German Folk Music

Germany has many regions with different folk and dance history, in part due to its former separation into various provinces and not having been a united country until the late 1800s. German folk music was considered to be relatively un-hip until recently. However, folk music has always been popular, especially in East Germany where it was seen as being a symbol of nationality and pride and used as a tool for propaganda.

In East and West Germany, schoolchildren were taught folk songs called volkslieder, which bore nearly no resemblance to the traditional German Folk Music of the 19th century and earlier. They were popular songs, happy and optimistic. However, following in the roots of the American and British folk artists and their musical revolution against various policies of their respective governments, after 1968 and the student revolution in West Germany, many German Folk Music artists took the same lead and began writing songs protesting the works of their government. They also began writing about more realistic topics, of joy and sadness, as well as passion. In the stricter East Germany, this revolution didn’t begin until the 1970s, and still the revolutionary words were quite coded.

The most popular folk songs featured themes from immigration in the 19th century to songs of work and of apprentices. In East Germany, starting in 1970 a music festival focusing on political songs and being the only way to get international music in East Germany was begun by the youth association.

The most famous German folk music outside of Germany is Bavaria. Yodeling is one of the most famous stereotypes of German folk artists, but is only found in certain parts of southern Germany today. In the beginning of the 20th century in Europe, there came to be a fear of loss of traditions and of culture, in part thanks to the industrial revolution, which led to the popularity of Bavarian Folk music. Thus, the Bavarian Folk music we hear today is not the same as that of the early 20th century, which was focused on safeguarding tradition. The popularity of Bavarian Folk music reached its height between 1880 and the 1920s, mainly consisting of humorous songs performed in duet or ensemble.

During the Second World War, the upper middle class youth against Hitler’s rule performed Swing dances, which were particularly offensive to the Nazis, who regarded them as either American or worse, as African dances as well as promoting sexual permissiveness. Joseph Goebells eventually hired jobless musicians to use modified versions of Swing dances as Nazi propaganda in order to try and convince these youths to join the ranks of the Nazis.

German Folk music has a bright history and a future ahead of it. We all know yodeling and we all associate it with Germany. Still popular even today, it is one of the most widely known European forms of Folk music. Regardless of whether or not one enjoys German Folk music, there is no denying it’s popularity and evolution over the years.