.

Laßt uns pflügen, laßt uns bauen,
lernt und schafft wie nie zuvor,
und der eignen Kraft vertrauend
steigt ein frei Geschlecht empor.
Deutsche Jugend, bestes Streben
unsres Volks in dir vereint,
wirst du Deutschlands neues Leben.
Und die Sonne schön wie nie
über Deutschland scheint,
über Deutschland scheint…

English:

From the ruins risen newly,
to the future turned, we stand.
Let us serve your good will truly,
Germany, our fatherland.
Triumph over bygone sorrow,
can in unity be won.
For we shall attain a morrow,
when over our Germany,
there is radiant sun,
there is radiant sun.

May both peace and joy inspire,
Germany, our fatherland.
Peace is all the world’s desire,
to the peoples lend your hand.
In fraternity united,
we shall crush the people’s foe.
Let all paths by peace be lighted,
that no mother shall again
mourn her son in woe,
mourn her son in woe.

Let us plough and build our nation,
learn and work as never yet,
that a free new generation,
faith in its own strength beget!
German youth, for whom the striving
of our people is at one,
you are Germany’s reviving,
and over our Germany,
there is radiant sun,
there is radiant sun…

 

#Berlin #berlinfakt

One comment on “TODAY IN BERLIN: DEATH OF HANNS EISLER AND THE GDR NATIONAL ANTHEM

  1. berlioz1935
    October 7, 2016

    I can’t complain about the anthem. It went with the time and expressed the hope that Germany would see a better future after the “bygone sorrow” caused by the Nazis and the war they started.

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