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Where is the German soul?

By Grazia Spina

Where is the German soul? | As of 2020, UNESCO has declared March 21 to be World Poetry Day

Berlin is celebrating the literary importance of Gedicht (poetry) in the former LiteraturWERKstatt Berlin, now renamed the Haus für Poesie.

Firstly, you can check out the full program and find information on this institution on their website

There are many poets from around the world who present their poems to the German public.

Das Lesen der anderen is a YouTube channel that presents poetry and poems from different authors and it is a great resource for anybody learning German.

Its name means “the readings of others,” and is a play on the name of the famous movie Das Leben der anderen.

After the fall of the Berlin Wall, some authors from the former Deutsche Demokratische Republik (DDR) shared their search for a new identity in a new land.

One was the poet Thomas Rosenlöcher, born in 1947 in the DDR, who wrote this ideological survey in search of the German soul:

Where is the German soul? | Umfrage (Survey)

Wo die deutsche Seele ist? (Where is the German soul?)

Woher soll ich das wissen. (How should I know?)

Am ehesten noch in Kleinschachwitz. (At best still in an area of Dresden.)

Am ehesten noch in mir. (At best still in me.)

Doch ich bin auch unterwegs. (Therefore I am also on the road.)

Endlos kreisend sucht sie sich (Endless crossings, the German soul)

selbst auf den Autobahnen. (looks for itself on the highways.)

Another poet, Günter Kunert, published a collection of poetry in 1990 with the meaningful title Fremd daheim. In it, there is a sense of feeling like a stranger or a foreigner in your own land.

There is also a sense of disillusionment about the possible cultural and economic reunification. The wish for Niemandsland, an ideal land in which to get a fresh start, is common in the poets of this moment in history.

In 1989, the anti-government slogan Wir sind das Volk became Wir sind ein Volk for the poets who believed in the reunification.

Song lyrics can also be considered poems

Song lyrics can also be considered poems, as in the case of “Wir sind wir” by the Eastern German Paul Van Dyk, an artist well-loved by his public.

The Goethe Institut offers an interesting article about the characteristics of German pop music after 1989. The history and the people of any country change over time, but does the soul of a nation really change? It’s an interesting question for observation and reflection.

Let’s read this beautiful poem by Heinrich Heine (1797–1856) about his Vaterland (fatherland),  “O Deutschand, meine ferne Liebe.”

It is a moving testimonial to his love for his country and people after he was exiled from Germany and lived in Paris.

Anno 1839

O, Deutschland, meine ferne Liebe,

Gedenk ich deiner, wein ich fast!

Das muntre Frankreich scheint mir


Das leichte Volk wird mir zur Last.


Nur der Verstand, so kalt und trocken,

Herrscht in dem witzigen Paris –

Oh, Narrheitsglöcklein,


Wie klingelt ihr daheim so süß!


Höfliche Männer! Doch verdrossen

Geb ich den artgen Gruß zurück. –

Die Grobheit, die ich einst genossen

Im Vaterland, das war mein Glück!


Lächelnde Weiber! Plappern immer,

Wie Mühlenräder stets bewegt!

Da lob ich Deuschlands


Das schweigend sich zu Bette legt.


Und alles dreht sich hier im Kreise,

Mit Ungestüm, wie ‘n toller Traum!

Bei uns bleibt alles hübsch im Gleise,

Wie angenagelt, rührt sich kaum.


Mir ist, als hört ich fern erklingen

Nachtwächterhörner, sanft und traut;

Nachtwächterlieder hör ich singen,

Dazwischen Nachtigallenlaut.


Dem Dichter war so wohl daheime,

In Schildas teurem Eichenhain!

Dort wob ich meine zarten Reime

Aus Veilchenduft und Mondenschein.


Year 1839

Oh, Germany, my distant love,

I remember you, I almost cry!

The lively France seems to me to be


The light folk becomes a burden to me.


Only the mind, so cold and dry,

reigns in the funny Paris –

Oh, foolish bells, 

bells of faith, 

how you ring so sweetly at home!


Polite men! But

sullenly I return the kind greeting.

The rudeness that I once enjoyed

in the fatherland, was my happiness!


Smiling women! Always babble,

how mill wheels always move!

Then I praise Germany’s wife, who

goes to bed in silence.


And everything turns in circles here,

with impetuosity, like a great dream!

With us everything stays nicely on track

as if nailed on, hardly moves.


I feel as if I heard the horns of the

night watchman ringing in the distance, gentle and trusting;

I hear night watchman songs singing, in between 

the sound of the nightingale.


The poet was so happy at home,

In Schilda’s dear oak grove!

There I wove my tender rhymes

from the scent of violets and moonshine.


Read also: VHL is proud to share a three webinar series to ease your transition to remote teaching

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