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German Anthem Shows Country Divided

September 20, 1998

BERLIN (AP) _ A nation’s anthem is usually played and loved by all parties in an election campaign. But as Germany’s race enters its final week, the ``Deutschlandlied″ is no longer just background music.

Chancellor Helmut Kohl’s camp accuses left-wing politicians organizing next month’s German Unity Day celebrations of desecrating the anthem by hiring a composer to add a few bars from the one played in communist East Germany. Some are threatening to boycott the official festivities.

Leftists say the conservatives are stomping on the sensitivities of 18 million former East Germans in their effort to score political points.

With only a week until the Sept. 27 parliamentary election, no one is sure how the anthem fight will play among voters in the east, now a potentially vital swing region in a tight national race.

But the reaction underscores how Germans from the two halves are still struggling to follow the same tune, eight years after unification.

The composition was commissioned by the Lower Saxony state government for the official Oct. 3 Unity Day ceremony, to be held in the state capital of Hanover this year.

The state’s governor happens to be Gerhard Schroeder, the Social Democrat challenging Kohl in the federal election.

When word about the ``musical collage″ got out this summer, Kohl’s party wasted no time chastising Schroeder and the Social Democrats for ``tactlessness.″

Although the 15-minute medley also includes parts of a song written and sung by concentration camp inmates, as well as a German pop tune, the attacks have focused solely on the anthem mix.

Germany’s national anthem, with music written by Joseph Haydn in 1797, was kept by the western half after World War II, although the controversial first verse from 1841 starting with ``Deutschland, Deutschland ueber alles″ (Germany above all), is no longer sung.

The general secretary of Kohl’s conservative Christian Democrats, Peter Hintze, says that to those caught behind the Berlin Wall, the West’s anthem was ``the melody of freedom,″ and shouldn’t be ``disfigured.″

Another Kohl ally, Bavaria Gov. Edmund Stoiber, said he would boycott the national ceremony if the song is played, contending that the communist-era passage would mock the memory of all who suffered under East Germany’s totalitarian government.

But many in the east, far from being offended, are at a loss to understand the fuss.

``A mix of both German anthems is also a symbol of the growing together from east and west,″ says Uschi Kretschmer, a 40-year-old businessman from the eastern city of Magdeburg.

The coach of the Magdeburg water polo team, Hannes Koch, says the East German anthem reminds him of ``the great performances of our athletes at world championships and Olympic games.″

Werner Schulz, a leading Greens politician and former East German civil rights activist, calls the musical mix ``a constructive provocation.″

``It makes the point that we don’t have a real national anthem, but rather an unsolved problem,″ he said.

For his part, the 40-year-old pianist and jazz composer from Berlin who fused the anthems says he was caught off guard by the passionate reaction to his work, which has yet to be publicly heard.

The criticism suggests that the process of east-west integration still has a ways to go, Bardo Henning said. ``But maybe the debate spurred by this composition can contribute to that, too.″

Officials in Lower Saxony insist the composition will be presented as planned. Germany’s official national anthem will then be played at the end of the ceremony _ unaltered and in its entirety.

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