The watch on the Rhine

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Germania guards the Rhine, Niederwald monument from 1883
Schneckenburger monument ( Fritz von Graevenitz , 1937) in Tuttlingen , which symbolizes the watch on the Rhine
Autograph of the setting by Carl Wilhelm from March 10, 1854 from the holdings of the Berlin State Library
Facsimile of a letter with the text of the song by Max Schneckenburger from 1840, printed in the magazine Die Gartenlaube from 1870, issue 40
Draft for a Carl Wilhelm monument in Schmalkalden

Die Wacht am Rhein is a patriotic song which, in the German Empire from 1871, served as an unofficial national anthem in addition to Heil dir in the wreath . The text was written by Max Schneckenburger in 1840 during the Rhine Crisis . Only with the in March 1854 by Carl Wilhelm composed soundtrack and prominent performance at the silver wedding of the future Emperor William I , it gained popularity, which still rose in 1870/71. Even before 1900 it was parodied many times.

song lyrics

The version from the “narrow but magnificent volume” Die Wacht am Rhein, the German folk and soldier song from 1870 , is reproduced . It differs from the lyricist's autographs in several points, partly as a result of the composer's text interventions. In the first publication of the composition by Carl Wilhelm in 1854 there are several text changes by the editor Wilhelm Greef , he deleted stanza 4 completely and changed some formulations. Greef's version was also widespread; it was, among other things, the template for the text on the Niederwald monument .

A call roars like thunder,
like the clang of swords and the crash of waves:
To the Rhine, to the Rhine, to the German Rhine!
Who will be the keeper of the river?

Dear Fatherland,
May you be calm , The watch stands firm and true, the watch on the Rhine!

Through a hundred thousand it twitches quickly,
And all eyes flash brightly,
The German youth, pious and strong, (Greef: The German, honest, pious and strong,)
Protects the holy land mark.


He looks up at Himmelsau'n,
Wo Heldengeister niederschau'n, (Greef: Where heroic fathers look down)
And swears with proud fighting spirit:
"You Rhine remain German like my chest."


4. (missing from Greef)
“And whether my heart breaks in death,
you wo n't become a Welscher ; As rich
as your flood of water,
Germany is of heroic blood . ”


“ As long as a drop of blood is still glowing,
Another fist draws the sword,
And another arm draws the rifle,
No enemy step on your beach here. ”


The oath resounds, the wave runs,
the flags flutter high in the wind:
To the Rhine, to the Rhine, to the German Rhine!
We all want to be guardians!


After the beginning of the Franco-Prussian War , a nameless “Berlin poet” added a seventh stanza, which was later also distributed on war postcards from the First World War :

So lead us, you are tried and tested;
In God trust, grab the sword,
high Wilhelm! Down with the brood!
And redeem the disgrace with the blood of the enemy!


The popular melody of Wacht am Rhein was first printed as the upper part of a four-part movement for male choir in Wilhelm Greef's 1854 men's songs. It comes from the Krefeld choir conductor Carl Wilhelm . It is a march-like pieces in four-four time , the upbeat begins, with fanfare-like, by dotting rhythmically sharpened triads in the home key of C major. Such fanfare-like, dotted triad melodies are generally heard as a call to attack, to fight. The C major triad appears first in the basic position (“roars a call”), then in the first inversion (egc, sixth chord : “ thunder reverberation ”). From the third line ("Zum Rhein") the melody moves constantly in the frame interval ge of the second inversion, that is, the fourth chord , which is traditionally understood as creating tension. The pitch range of this chord is exhausted in leaps, then downwards and finally upwards, until the basic position of the C major chord is reached again in the last melody line (“true to the watch”), but now powerfully with an extended upbeat and in the upper octave. In doing so, the peak  tone g is finally reached, while the earlier ascents to this tone had always been broken off - a procedure which gives it the meaning of the finally achieved victory and which is common in battle songs. The final descent to the keynote in broad note values ​​forms the end (“Wacht am Rhein”).

Peter Schleuning describes this melody as characteristic of a "German imperial harmony". The tension with the sixth-fourth chord melody, which is then resolved with fanfares in the basic position of the basic key, corresponds, for example, to Richard Strauss' patterns, but its prototype is actually already the theme of the final movement of Beethoven's 5th Symphony . Only with Beethoven this is only “the beginning of a movement in a symphony, from which more follows”, while nothing more follows in the watch on the Rhine ; There is no real lyrical or musical tension here, victory always seems certain, salvation seems empty. Schleuning sums up: “So that's what makes the melody u. a. so useful: warlike aggression and popular heart-pain-third-intimacy; enormous tension-laden traffic jam over the sixth fourth chord and redemption in the terribly empty tonic fanfare ”.

Origin and history of transmission

The text author was the 21-year-old Max Schneckenburger , a Württemberg resident who lived in Burgdorf in the Swiss canton of Bern and was the manager of an iron foundry there. Schneckenburger, nationally minded and thinking little German , so interested in a unification of Germany under Prussian leadership and without Austria, belonged to a "Saturday group" of German dignitaries in Burgdorf, where he presented the text of the song for the first time. As a teenager in 1837 he had already published experiments in poetry and prose under a pseudonym . In November 1840, under the influence of the Rhine crisis and influenced by Nikolaus Becker's already published Rheinlied, he wrote the poem that later became known under the title Die Wacht am Rhein .

The first handwritten version of the watch on the Rhine , which is preserved in Schneckenburger's diary, was still called The Rhine Watch and did not contain a refrain. The verses Dear Fatherland may be calm / Steady and true to the watch on the Rhine only formed the end of the last stanza. In this form, Schneckenburger probably performed the poem, according to the memory of the Saturday Circle member Karl Bernhard Hundeshagen , at a meeting where it was very successful and was immediately sung by Adolf Spieß , also a member, to piano accompaniment, apparently after an improvised and not preserved melody. The text version of the diary offers various alternative readings; there are also two other autographs by Schneckenburger in personal letters that show slight changes in the text.

The Bernese organist Johann Jakob Mendel , who originally came from Darmstadt, made a major change to the text, and at Schneckenburger's request he set the work to music for the first time for a male choir. He created a refrain from the closing verses of the last stanza, which was to be repeated after each stanza. This required a new text for verses 3 and 4 of the last stanza; With them, Mendel now offered an answer to the question posed in the first stanza (“Who wants to be the keeper of the river?” ... “We all want to be keepers!”). Schneckenburger explicitly accepted these changes as evidenced by his diary. The song was printed in this form in December 1840 in the Bern publishing house, Dalp , and was made public for the first time in the house of the Prussian ambassador von Bunsen by the Bern music director Adolph Methfessel ( tenor ). It didn't gain much popularity at first and was initially ousted by You Shouldn't Have It .

The Krefeld choir conductor Carl Wilhelm received the text in 1854 and set it to music again. On June 11 of the same year he performed his composition with his male choir on the occasion of the silver wedding anniversary of Prince Wilhelm and later Emperor Wilhelm I. Some text repetitions in the chorus are necessary for this setting. In the period that followed, the song achieved great popularity as an inspiring “folk song” in this setting at song festivals, which increased during the war of 1870/71.

That is why the song was given a central role at the musical victory celebration in the Berlin Court Opera on June 17, 1871. It was performed at the end of the celebration after the Kaiser Wilhelm March by the composer Ingeborg von Bronsart .

Meaning and reception

The song was written in 1840 as a direct response to public demands by the French government under Adolphe Thiers to establish the Rhine as France's eastern border, as in 1794 . In the Peace of Campo Formio , France appropriated the left bank of the Rhine of the Holy Roman Empire , which had already been annexed in 1794 . It remained in the French era until the Congress of Vienna in 1815 fixed France's border with the German Confederation as in 1790. Thiers therefore aimed at the Bavarian Palatinate , Rheinhessen and the (Prussian) Rhine Province .

The song addressed not only an abstract idea, but also foreign policy tensions and tangible armaments efforts. The actual trigger was a defeat of French hegemony efforts in the Mediterranean in the so-called Orient Crisis . In response to this defeat, the French government concentrated its foreign policy efforts on the Rhine border and was able to rely on strong nationalist sentiments.

In the German Confederation, the already emerging nationalist efforts were clearly strengthened. Disappointed Francophilia and violent outbursts hostile to the French had made their way to Heinrich von Kleist (“Dämmt the Rhine with its corpses”) and Ernst Moritz Arndt's justifications for hatred of the French during the wars of liberation from 1813 . As early as 1813, Arndt had published an influential political book Der Rhein, Teutschlands Strom, but not Teutschlands Grenz . Again and again it was about the areas on the left bank of the Rhine, symbolized by the "German Rhine". The romantic flow of art and literature of the Rhine Romanticism , which was initially not nationally bound , could also be used to serve nationalist ideas. Differences in the concept of border also contributed to the conflict. The idea of ​​naturally determined borders was already part of the reason of state in France at the time of Philip the Beautiful in the 13th century. In the German environment, the much more universal border concept of the old empire fell behind with its dissolution compared to the national movement based on the French model. One of its founders was Friedrich Ludwig Jahn , who, in patriotic fantasies, advocated the establishment of a border strip with natural obstacles such as ramparts, forests and swamps between the German Rhineland and France.

At first, two other political songs with a similar aim were far more successful: Nikolaus Becker's Rheinlied (“You shouldn't have it, the free German Rhine”) and above all in 1841 Hoffmann von Fallersleben's song of the Germans , the later German national anthem .

Reception in Germany

Text on the front of the Niederwald monument near Rüdesheim

As it was used in the war of 1870/71, the song was considered a downright broken cliché and was the subject of various parodies during the German Empire. In 1884 Friedrich Stoltze published one in Frankfurt dialect : Wake up on the Rhine as much as you want, In Frankfurt let me sleep! In the story Das Volkslied, Ludwig Thoma poked fun at a lawyer (himself) and a Bavarian folk song collector ( Kiem Pauli ) who, in search of original Bavarian folk songs, was presented with a barely understandable Bavarian version of the watch on the Rhine .

The text of the song can also be found on a large plaque on the front (south side) of the base of the Germania monumental statue, also known as the Niederwald monument , above Rüdesheim am Rhein . It literally forms the watch on the Rhine itself. The monument commemorates the “victorious uprising of the German people (against France in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870/1871) and the re-establishment of the German Empire”. The text of the song is arranged horizontally next to each other in stanzas. The chorus is a single line with a repeat symbol underneath. Above the text is on a large bronze - Fries on horseback Kaiser Wilhelm I , displayed surrounded by German princes and military leaders. In this presentation, one stanza (the fourth) was left out and there were some text changes.

In 1902 Clara Viebig's novel Die Wacht am Rhein appeared .

At the beginning of the Second World War , the Großdeutsche Rundfunk introduced the special messages of the Wehrmacht report with the first eight tones of the watch on the Rhine as a French fanfare. With the attack on the Soviet Union in 1941, the Russia fanfare took its place. At the end of 1944 the German Wehrmacht used the title of the song Die Wacht am Rhein as an alias for their Ardennes offensive .

To this day there are hotels and restaurants with this name in Germany. In 1977 Die Wacht am Rhein was part of the repertoire of the singer Heino . The watch on the Rhine can still be found in school books , although mostly as a historical document and not as a song actually sung in class. Most Germans are still familiar with the melody.

Use the melody for other songs

The melody of the watch on the Rhine was also used for other songs. The hymn of the Dōshisha University in Kyoto, Japan leads the melody of the watch on the Rhine with an English text. The Yale University used the melody with other text under the name Bright College Years .

In 1971 the singer Udo Juergens published the single Lieb Vaterland , a new production was released in 1998. The melody is largely based on Die Wacht am Rhein , but Eckart Hachfeld's text criticizes political and economic grievances and addresses the generation conflict. Without explicitly naming a nation, the criticism is based on Germany, recognizable by the introductory line “Dear Fatherland, after angry hours you found a new way out of the dark depths”. In the refrain, the line “Dear Fatherland, may you be quiet” is quoted and placed in an ironic context. The first version of the song was twelve weeks in the German music charts with number 17 as the highest position.

The neo-Nazi band Landser had a song in their repertoire called Wacht an der Spree , which was based on the Wacht am Rhein .

In the science fiction film Iron Sky from 2012, a new text of the song (“Comrades, we're going home!”) Serves as the “national anthem” of the moon Nazis.


The song is quoted at the end of the opera Mademoiselle Fifi (1902–1903) by César Cui .

In the two film versions of Nothing New in the West from 1930 and 1979 , the German high school students around the narrator and protagonist Paul Bäumer move into the barracks with the song.

In the Hollywood film Casablanca with Ingrid Bergman and Humphrey Bogart , a group of German officers sings Wacht am Rhein in German in Rick's Café Américain (instead of the originally planned Horst Wessel song ). The resistance fighter Victor László, who fled from Czechoslovakia, sees this as a provocation and counteracts it by having the Marseillaise sing. The numerous French emigrants present join in, drowning out the German soldiers.

A play by Lillian Hellman and a science fiction novel written by John Ringo also use the title in English translation.

In the US war / Aviator film The Blue Max ( The Blue Max ) from 1966 with George Peppard and Ursula Andress composer used Jerry Goldsmith addition to his own compositions and traditional German marches and "Watch on the Rhine".

In Rainer Werner Fassbinder's film adaptation of the novel Berlin Alexanderplatz , Franz Biberkopf, played by Günter Lamprecht , sings Wacht am Rhein during a violent confrontation with Red Front fighters who want to keep him from selling the Völkischer Beobachter.

In Berengar Pfahl's feature film The Men of Emden, the simple sailors enthusiastically start the watch on the Rhine again and again .

In the last episode of the television series Nesthäkchen (1983), the song is intoned by sailors on Amrum.

Phrases and Proverbs

“To have a reputation like Donnerhall” is also used as a rather satirical phrase for greater awareness.

To someone “sing the watch on the Rhine” or “announce the watch”: these idioms, now mainly used by older people, mean to give someone a strong warning or to set an ultimatum.

First prints

Mendelian setting

The Watch on the Rhine by M. Sch. , composed for the male choir by J. Mendel , organist and singing teacher in Bern. Bern, Chur and Leipzig, publisher and property of J. F. J. Dalp. [1840].

Wilhelmian setting

Wilhelm Greef (Ed.): Male songs, old and new, for friends of polyphonic male singing . Issue 9, Baedeker, Essen 1854. In it, the watch on the Rhine is No. 2.


  • Georg Scherer , Franz Lipperheide (ed.): Die Wacht am Rhein, the German folk and soldier's song of 1870. With portraits, facsimiles, music supplements, translations, etc. Edited for the benefit of the Carl Wilhelm's endowment and the German Invalidenstiftung. Lipperheide, Berlin 1871 ( urn : nbn: de: bvb: 12-bsb10991222-0 ).
  • Walter Moßmann, Peter Schleuning: The watch on the Rhine. In: dies .: Old and new political songs. Origin and use, texts and notes. Rowohlt, Reinbek 1978, pp. 17-80.
  • Hans Jürgen Hansen: Heil you in the wreath - the hymns of the Germans . Gerhard-Stalling-Verlag, Oldenburg / Hamburg 1978.

Web links

Commons : Die Wacht am Rhein  - Collection of images, videos and audio files
Wikisource: Die Wacht am Rhein  - Sources and full texts

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Walter Moßmann, Peter Schleuning: Old and new political songs. Rowohlt, Hamburg 1978, p. 76.
  2. Georg Scherer , Franz Lipperheide (Ed.): Die Wacht am Rhein, the German folk and soldier song of 1870, with biographies, portraits, music supplements, translations, etc. Lipperheide, Berlin 1871 ( digitized in the Google book search). Walter Moßmann, Peter Schleuning: Old and New Political Songs, p. 76, cite this version as common.
  3. Printed blocked at Lipperheide / Scherer.
  4. According to Lipperheide / Scherer (1871), p. 15.
  5. The presentation of this and the following paragraph is based on Peter Schleuning: The huge Tonbau des Meister Wilhelm. In: Moßmann / Schleuning: Old and new political songs. 1978, pp. 30-36.
  6. Schleuning: The enormous clay structure. In: Moßmann / Schleuning, 1978, p. 35.
  7. Schleuning: The enormous clay structure. In: Moßmann / Schleuning, 1978, p. 36.
  8. Lipperheide, Scherer: Die Wacht am Rhein, 1871, pp. 5–11; Stefan Jordan:  Schneckenburger, Max. In: New German Biography (NDB). Volume 23, Duncker & Humblot, Berlin 2007, ISBN 978-3-428-11204-3 , pp. 279 f. ( Digitized version ).
  9. Hundeshagen's report, originally published in the Kölnische Zeitung on August 14, 1870, has been reprinted in Lipperheide and Scherer: Die Wacht am Rhein, 1871, pp. 2-4.
  10. See Lipperheide and Scherer, pp. 13f; the autographs are also reproduced there: the diary version on p. 25f., the written version, already with refrain and title Die Wacht am Rhein , on p. 27f.
  11. ^ Max Döllner : History of the development of the city of Neustadt an der Aisch up to 1933. Ph. C. W. Schmidt, Neustadt a. d. Aisch 1950, OCLC 42823280 ; New edition to mark the 150th anniversary of the Ph. C. W. Schmidt publishing house, Neustadt an der Aisch 1828–1978. Ibid 1978, ISBN 3-87707-013-2 , p. 641.
  12. Katharina Hottmann: From Kaiser Wilhelm March to Watch on the Rhine. In: Katharina Hottmann, Christine Siegert (eds.): Festivals - Operas - Processions. Olms, Hildesheim 2008.
  13. a b c files of the XI. International Congress of Germanists Paris 2005 German Studies in the Conflict of Cultures: Speeches - Plenary Lectures - Panel Discussions - Reports, Jean Marie Valentin, Jean-François Candoni, Peter Lang, 2007, Frédéric Hartweg p. 142
  14. ^ Wilhelm Blos : Memories of a Social Democrat . Volume 1: Munich 1914. Chapter Journalists' trip on Lake Constance .
  15. ^ Wacht am Rhein - Home .
  16. Heino - The sun does not set for us (Heimat- und Vaterlandslieder) .
  17. 同志 社 の う た (Doshisha College Song) | 大学 紹 介 | 同志 社 大学 .
  18. ^ Yale University: Yale songs . Archived from the original on February 21, 2016. Retrieved May 29, 2017.
  19. Music: Udo Jürgens - Text: Eckart Hachfeld: Dear Fatherland . Montana / ARAN Productions AG. 2017. Retrieved May 29, 2017.
  20. Udo Juergens - Dear Fatherland . Hung Medien - 2010. Retrieved April 10, 2010.
  21. Watch on the Spree .
  22. Fjs Falkonos: “Comrades, we're going home!” / “Comrades, let us go home!” (No longer available online.) Archived from the original on May 7, 2012 ; Retrieved April 25, 2012 .
  23. Olga Ejikhine: Taken at your word. The phrasebook through the world of idioms. Indico, o. O. [Utrecht] 2005, ISBN 90-77713-05-0 ( limited preview in the Google book search)