Organisers of the Federal Cup for Tennis have been left embarrassed after the German victory celebration was ruined by a mix up in national anthems.
To understand why a seemingly innocent mistake became a highly sensitive incident, one must first understand the long history of Germany’s current national anthem.
Music to the Deutschlandlied (song of Germany) was composed by renowned high classical composer Joseph Haydn in 1797. It was only in 1841 (before Germany was a unified state) that poet August Heinrich Hoffmann von Fallersleben wrote lyrics to accompany the 18th-century piece of music.
The song did not become Germany’s national anthem until 1922 during the so-called Weimar Republic era. The song remained the official anthem during the Nazi years, although the Nazi anthem the Horst-Wessel-Lied, was often used for formal state occasions, as a national anthem in all but name.
It was after the Second World War that the song became controversial. The ultra-nationalism associated with fascism made the first stanza unacceptable.
The lyrics, “Deutschland, Deutschland über alles, Über alles in der Welt” (Germany, Germany, above all others, above all else in the world), were permanently associated with the Nazi aggression during the 1930s and 1940s.
Because of this, the Federal Republic of West Germany elected to maintain Haydn’s music but only sing the less stigmatised third stanza of the original lyrics which refers to fraternal relations and freedom.
It seems that the Fed Cup organisers didn’t get this history lesson as they had a singer belt out the lyrics which are forbidden in Germany.
According to RT, German tennis star Andrea Petkovic described the incident as, “the worst thing that has ever happened to me.”
The lesson behind this is that pageantry, anthems and slogans often have a historical weight that is easily dismissed by those who do not know their history. This is why when war-hungry western politicians compare Russian President Vladimir Putin to Hitler, there is scarcely anything more insulting one can say about the leader of a country which sacrificed nearly 30 million people to fight and defeat the Nazi plague during the Great Patriotic War.
The best way not to repeat dark moments in history is to preserve the legacy of the better moments in history. Both post-war German states worked hard to de-Nazify after 1945. I would argue that the DDR (East Germany) did a far better job of it than the west, but be that as it may, Germany came to understand the arduous process of Vergangenheitsbewältigung (overcoming the past) far better than many states, including the Baltic states and what is now the Republic of Ukraine.
The Fed Cup organisers have apologised. Hopefully next time they’ll think before they sing.