Sunday, 19 October 2014

Uber alles

I discovered something interesting today, sometimes it may take years to find out what something really means and in the meantime you're perception is totally wrong.

This past summer working on the Great War Painting Exhibits of the Canadian War Museum I encountered daily people who had assumptions of the historical period 1914-1918 and later 1939-1945, what had happened in Germany and the world and who was to blame, etc. But I think it is important to question our assumptions, are they correct or are we just falling for the obvious without a second thought.

Many events create a situation, one single event never amounts to much and in historical events, people and leaders all share in shaping events, there is also a continuum of history that brings us along,  a bit like falling dominoes.

I never quite understood the sentence ''Deutschland Uber Alles'' Germany above all is the translation, but what is the meaning beyond the translation and what does it mean to a German speaking person. What is the historical context of that expression?

Like many people I had assumed that it meant what we were told it meant after 1918 or 1945, domination over other people. This was part of the Official propaganda message put out by the Allies.
It went well with the histrionics and other falsehoods used to explain the wars and events surrounding them. These assumptions live on today, they are pervasive and the commercial world continues to spin them out, through books and movies.

The Revolution of 1848

So recently a friend of mine asked me if I knew anything about the German flag today, the black, red and gold. I remember reading that it was called the People's flag and first appeared in 1848. A year of revolution across Europe, the Germans wanted a more open form of government and wanted to do away with the autocratic rule of Princes. Napoleon had started the ball rolling by invading the Holy Roman Empire which comprise some 300 German speaking States, re-organized it into 37 Principality and humiliated the German people. In 1813 Napoleon was defeated and the Germans thought they could establish Parliamentary rule, equality under the Law and Justice for all. The Princes were anxious to return to their old autocratic ways.  The German flag of the Princes was Red White and Black whereas the flag of the People, not of a State or Prince, was the Black Red and Gold, the Princes banned it but they could not old down the People who felt the old ruling houses no longer legitimate or representative of their aspirations.

With this flag came an Anthem Das Deutschlandlied or Song of the Germans, words by August H. Hoffmann Von Fallersleben (1841) and music by Joseph Haydn (1797). The words Deutschland Uber Alles meant and means United Germany over all other 37 German Princely States.  Unfortunately the rebellion of 1848 was crushed and Chancellor Bismarck who was no democrat imposed a new authoritarian Constitution, in 1871 created the German Empire with the King of Prussia as head. The meaning of Deutschland Uber Alles was changed to mean military might over others and then under the Nazis in 1933 it came to mean superiority over all Nations.

In 1946 the new German Government under Chancellor Conrad Adenauer created a new democratic Federal Republic but with the Cold War, Germans had to wait until re-unification in 1991 for the original meaning of Das Deutschlandlied to regain its original meaning and spirit of 1848.  The Anthem starts with the words Einigkeit und Recht und Freiheit,  Unity, Rights and Liberty. Only the third verse is now part of the Official Anthem. It reflects the modern democratic values of Germany.

Words of Das Deutschlandlied

Unity, Rights and Liberty


  1. Hope you looked at the video, it is well done and gives a different view of Germany.

  2. When you say "Deutschland Uber Alles" here in the Netherlands, you'll get a few angry looks.. There has always been a -kind of- battle here between Germany and the Netherlands. This "tradition" is still ongoing with soccer..