The song that made history

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The song that made history

Post  Guest on Wed Jan 23, 2013 12:34 am

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-21126353


The post-war reconciliation between France and Germany was enshrined in a treaty signed 50 years ago. But many believe a song recorded the following year did as much to thaw relations.

Can there be many songs that really did change the world?

There have certainly been records which have been immensely popular - and some of those have had a message. But did they really change the hearts and minds of ordinary people? Did they alter politics?

There is one which did, and it's barely known now.

Fifty years ago, Germany and France were neighbours where the scars of war were still raw.

Germany had invaded France and been repulsed, inch by bloody inch and town by town. Germans were trying to come to terms not just with total defeat, but with how what they thought was their civilised country had perpetrated one of the great crimes of history.

Continue reading the main story
Barbara, the woman in black

Born Monique Serf in Paris in 1930
the second child of a Jewish fur salesman
family had to move several times during the German occupation and even fled one home after being denounced as Jews
studied music in Paris and then moved to Brussels, where she first performed under the name of her maternal grandmother
found considerable success in the 1960s and 70s
always dressed in black on stage
acted, directed and campaigned about HIV
death in 1997 sparked outpouring of grief
Into this minefield of potential resentment and painful rancour, stepped a slight, soft-voiced chanteuse.

Barbara was her stage name - she had been born Monique Serf in Paris in 1930. She was Jewish and so a target for the Nazis. But, two decades after the end of the war, she travelled to the German city Goettingen, as near to the heart of Germany as you can get.

She fell in love with the city and its people and recorded a paean of praise, first in French and then in German, the language of the former oppressor. She sang of "Herman, Peter, Helga et Hans". Who had they been, the listener wonders. Her friends? Her lovers?

It captured the hearts of her German audience at the Goettingen theatre. It became a hit.

A street was named after her. The city bestowed its Medal of Honour on her. The citation talks of the song and its "quiet, emphatic plea for understanding". The song's popularity, the citation says, "made an important contribution to Franco-German reconciliation".

As the song says:

"Of course, we have la Seine

And our Vincennes' wood,

But God, the roses are beautiful


In Goettingen, in Goettingen."

And then:

"But children are the same,

In Paris or in Goettingen.

May the time of blood and hatred

Never come back

Because there are people I love

In Goettingen, in Goettingen".

One of the people in the audience was a student by the name of Gerhard Schroeder.

Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder (above) - "[song] went to our hearts"
President Jacques Chirac - ''she was talent, intensity, stage presence, passion"
Prime Minister Lionel Jospin - ''a woman who knew suffering and understood the suffering of others''
He would later become Chancellor of Germany and use the words of the ballad in a speech marking the 40th anniversary of the Elysee Treaty of reconciliation between France and Germany, a speech made exactly 10 years ago.

He said: "I was a doctoral student in Goettingen when she came to sing. It went to our hearts, the start of a wonderful friendship between our countries."

Listening to the song today, it's easy to understand its appeal then. It remains hauntingly beautiful, a wistful paean of love with a tinge of sadness.

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