This morning, nur aus Spaß (just for fun), I thought I’d share some of the German tunes that are on the various Spotify playlists I listen to every day when I working/writing. So here goes.
Annett Louisan was all the rage in the early noughts, but I could never warm up to her voice, which sounds a little girlish and muppet-like at the same time. But I stumbled across this song a few months ago and loved it. The translation of the title of the song is “The Most Beautiful Paths Are Made Of Wood” and, to be honest, I have no idea what the song is about. Is it about a girl who falls for the wrong man and/or has an affair and lives a wild life when all she wanted was to settle down and have a family? Or is it about a love affair that settled down and learning that friendship is what matters in life? I’m not sure. Either way, the song is beautiful.
Nina Hagen is simply a must if you want to learn anything about German rock/pop history. She is truly one of a kind, with an amazing, classically trained voice. This song was written when she still lived in the GDR. Her step father was the East German protest singer-songwriter Wolf Biermann who was not allowed back into the country when he tried to return from a concert in the West. Hagen told the East German government that Biermann was her biological father and if they didn’t let her out she would because as much of a pain in the ass as he was. So they let her go. Truly an one-of-a-kind story, but then she’s definitely a one-of-a-kind person.
This song is called “You Forgot The Color Film” and it’s about a woman who is scolding her boyfriend Mischa (German version of “Mike”) because he forgot the color film for the camera when they go on a picnic.
Here’s another song where Hagen tells her lover, come on, come on, let’s go have sex in a field.
Element of Crime is another big late 80s-90s band. I’m not the biggest fan in the world because all of their songs sound the same. Still, this one has grown on me. Like the Annett Louisan song, this one doesn’t really make very much sense. The title means “Lillies and Cactuses” and it’s about a couple (I guess) who have slept too long and are looking back on the good old days (I guess). The chorus is “I used to be smart, Now you’re beautiful, Everything is burning behind us, Lillies and Cactuses.” Moody poetic stuff, in other words.
This song is from the show Babylon Berlin. I watched it and the sets were gorgeous and the acting (for the most part) excellent, but the story is ultimately too cheap for my taste. Too many one dimensional bad guys and mysterious plot twists that stay mysterious too long, only to reveal ridiculousness or more mystery to such a degree that you have to wonder if the writers even know where they’re headed. I doubt I’ll watch the next season.
Still, this song is awesome and the singer’s voice kicks ass. Like the other examples, the text barely makes sense. Zu Asche, Zu Staub means To Ashes, To Dust and the rest of the text is a bunch of dark nonsense/goth kitsch about a person who would like probably love being a vampire. Think Bauhaus/Peter Murphy with a more techno beat.
Back in the day, German artists would cover English songs in German so the audience could understand what the heck the people were singing about. The East German actor Manfred Krug does a cool version of “There Is A House In New Orleans” (he also is famous for doing Sinatra-like crooning in German). This version follows the original text, but singers sometimes made up their own text that was completely different. Like the cover the Schlager singer Jürgen Drews did of “Let Your Love Flow.” The title “Ein Bett im Kornfeld” means A Bed In A Corn Field and I’m pretty sure the meaning is the same as the Nina Hagen song about doing it in a field, but the text is more in code because you couldn’t get away with being too direct about getting it on in public back in 1970-something.
By the way, “Ein Bett im Kornfeld” is most definitely not in any of my playlists because, well, it’s terrible as is all Schlager music.
But all Germans know these Schlager classics and it’s really, really fun to get drunk and sing them together in the wee hours of the morning, or not too wee hours, as I discovered when I went on a trip to Moscow with a bunch of German for a month-long Russian course. Apparently, to have tons of fun in Russia all you need is one guy with a guitar, a dozen German students, a bottle or two of vodka to pass around, and a list of Schlager tunes to shout out in a run down dorm room of a second rate university on the outskirts of Moscow. Who knew? 😉
Reinhard May’s “Über den Wolken” (Above the Clouds) is another great candidate for such endeavors, although it’s more sensitive folksy hippie fare than Schlager. The chorus is as follows: Freedom must be boundless above the clouds, all fears, all worries they say, are hidden underneath, and then what seems like a big deal to us, like the most important thing would suddenly diminish and disappear.
To get back to “high” culture and songs that are actually on my playlists, here’s the ever amazing Brigitte Fassbaender singing Franz Schubert’s Erlkönig.
I idolized Fassbaender when I was studying classical singing because her voice is quite similar to mine. She also has the perfect voice for the Goethe’s dramatic text. You can read the translation here.
But when it comes to German Lieder, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau is the ultimate master. I adore his heavenly Baritone, but his artistry here is what is most distinct. Opera is larger than life and the texts are usually dull as can be. “Where can he be? I’ve been looking for him all night. Oh, where can he be, where can he be, where can he be. I am wallowing in despair!” That kind of stuff, only it’s in Italian so unless you speak the language, you might think what they’re saying in deep.
But Lieder are poems, intimate little gems, and you need to actually know what the text means (not just learn the words phonetically, which is what you often do when you’re a classical singer because you don’t really have the time to learn the languages properly) and embody it in a much deeper way.
No easy feat, but Fischer-Dieskau does it every time. This song is from Schubert’s song cycle Der Winterreise, which Fischer-Dieskau is famous for.
I also used to listen to his version of Dichterliebe in the bathtub and weep until the water turned lukewarm and my skin was shrivelled up like a prune.
And, last but not least, I’ve been listening to this duet from Brahms because I’m going to perform it with a friend of mine who’s a soprano. It the first time I’ll have sung classical music in a while (the last time was at a wedding a few years ago) and I’m looking forward to it.
The song is called Die Meere, which means The Seas and it describes a lovely, still evening at sea, but the narrator’s heart can never be still, and this makes him feel sad.
Sehr romantisch, Herr Brahms, sehr romantisch.