The Lighter Side of German Music
13 March 2023
When most of us outside Germany think of German music — especially the kind that was popular in the 1930s — we tend to go stereotypical: Wagner, “Horst-Wessel-Lied,” “Deutschland Über Alles,” and so on. But German Jazz-Age pop could be just a fluffy and fizzy as its American or French cousins.
As it turns out, Kate’s set list gives us some examples.
In a chapter that’s since been cut, Kate auditions to perform for the Condor Legion pilots in Seville’s Hotel Cristina. She chooses three songs to show off her facility with singing in German.
The first is a light, romantic waltz by Nikolaus Brodzky, “Was kann so schön sein, wie deine Liebe” (“What can be as beautiful as your love”). It was popularized in Gitta entdeckt ihr Herz (Gitta Discovers Her Heart), a 1932 release that, from the sound of the title, was probably not a heavy German Expressionist fever dream. Like many pop songs of the time, you’ll have to let a long instrumental intro go by before you get to the lyrics.
The second is “Nachts ging das telephon” (“The Telephone Rings at Night”), a slow 1936 tango that’s not on the lighter side.
The third showcases how Kate can sing fast and fun: “Wenn ich vergnügt bin muss ich singen” (“When I’m Happy, I Must Sing”), a tongue-twisting horror. The Comedian Harmonists, an all-male close-harmony group that was one of the most popular European acts before World War II, popularized the song in the early 1930s. It’s, well…just listen.
Since three of the group’s members were Jewish, you can imagine why they broke up in 1934 and why those three men fled Germany.
Kate’s first song in her first set of her first performance at the Hotel Cristina is “Heute Nacht Oder Nie” (“Tonight or Never”), a huge 1932 international hit written by Mischa Spoliansky for the film Das Lied einer Nacht (One Night’s Song). The Comedian Harmonists covered it soon after. If it sounds vaguely familiar, the English-language version, “Tell Me Tonight,” came out a few months later and was also a big hit.
So no, “99 Luftballons” was not the first German-to-English international hit (sorry, Nena).