Die Wacht am Rhein

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Germania on Guard on the Rhine, Hermann Wislicenus, 1873

"Die Wacht am Rhein" (The Watch/Guard on the Rhine) is a German patriotic anthem. The song's origins are rooted in the historical French–German enmity, and it was particularly popular in Germany during the Franco-Prussian War and the First World War.

Origin[edit]

During the Rhine Crisis of 1840, French prime minister Adolphe Thiers advanced the claim that the Upper and Middle Rhine River should serve as his country's "natural eastern border". The member states of the German Confederation feared that France was planning to annex the left bank of the Rhine, as it had sought to do under King Louis XIV, and had done during the Napoleonic Wars and the implementation of the Confederation of the Rhine in 1806–1813. In the two centuries from the Thirty Years' War to the final defeat of Napoleon, the German inhabitants of these lands suffered from repeated French invasions.

Nikolaus Becker responded to these events by writing a poem called "Rheinlied" in which he swore to defend the Rhine. The Swabian merchant Max Schneckenburger, inspired by the German praise and French opposition this received, then wrote the poem "Die Wacht am Rhein".

In the poem, with five original stanzas, a "thunderous call" is made for all Germans to rush and defend the German Rhine, to ensure that "no enemy sets his foot on the shore of the Rhine" (4th stanza). Two stanzas with a more specific text were added by others later. Unlike the older "Heil dir im Siegerkranz" which praised a monarch, "Die Wacht am Rhein" and other songs written in this period, such as the "Deutschlandlied" (the third verse of which is Germany's current national anthem) and "Was ist des Deutschen Vaterland?" (What is the German's Fatherland?) by Ernst Moritz Arndt, called for Germans to unite, to put aside sectionalism and the rivalries of the various German kingdoms and principalities, to establish a unified German state and defend Germany's territorial integrity.

Schneckenburger worked in Restoration Switzerland, and his poem was first set to music in Bern by Swiss organist J. Mendel, and performed by tenor Adolph Methfessel (de) for the Prussian ambassador, von Bunsen. This first version did not become very popular. When Karl Wilhelm, musical director of the city of Krefeld, received the poem in 1854, he produced a musical setting and performed it with his men's chorus on 11 June, the day of the silver anniversary of the marriage of Prinz Wilhelm von Preussen, later German Emperor Wilhelm I. This version gained popularity at later Sängerfest events.

Text[edit]

The following is the complete text of the original five verses, plus additions.

German lyrics Literal translation Verse translation

Es braust ein Ruf wie Donnerhall,
wie Schwertgeklirr und Wogenprall:
Zum Rhein, zum Rhein, zum deutschen Rhein,
wer will des Stromes Hüter sein?

A call roars like thunderbolt,
like clashing swords and splashing waves:
To the Rhine, the Rhine, to the German Rhine,
who will be the guardian of the river?

The cry resounds like thunder's peal,
Like crashing waves and clang of steel:
The Rhine, the Rhine, our German Rhine,
Who will defend our stream, divine?

Refrain
Lieb Vaterland, magst ruhig sein,
lieb Vaterland, magst ruhig sein,
Fest steht und treu die Wacht, die Wacht am Rhein!
Fest steht und treu die Wacht, die Wacht am Rhein!

 
Dear fatherland, put your mind at rest,
dear fatherland, put your mind at rest,
Firm stands, and true, the Watch, the Watch at the Rhine!
Firm stands, and true, the Watch, the Watch at the Rhine!

 
Dear fatherland, no fear be thine,
dear fatherland, no fear be thine,
Firm and True stands the Watch, the Watch at the Rhine!
Firm and True stands the Watch, the Watch at the Rhine!

Durch Hunderttausend zuckt es schnell,
und aller Augen blitzen hell;
der Deutsche, bieder, fromm und stark,[N 1]
beschützt die heil'ge Landesmark.

Through hundreds of thousands it quickly twitches,
and everybody's eyes brightly flash;
the German, honest, pious, and strong,[N 2]
protects the sacred county border.

They stand, a hundred thousand strong,
Quick to avenge their country's wrong,
With filial love their bosoms swell
They shall guard the sacred landmark well.

Er blickt hinauf in Himmelsau'n,
wo Heldenväter niederschau'n,
und schwört mit stolzer Kampfeslust:
Du Rhein bleibst deutsch wie meine Brust!

He looks up to the meadows of heaven,
where his heroic forefathers glance down,
and swears with proud pugnacity:
You Rhine will remain German like my chest!

He casts his eyes to heaven's blue,
From where past heroes hold the view,
And swears pugnaciously the oath,
You Rhine and I, stay German, both.

Solang ein Tropfen Blut noch glüht,
noch eine Faust den Degen zieht,
und noch ein Arm die Büchse spannt,
betritt kein Feind hier deinen Strand!

As long as a drop of blood still glows,
a fist still draws the sword,
and one arm still holds the rifle,
no enemy will here enter your shore!

While still remains one breath of life,
While still one fist can draw a knife,
One gun still fired with one hand,
No foe will stand on this Rhine sand.

Additional stanza inserted between 4th and 5th (also sometimes inserted between the 3rd and 4th stanza)

Und ob mein Herz im Tode bricht,
wirst du doch drum ein Welscher nicht.
Reich, wie an Wasser deine Flut,
ist Deutschland ja an Heldenblut!

And even if my heart breaks in death,
You'll never ever become foreign territory.
As rich in water is your flood,
is Germany in heroes' blood.

Should my heart not survive this stand,
You'll never fall in foreign hand,
Much, as your waters without end,
Have we our heroes' blood to spend.

5th stanza

Der Schwur erschallt, die Woge rinnt
die Fahnen flattern hoch im Wind:
Am Rhein, am Rhein, am deutschen Rhein
wir alle wollen Hüter sein.

The oath rings out, the billow runs
the flags wave high in the wind:
On the Rhine, on the German Rhine
we all want to be the guardian.

The oath resounds, on rolls the wave,
The banners fly high, proud, and brave,
The Rhine, the Rhine, the German Rhine
We all shall stand to hold the line!

Additional 7th stanza on war postcards of the First World War

So führe uns, du bist bewährt;
In Gottvertrau'n greif' zu dem Schwert!
Hoch Wilhelm! Nieder mit der Brut!
Und tilg' die Schmach mit Feindesblut!

So lead us, you are approved;
With trust in God, grab the sword!
Hail Wilhelm! Down with all that brood!
Erase the shame with foes' blood!

So lead us with your tried command,
With trust in God, take sword in hand,
Hail Wilhelm! Down with all that brood!
Repay our shame with the foes blood!

  1. ^ alternative: der deutsche Jüngling, fromm und stark
  2. ^ alternative: the German youth, pious, and strong

Usage in Germany[edit]

1883 Niederwalddenkmal monument: "Guard on the Rhine"

During the Vormärz era and the Revolutions of 1848, a Rhine romanticism movement arose, stressing the cultural and historical significance of the Rhine Gorge and the German territories on the river's left bank around the cities of Cologne, Worms, Trier and Speyer.

In response to the Ems Dispatch incident, which occurred in Bad Ems, not far from the Rhine, France initiated the Franco-Prussian War of 1870/71. When in the aftermath of the subsequent French defeat, the Prussian prime minister Otto von Bismarck achieved the Unification of Germany and the German Empire including Alsace-Lorraine was established, "Die Wacht am Rhein" beside "Heil dir im Siegerkranz" was the—unofficial—second national anthem .[citation needed] The song became famous, and both the composer and the family of the author were honoured and granted an annual pension by Bismarck.

The song's lyrics also appear on the 1883 Niederwalddenkmal monument located just outside of Rüdesheim am Rhein high above the river, epitomising the "guard on the Rhine" itself.

From World War I through 1945, the "Watch on the Rhine" was one of the most popular songs in Germany, again rivaling the "Deutschlandlied" as the de facto national anthem. In World War II, the daily Wehrmachtbericht radio report began with the tune, until it was replaced by the fanfare from Liszt's Les préludes in 1941. The song's title was also used as the codename for the German offensive in 1944 known today as the Battle of the Bulge.

Today, the lands along the western bank of the Rhine between Switzerland and the Netherlands are mainly part of Germany. The Saarland, Rhineland-Palatinate and North Rhine-Westphalia are German federal states; Alsace and northern Lorraine are parts of France with a German cultural element to them. The French–German enmity was ended in 1963 with the Elysée Treaty and the implementation of the Franco–German friendship, so that the danger of an invasion that loomed for centuries over both nations no longer exists. Today, the song has only historical significance in Germany and is rarely sung or played. However, singer Heino has performed it on a record.

Stage and film[edit]

The song has figured in stage works and films.

The tune is quoted near the end of César Cui's opera Mademoiselle Fifi (composed 1902/1903), set in France during the Franco-Prussian War.

In Lewis Milestone's 1930 film All Quiet on the Western Front, the song is played at the end of the first scene as schoolboys, whipped into a patriotic frenzy by their instructor, abandon their studies and head off to enlist in the military. It is also heard in the background of the 1979 remake version of All Quiet on the Western Front when Paul (played by Richard Thomas) is preparing to board the train on his way to the front for the first time.

In Jean Renoir's 1937 film La Grande Illusion, two songs are juxtaposed in exactly the same way as in Casablanca five years later. In the latter movie, "Die Wacht am Rhein" was sung by German soldiers, who then were drowned out by exiled French singing the "Marseillaise" (which began as the "War Song for the Army of the Rhine", written and composed at the Rhine). Originally the "Horst-Wessel-Lied" was slated to be used in the scene as the German song, since it was at that time part of the de facto national anthem of Nazi Germany. However, the producers realized that the "Horst Wessel Lied" was copyrighted. While that would not have been a problem in the United States, the UK or other Allied nations, a copyright dispute would have hurt or prevented showings in neutral nations which still honored German copyrights. Thus, the producers of Casablanca chose "Die Wacht am Rhein".[citation needed]

The song provides the title for Lillian Hellman's cautionary pre-World War II play Watch on the Rhine (1941) and the movie based on it.

In the first and second part of Rainer Werner Fassbinder's 1980 epic film adaptation of Alfred Döblin's Berlin Alexanderplatz, Franz Biberkopf starts singing the song (as in the novel).

In John Ringo's science fiction novel "Watch on the Rhine", cannibal alien hordes landing in France advance towards Germany.

A version of the song with modified lyrics is used as the Nazi national anthem in Timo Vuorensola's film Iron Sky.

A Japanese version ("Rhine no Mamori") with an in-universe text was included in the Strike Witches Movie Theme Song Collection Album.

Adaptations[edit]

The tune for the alma mater of Yale University, "Bright College Years",[1] was taken from Carl Wilhelm's "Die Wacht am Rhein". New lyrics to the "splendid tune" were written by Henry Durand in 1881.[2]

The tune is used by College of the Holy Spirit Manila, School of The Holy Spirit of Quezon City (Philippines) for their Alma Mater Song, "SHS Hymn," as well as the Alma Mater song of Holy Spirit Academy of Malolos, also in the Philippines.[citation needed] The tune was also used by Hotchkiss School in Lakeville for their hymn "Fair Hotchkiss".[citation needed] The tune is used by Doshisha University for its school song, "Doshisha College Song".[3]

References[edit]

External links[edit]