This is the phrase that puts my nation to shame: “Deutschland uber alles” – Germany above all. To some, it could easily be considered a run-of-the-mill patriotic song.
But for Germans like me, it is undoubtedly the expression adopted by the Nazi Party and now forever associated with the heinous regime of Adolf Hitler.
There’s the swastika, there’s the Holocaust, and there’s that ugly slogan. Nazism is an indelible stain on the collective memory of my country. It’s the ghost we live with every day. We learn it at school and at university, we see it in the cinema and in the theatre.
So when Alexander Zverev reacted with such fury to a spectator shouting “Deutschland uber alles” during his match at the US Open this week, I wasn’t surprised at all. In fact, I was proud of the young German tennis player.
Alexander Zverev (pictured) reacted with such fury to a spectator shouting ‘Deutschland uber alles’ during his match at the US Open this week.
Not only was the 26-year-old right to be angered by such profanity, but he was also showing brave patriotism in standing up to the aggressor, especially in front of more than 23,000 people inside the Arthur Ashe Stadium in New York, and no doubt millions more. watch at home.
“Deutschland uber alles” is the first line of August Heinrich Hoffmann von Fallersleben’s 1841 poem Das Lied der Deutschen. Von Fallersleben conceived this line as a call for national unity against the vested interests of 19th century monarchs. It was not until much later that it was used to express German supremacy.
It is true that von Fallersleben himself would have approved of this reinterpretation.
He wrote a number of anti-Semitic poems during his life and developed a visceral hatred for France.
During World War I, German soldiers are known to have sung “Deutschland uber alles” to a tune composed by Joseph Haydn in 1796 while in the trenches, in an effort to boost morale. It was largely due to this that the song became Germany’s official national anthem in 1922.
The spectator, who was seated in a section where tickets cost around $3,000 each, was escorted out of his seat by security to enthusiastic applause.
The irony that a song about supremacy should be sung by a defeated and humiliated people in the Great War did not escape Germany’s intellectual elite.
Nevertheless, aware of the patriotic appeal of the lyrics and the catchy melody that accompanied them, Hitler decided to continue using it, if only the first verse out of three, when he came to power in 1933.
On state occasions, it was accompanied by a rendition of Horst Wessel’s song – the official Nazi anthem. Subsequently, “Deutschland uber alles” became associated with the Nazi Party and this immeasurably dark period in my country’s history.
Today, only the third verse – which does not contain the phrase – is used as the German national anthem. The haunting lyrics of the first have thankfully been consigned to history. Until, of course, a bad spectator decided the US Open was the right time to shout them out.
So thank God for Zverev, the son of two Russian immigrants, who may not know the full story of this taboo line, but – like most Germans – knows it is untold. As someone a little older than him, I am relieved that young Germans still feel the same obligation to intervene when Nazi profanity is spilled in public.
German athletes, especially top performers, still sometimes hear Nazi phrases directed at them when competing abroad.
To the uneducated, it seems an easy tool to agitate or insult Germans, even those who were born, as in Zverev’s case, more than 50 years after the war. But it’s neither funny nor cool. It’s sick.
The fact that Alexander Zverev stops his match, gets out of “the zone” and ensures that the spectator is expelled from the stadium, shows the moral force that makes me proud to be German.
- Constantin Eckner is based in Berlin