Speaking like a German Melancholist

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Today we’re again diving deep into an entry to the 1956 Grand Prix Eurovision de la Chanson Européenne. Last time we talked about Fud Leclerc and his drowned men, today we’re talking about Walter Andreas Schwarz. This is the first German entry on our journey and I’m sure I’m biased in its favour just because I’m German too. Who even chose this title image? Blergh… I feel way too patriotic.

Before we talk about the song though, let’s first talk about the musician behind it: Walter Andreas Schwarz. Im Wartesaal zum großen Glück was Schwarz’s only big musical success, and even if it was good enough for participation in the final, it wasn’t enough for commercial success. His main line of work throughout his life remained voice acting. His passion definitely shows in his work as a singer and songwriter. His entry for the competition is mostly spoken and only interspersed with intermittent attempts at melodious singing. Schwarz died in 1992, and his sparse musical work remained deeply rooted in a tradition of straightforward storytelling, that to my ears is concurrent or even precedent to the tradition of German Liedermacher like Reinhard Mey et Altera.

Surprisingly, this song is rumoured to have been ranked second in the 1956 contest. Why I find that surprising? Because at least to my ears it doesn’t fit into the classic Chanson that is so defining for all other entries we’ve listened to so far. This is also a point where we could get into the controversies around the voting procedures in 1956, but I think, as it doesn’t actually matter to this song, I’m keeping that for a discussion of the actual winner, so stay tuned! Let’s better move on and discuss the song.

The song itself is around 4 minutes long and starts with flutes that would be worthy of any German feel-good television show intro from the 1960s and 70s, but the flutes get interrupted by a way less cheery accordion only seconds into the song, and with that, we’re into the lyrics.

The song title, that roughly translates to In the Waiting Room to Good Fortune, gives away the main point and image the song conveys. Everyone seems to be waiting and dreaming of their happiness, but in a way, this strikes the author as a Waiting for Godot. As Godot, luck will never appear (on its own). Positing that only those who seize the day will capture their luck while those, who wait for their dreams to happen, remain waiting forever, the writer strikes a chord of thinking that has been present in our cultural consciousness at least since Horace‘s famous aphorism carpe diem. Schwarz, however, moves further along this line of thinking, and his dreamers don’t even notice the luck they could attain. After all, they are waiting for their own special luck.

Und man baute am Kai der Vergangenheit
Einen Saal mit Blick auf das Meer
Und mit Wänden aus Träumen gegen die Wirklichkeit
Denn die liebte man nicht sehr
Im Wartesaal zum großen Glück
Da warten viele, viele Leute
Die warten seit gestern auf das Glück von morgen
Und leben mit Wünschen von übermorgen
Und vergessen, es ist ja noch heute
Ach, die armen, armen Leute

Im Wartesaal zum großen Glück, Walter Andreas Schwarz

And they built at the quay of the past / a hall with a view of the sea / and with walls made from dreams against reality / because they didn’t love [reality] much. / In the waiting room to good fortune / there were many, many people waiting / They waited for the good luck of tomorrow / and lived with the wishes of the day after tomorrow / and forget it is still today / Oh, the poor, poor people.

This song has gained a special place in my heart, not because its instrumentation would be amazing or the metaphor would be groundbreaking, but because its mood translates so well for me. I can feel the weird melancholy. I can feel myself live within my own dreams. I can feel both the pain of never seeing my dreams fulfilled, but I can also see the despair of me not moving forward through time and life, as if I had a third-person view of myself. I don’t agree with the song, that there is any magically glowing freight, that could bring light into my life. I don’t believe that there’s someone who could make my sunrise right now, but still, it feels weirdly descriptive of my life right now. And who knows? Maybe I can take this melancholic look into the world and make it my own, move on and take a step out of the waiting room.

But is it truly that easy? I might be getting too caught up in this fantasy … Where’s my cynicism? This song isn’t a straight forward carpe diem. There’s a problem. Sure you can say it’s just a beautiful image, but apparently, in the song’s world there’s an infinite amount of good to distribute, and people are at fault for not finding it when all they would have to do is to step out of their dreams, when in fact stepping out of your dreams can take some serious effort. Not everyone is in a place where they can afford to work for their own happiness, not everyone is in the right mental place to even step out and find their luck. I don’t feel ready to capture my luck. I know I should, but my brain is great at telling me what I should do and then being too fearful to do it. Reality can be scary. Dreams are an escape for those who fall out of our systems. And maybe there’s still a way to live your dream and not follow the idea of what a German voice actor would deem lucky or successful.

Well, we should probably not be too harsh on this song. After all, Germany after the war, was very much yearning for easy entertainment, light comedy and simple solutions. There had been enough pain and misery in the recent past, that at least some writers and many producers for television, radio and cinema, didn’t feel comfortable about hitting people over their head with deep and thoughtful works or about showing people the bleak reality. They felt people wanted to dream of a humble but gleeful future or past. And maybe, just maybe, this song is a subtle protest against this overly produced and glossy dream-scape.

I’m not as subtle. I’m, without a doubt, hitting you over the head with the weirdness that is early-day Eurovision. To make it easier for you to keep track of all the songs, I made a Spotify playlist of all the songs, we’ve talked about so far. Sometimes, there might be a sneak preview in there, but probably not regularly.

If you want to read the first entry, it’s about De Vogels Van Holland or if you want to get a full picture, feel free to check out the whole 1956 category. Or if you have enough of weird old songs, make sure to check out my latest fiction piece: On the Importance of Touching a Tree.

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