A political songwriter

He was persecuted during his lifetime, today he is sometimes considered controversial: Heinrich Hoffmann von Fallersleben. The saying is attributed to him: “The biggest scoundrel in the whole country, that is and remains the informer.” If he formulated it, recent research doubts it, the man knew what he was talking about. The creator of the Deutschlandlied was born 225 years ago.

Hoffmann von Fallersleben was one of the best-known Vormärz poets of his time. Liberal. freedom loving. fraternity. contentious. An excellent Germanist and children’s song author. Born in the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation – died in the new Wilhelmine Empire. He experienced two revolutions and three wars. He justified, accompanied and commented on the enormous political, scientific and economic developments in Europe.

The year of his birth is marked by the aftermath of the French Revolution. Just five years earlier, Louis XVI lost. and his wife Marie Antoinette died on the scaffold. In Germany, the “Republic of Mühlhausen” voted to join France. Meanwhile, the Grande Nation invaded Switzerland. In Ireland, the French revolutionaries incited the Irish to revolt against the British. In the Mediterranean, as in the Caribbean, French pirates raid ships, leading to a naval war with the United States. Napoleon sets out for Egypt with an army of 40,000 soldiers. Revolutionary France, the Napoleonic Wars, the Prussian reforms, and the Restoration will have a political impact on Hoffmann von Fallersleben’s entire childhood and youth.

He meets the Brothers Grimm

He wrote poems when he was still at school, and the high school student wants to become an archaeologist. Sure, Johann Joachim Winckelmann, the man who dusted off antiquity, is his role model. But in 1818 he met the Brothers Grimm and began to study literature and language. He goes to Bonn, in the truest sense of the word, and studies with Ernst Moritz Arndt, among others. As early as 1821, Hoffmann gave himself the nickname of Fallersleben, the name of his home town, in order to avoid confusion with many other well-known Hoffmanns. Only one contemporary should be mentioned here: Heinrich Hoffmann, the Frankfurt doctor and author of Struwwelpeter.

In 1823 Hoffmann von Fallersleben began working at the University of Breslau, becoming a full professor in 1835. Two years later, his friends, the brothers Wilhelm and Jacob Grimm, and five other professors from Göttingen protested against the abolition of the liberal constitution of the Kingdom of Hanover. Ernst August I then dismisses the “Göttinger Sieben”. Hoffmann von Fallersleben published the Apolitical Songs in two volumes in 1840 and 1841. The first poem is entitled “Cudgel out of the sack”, based on the Grimm fairy tale.

Stick out of the bag

Of all the wishes in the world
only one i like right now
And if God gave me the power to wish,
I only think day and night

Then I need neither property nor gold,
I already made the world kind to me
I would be a winner, I would be a hero
the first and best man in the world

I created freedom, justice and peace,
and happy life at that
And if I wanted to be really funny myself,
so I let dance big and small

Oh fairy tales, if only you were true
just one day a year
I would give, I don’t know what
and hit it without ceasing

On the rags! On the dog pack!

Fallersleben sidelined Hoffmann for political reasons

In this case, the ragbag means the king of Hanover, says Dr. Kurt Schuster, until 2019 he was President of the Hoffmann von Fallersleben Society, in an interview.

Hoffmann von Fallersleben loses his professorship for German studies in Breslau because of his political convictions. He cannot work for eight years, he lives on the income from the books. After all, 12,000 copies are sold. In total, Hoffmann von Fallersleben wrote 800 political battle songs. They are set to music and many real hits are among them. Hoffmann von Fallersleben thus became one of the most famous political singer-songwriters, today comparable to Wolf Biermann.

An example of how Hoffmann von Fallersleben can be misinterpreted was provided by Wolfram Weimer, after all the former editor-in-chief of the World. He wrote on ntv in 2019: “Hoffmann von Fallersleben is a drooling nationalist.” You could hardly call him a democrat. He longs for the emperor’s return and makes an inglorious name for himself as a poetic militarist.

The singer-songwriter is to be understood from his time

His poems and songs are “time-bound”, says Schuster. Without further explanations and classifications in the historical framework, they are incomprehensible to us today. Our national anthem shares this fate. Hoffmann von Fallersleben composed the song of the Germans on Heligoland in 1841 as a political battle song. The song is not directed outwards, but inwards, says Schuster. Against the 35 German princes who prevent the national state that Hoffmann von Fallersleben wants.

The singing instructions after the imperial anthem, which Joseph Haydn had composed for the Habsburg Franz II, were also provocative. By the way: The original manuscript of our hymn is part of the historical book collection of the Prussian State Library in Berlin. They were outsourced between 1942 and 1944. In 1945, the Poles removed the collection from the Grüssau Monastery and the Fürstenstein Castle. 300,000 ancient writings are now in Kraków. The Poles call the stolen goods Collection Berlinka – Berlin Collection or Prussian Treasure.

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