Australia Day

Today is the National Day of Australia (1788) and our family and friends down under are celebrating. For us in Jakarta it is just a normal working day. Like every morning at 6h I woke up my girls to get ready for breakfast and ultimately school. I enjoy waking them very much because it gives me the chance to hear their first words of the day. And because I frequently work late at night, I often do not see them again in the evening, the mornings are a chance not to be missed.

I followed over the last couple of days the controversy about the flag ban for concertgoers of the Big Day Out music concert in Sydney. The fact that the ban caused such a storm among the public including politicians and scholars, I found interesting.

As a German I personally have still severe emotional reservations about national emblems such as national flags and national anthems which is not surprising for people from my generation born after the war. While travelling as a young man I would always answer questions about my origin with “European” and only later admit to my German nationality. However, I was very happy to see during last year’s soccer world cup that many Germans have developed a more normal relationship with their national flag and were proud to display it at the games. The only national flag I possess is the one of my host country Indonesia which we fly on 17 August, the Indonesian National Day, celebrating the freedom Indonesians gained on that day in 1945.

My children also like to sing the Australian National Anthem. They sang it every Monday morning at the Dixons Creek Primary School which they attended during extended holidays over a couple of years every June/July. I like to join in when they sing the anthem. In fact I would rather sing other national anthems than the German one, for instance the French one (La Marseillaise) or even the American one (The Star Spangled Banner). Startled by these thoughts I did some research on the internet to find out more about national anthems. Many of them are a celebration of freedom which for me as a modern-classical liberal is worth being celebrated. In the Australian case, the second line says “for we are young and free” and in the German case the anthem opens with “Unity and right and freedom”.

Many of them originate from the mid 19th century when feudal overlords were defeated and modern nations were born. It often took some time until a specific song was accepted as the national anthem. It took the Australians until 1984 when on 19 April “Advance Australia Fair” was declared the national anthem ( though it was composed in the 19th century and fist performed in 1878 in Sydney. The composer was a Scott, Peter Dodds McCormick. Extensive opinion surveys were conducted before it was adopted. The “Deutschlandlied” (Song of the Germans) was officially played for the first time in 1890 and only adopted as a national anthem on 11 August 1922 by the first president Friedrich Ebert. It does not praise or even mention war or victory which might explain why it was retained after the Second World War.(

I knew that the German National Anthem was composed by Franz Joseph Haydn and that the text came from August Heinrich Hoffmann von Fallersleben (das Deutschlandlied). I also knew that the third stanza was selected after the Second World War as the official anthem and that the first one was dropped. What I did not know was that in about 1840 when it was written the introductory line, which I always found so repulsive, “Germany, Germany more then all, more then all in the world”, had of course a very different meaning. At that time Germany did not exist, we had only a large number of German monarchies and some republican free cities. Instead the song was an appeal to all Germans to finally unite. I only identified it with the Nazi’s quest for German superiority.

Today I feel a little bit wiser. I might even be on my way to a more natural relationship with the German emblems of nationhood such as the flag and the anthem. I might become maybe a bit like my children who can sing away to their heart’s content “Advance Australia Fair”. For me the wine drinker the second stanza of the Song of the Germans is of interest. Unfortunately, this stanza was never very popular. It reads as follows:

German women, German loyalty
German wine and German song,
Shall retain in the world,
Their old lovely ring
To inspire us to noble deeds
Our whole life long.
German women, German loyalty,
German wine and German song.

The stanza depicts to some extent the lighter, more joyous and life embracing character of the German people. Von Fallersleben had intended the text to be used as a simple drinking song. And of wine drinking songs we can never have enough.
Happy Australia Day

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