These German children’s songs bring tears to my eyes

When I arrived in Germany eight years ago I had no idea about German songs. But then I started working in a kindergarten and discovered a treasure trove of listening pleasure.

These German children's songs bring tears to my eyes
Photo: DPA

I started working at a bilingual kindergarten in Munich in 2009 where my German co-teacher loved to sing as much as I loved to listen. She opened my ears to some of the most melodious and famous German songs.

Once these ditties entered my ears, they stubbornly refused to leave. They were so devastatingly melodious that they wrung tears out of my eyes. They gripped me with a sweet pain, touched my soul and made me feel strangely incomplete when I didn't hear them.

I sang them in crowded market squares, hummed them in noisy U-Bahn stations when no one would hear me, and whistled them like a lark who had forgotten how to stop singing.

When I sang Leise rieselt der Schnee (Quietly flutters the snow) or Schneeflockchen, Weißröckchen (Little snow flake, little white dress), I didn't care if it was winter or summer. I didn't wait for Christmas to sing Kling, Glöckchen (Ring, little bell) or in der Weihnachtsbäckerei (In the Christmas bakery).

The love affair that began is as strong now as if it just started yesterday. I have never been able to get past children's songs to move on to other genres.

There's a reason it's easy to fall in love with deutsche Kinderlieder – Germany has been home to some of the most renowned composers, producers and performers in the world. It is the largest music market in Europe, and the third largest in the whole world.

German composers include some of the most accomplished and popular in history, among them Johann Sebastian Bach, Ludwig van Beethoven, and Franz Schubert.

This lends a remarkable aura to a seemingly small thing like a children's song. These songs are a fine form of poetry, have deep philosophical meaning and nostalgic melodies that are impossible to find elsewhere.

Consider this line from a canon by 19th century composer August Mühling: Froh zu sein bedarf es wenig und wer froh ist, ist ein König! (It takes very little to be happy, and whoever is happy is a king!). Where else can one find such a pearl of wisdom in a song for children? Germany is the land where babies and young ones still fall asleep to Beethoven and Mozart.

Most of the current popular children's songs were written down during the 19th century. August Heinrich Hoffmann von Fallersleben alone is said to have penned more than 500 of them.

Some of his famous songs that every German child knows are Alle Vögel sind schon da (All the birds are already there), Ein Männlein steht im Walde (A man stands in the forest) and the Christmas song Morgen kommt der Weihnachtsmann (Father Christmas is coming tomorrow).

Children in Germany have songs for every occasion and every reason you can possibly think of. They have songs for Easter, for Christmas, for baby Jesus, for New Year, for Nikolaus, for the weather, for birthdays, for animals and for fruit, just to name a few. If you dropped your hat, they probably have a song for that too.

What I admire most is how one can travel the length and breadth of the country and the children learn and sing the same Easter, St. Martin's or Nikolaus songs. These lyrics act like a thread that ties Germany together.

You might not realize it, but some famous English Christmas carols are actually translations of original German Weihnachtslieder (Christmas songs). 

The beautiful “Silent Night” was first the German Stille Nacht, neilige Nacht, written by Joseph Mohr, and set to music by Franz Xaver Gruber in 1818.

Similarly, “O Christmas Tree” is a direct translation of O Tannenbaum, which was originally a German folk song.

Interestingly, there are also German versions of many popular English kindergarten songs like “Wheels on the bus” and “If you’re happy and you know it”, as well as songs for entire fairy tales like Sleeping Beauty and Hansel and Gretel.

I can only say that learning about German culture is incomplete without learning about its rich musical heritage. Similarly, talking about music is incomplete without an honorable mention of German rhyme and rhythm.

But more than that, for anyone who loves music, German children’s songs are a must. At any rate, German Kinderlieder have found a permanent place in my heart. Neither my festivals, nor seasons, nor my day-to-day kindergarten life would be complete without them.

Ratna Srivastava blogs at The Sun in my Cup, and you can visit her Facebook page here.

For all The Local's guides to learning German CLICK HERE

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German Christmas market closures ‘can’t be ruled out’: health expert

As Germany battles a fierce Covid wave, concerns are growing over events, with one health expert saying closures of the country's beloved Christmas markets can't be ruled out.

Revellers enjoy mulled wine at the 'Santa Pauli' Christmas market in Hamburg on November 15th.
Revellers enjoy mulled wine at the 'Santa Pauli' Christmas market in Hamburg on November 15th. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Marcus Brandt

Martina Wenker, president of the Lower Saxony Medical Association, said she believed Christmas markets may have to be cancelled if the Covid-19 situation gets worse in Germany. 

“Depending on the regional incidence situation, closures should not be ruled out in extreme cases,” Wenker told the Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung.

“We can’t stand by and celebrate while next door in the hospitals, planned operations have to be postponed frequently, corona patients are dying, and staff in practices and clinics are at their limits.”

Wenker said regional leaders allowed the opening of Christmas markets on the basis that the Covid situation was moderate.

“But if we reach higher levels of escalation, we will have to consider whether Christmas markets are still justifiable,” she said.

Germany on Tuesday reported 32,048 Covid infections within 24 hours and 265 Covid-related deaths. The 7-day incidence increased to 312.4 Covid cases per 100,000 residents. 

READ ALSO: Germany’s Covid incidence tops 300 for first time

‘Maximum safety’

Bavarian state premier Markus Söder said on Monday that he wanted to ensure there was “maximum safety” around Christmas markets.

He said it will be among the topics discussed at the Covid crisis talks between the federal government and state leaders this Thursday. 

In general, Söder said mask requirements should remain at Christmas markets as well as distance rules and other protection measures. 

In an interview with broadcaster Bayern3, Söder explained that so far there is no legal framework for Bavaria to cancel Christmas markets. “At the moment, we cannot legally order it,” he said.

Some Christmas markets, which have recently opened to the public, are already enforcing strict rules such as excluding the unvaccinated from entry, or not serving alcohol to people unless they can show proof of vaccination or recovery from Covid. 



Christmas market – (der) Weihnachtsmarkt

Celebrate – feiern

Planned operations/procedures – geplante Eingriffe 

Postponed – verschoben

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