Das Deutschlandlied ("The Song of Germany", also known as Das Lied der Deutschen, "The Song of the Germans") has been used wholly or partially as the national anthem of Germany since 1922. Outside Germany it is sometimes known by the opening words and refrain of the first stanza, Deutschland über alles (Germany above all), but this has never been its title. The line "Germany, Germany above all," which the author intended to mean that a unified Germany was more desirable than division of the Germanophonic countries (Sprachraum) into independent states. During the Third Reich, anti-German political propaganda claimed the anthem was a Nazi expression of racial superiority.
The music was written by Joseph Haydn in 1797 as an anthem for the birthday of the Austrian Emperor Francis II of the Holy Roman Empire. In 1841 the German linguist and poet August Heinrich Hoffmann von Fallersleben wrote the lyrics of "Das Lied der Deutschen" to Haydn's melody, lyrics that were considered revolutionary at the time.
The song was chosen for the national anthem of Germany in 1922, during the Weimar Republic. In 1952, West Germany adopted Deutschlandlied as its official national anthem, with only the third stanza sung on official occasions. Upon reunification in 1991, the third stanza only was confirmed as the national anthem.
The melody of the Deutschlandlied was originally written by Joseph Haydn in 1797 to provide music to the poem "Gott erhalte Franz den Kaiser" ("God save Francis the Emperor") as a birthday anthem to Francis II, Holy Roman Emperor of the House of Habsburg. After the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire in 1806, where Francis continued to rule as Austrian Emperor, "Gott erhalte Franz den Kaiser" became the official anthem of the emperor of the Austrian Empire and the subsequent Austria-Hungary until the end of the Austrian monarchy in 1918. Haydn also used the melody in the second movement the "Kaiserquartett", a string quartet that is still widely performed today.
The tune is often used in the English-speaking world for the hymn "Glorious Things of Thee are Spoken" by John Newton. In this context, the tune is called "Austria", "Austrian Hymn", or "Emperor's Hymn." The tune is also used for the hymn "Not Alone for Mighty Empire" by William Merrill.
The Holy Roman Empire was already weak when the French Revolution and the ensuing Napoleonic Wars altered the political map of Central Europe. Hopes for the Enlightenment, human rights, republican government, democracy, and freedom after Napoleon's defeat in 1815 were dashed, however, when the Congress of Vienna reinstated many monarchies. In addition, with the Carlsbad Decrees of 1819, Chancellor Prince Metternich and his secret police enforced censorship, mainly in universities, to keep a watch on the activities of professors and students, whom he held responsible for the spread of radical liberal ideas. Particularly since hardliners among the monarchs were the main adversaries, demands for freedom of the press and other liberal rights were most often uttered in connection with the demand for a united Germany, even though many revolutionaries-to-be had different opinions whether a republic or a constitutional monarchy would be the best solution for Germany.
The German Confederation or German Union was a loose confederation of 39 states and republican free cities, with a Federal Assembly in Frankfurt. They began to remove internal customs barriers during the Industrial Revolution, though, and the German Customs Union Zollverein was formed among the majority of the states in 1834. Prior to the Deutschlandlied, Hoffmann wrote a song about the Zollverein, also to Haydn's melody, in which he praised the free trade of German goods which brought Germans and Germany closer.
After the March Revolution of 1848, the German Confederation handed over its authority to the Frankfurt Parliament, and Eastern Prussia joined. For a short period of time in the late 1840s, Germany was united within Hoffmans borders, with a democratic constitution in the make, and with the black-red-gold flag to represent it. The two big monarchies put an end to this, and later even waged the Austro-Prussian War against each other.
August Heinrich Hoffmann (who called himself von Fallersleben after his home town to distinguish himself from others with the same common name of Hoffmann) wrote the text in 1841 on vacation on the North Sea island Helgoland, then a British territory.
Hoffmann von Fallersleben intended Das Lied der Deutschen to be sung to Haydn's tune, as the first publication of the poem included the music. The first line, "Deutschland, Deutschland über alles, über alles in der Welt" (usually translated into english as "Germany, Germany above everything, above everything in the world"), was an appeal to the various German sovereigns to give the creation of a united Germany a higher priority than the independence of their small states. In the third stanza, with a call for "Einigkeit und Recht und Freiheit" (unity and justice and freedom), Hoffmann expressed his desire for a united and free Germany where the rule of law, not monarchical arbitrariness, would prevail.
In the era after the Congress of Vienna, which was influenced by Prince Metternich and his secret police, Hoffmann's text had a distinctly revolutionary, liberal connotation, since the demand for a united Germany was most often made in connection with demands for freedom of press and other liberal rights. Its implication that loyalty to a larger Germany should replace loyalty to one's sovereign personally was in itself a revolutionary idea.
The year after he wrote Das Deutschlandlied, Hoffmann von Fallersleben lost his job as a librarian and professor in Breslau, Prussia because of this and other revolutionary works, and was forced into hiding until being pardoned after the revolutions of 1848.