Everything You Never Knew You Wanted to Know About Berlin


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.


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 6, the text and the notes were published in the big national newspaper the “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 choice of the date was not random: November 7, 1949 would mark the 32nd anniversary of the outbreak of the Great Socialist October Revolution in Russia (the insurrection took place on October 25 1917 according to the Julian calendar used in Russia at the time but corresponding to November 7 in the New Style calendar popular in Europe, hence the confusion).

Reactions were mixed: comrades in the GDR found it appropriate and fitting, not to mention quite pleasant to the ear, while the Germans living in the West (later referred to as Wessies) responded with critique which was not only  heavy but sometimes almost bordering on paranoid. Gullyrutscher-Hymne (“gutter-surfer’s anthem”) or Eislerpampe (“Eisler-sludge”) were just two of the many colourful terms of endearment created to discuss the qualities of the song.

But that was not all: on top of the obvious disregard for the musical qualities of the tune, the composer, ans Eisler, was accused of plagiarism. He allegedly stole the melody from a 1939 hit “Goodbye Johnny” written by Peter Kreuder for a film 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. All of which might have had Beethoven’s Freudvoll und leidevoll” as their blueprint.

All this came to an end in the 1970s when the GDR authorities banned the text of the song from being performed in public as being “too conciliatory” and politically inconvenient. With the world caught in a whirlwind of the Cold War “unity” was not anything 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 Chancellor Helmut Kohl.

The anthem of the DDR was last broadcast on October 2, 1990 – exactly 28 years ago today. It ended the last day of broadcasting for 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…


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…


  1. lesleylaw146
    October 2, 2018

    Hi Bea, I found this really intesresting andcrevealing, reading of the GDR’s national anthem. The words ring so true in English too.Hope you and your family are thriving well. We too are going ok in ourcretirement. So busy, I don’t know how I ever found the time to go to work. We are off in a couple ofcweeks to explore Australia and meet up with old friends there. Love to you 5. Xx

    Sent from my Samsung Galaxy smartphone.

    • notmsparker
      October 2, 2018

      Dear Lesley, so good to hear from you and to know you are doing well. No wonder the two of you are so busy – never the ones to sit and be bored:-) Have a wonderful time in Down Under! And I am so glad you liked the post. This one is very close to my heart, too.

  2. penwithlit
    October 7, 2018

    Reblogged this on penwithlit.


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