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MMD > Archives > July 1997 > 1997.07.12 > 08Prev  Next

The Saga of "Lilli Marlene"
By Robbie Rhodes

MMDer Claus Kucher has a seemingly inexhaustible archive of songs and
stories.  He shares with us here the stories behind "Lilli Marlene",
known in Germany as "Lili Marleen".

 * * *

Lilli Marlene

Popular wartime song of early 1940's.
Music by Norbert Schultze
Lyrics by Hans Leip
English lyric translation by Tommie Connor

Perhaps the favorite song of soldiers during World War II, Lilli Marlene
(or in the original German, "Lili Marleen") became the unofficial anthem
of the foot soldiers of both forces in the war.

The lyrics were originally written as a poem by German soldier Hans Leip
during World War I.  Later published in a collection of his poetry in
1937, the poem's imagery and emotion caught the attention of fellow
German Norbert Schultze, who set the poem to music in 1938.  Recorded
just before the war by Lale Andersen, the song was a mildly popular ditty
until German Forces Radio began broadcasting it (among other tunes) to
the Afrika Korps in 1941.

The soldiers made it their favorite tune, and British soldiers who were
listening heard the wistful romanticism catch heartstrings, regardless of

The immense popularity of the German version spawned a hurried English
version, broadcast by the BBC for the Allied troops.  Eventually, both
sides began broadcasting the song in both versions, interspersed with
propaganda nuggets, and occasionally even blasting the song out of huge
speakers mounted on trucks, intended to distract the enemy troops.

In the slapstick movie, "Riddle of the Six Boobs," a German officer in
the cafe requests this tune from Madame Edith.  Unfortunately, the airmen
are inside the piano, rendering it unplayable.  But to escape notice they
"fill in" for the piano with their own voices: "Plinky plinky plonk
plonk, plinky plinky plonk!" etc.

The first verse in English is:

  Underneath the lantern by the barrack gate,
  Darling I remember the way you used to wait.
  'Twas there you whispered tenderly
  That you loved me,
  You'd always be
  My Lilli of the lamplight,
  My own Lilli Marlene.

 * * *

Sunday, 21 January 1996
The father of "Lili Marleen" turns 85: Norbert Schultze

Hamburg (dpa) [German Press Agency] -- The German soldiers of 1941 hummed
his melody on the battlefields.  Even the Englishmen had it on their lips
as they swung through the Sahara.  Marlene Dietrich sang personally to
the American infantryman as "The Girl under the Lantern."  Norbert
Schultze is the father of the world-hit "Lili Marleen" and lives today on
Mallorca.  On this Friday (January 26, 1996) in Berlin he will celebrate
his 85th birthday.

The propaganda secretary of the Nationalist-Socialist party, Joseph
Goebbels, made a futile attempt to replace Schultze's melancholy melody
with a march rhythm.  The composer was anything but a clandestine
defense-forces-subverter, however.  He composed also the music for
propaganda films such as "Bombs for England," "Tanks Roll into Africa,"
and the exhortation film "Kolberg," and subsequent marches and military
songs.  "It was well done -- I was adaptable," it would later be said
about Schultze's music of those times.  In 1945 the Allied Forces
classified him as a sympathizer and forbade him to work in his
profession.  He worked in heavy-construction and as a gardener, before he
resumed composing in 1948.

Schultze had lots of luck with "Lili Marleen".  Goebbels wasn't the only
one who didn't like the song -- vocalist Lale Andersen didn't want to
sing it at first.   And the radio moderator, for whom he had composed the
song, also put it down.  He felt that the text by Hans Leip was too
lyrical.  "So the composition just lay there," said Schultze.  An
employee of the military radio station in Belgrade finally discovered the
forgotten song in 1941 in a dusty crate of records.

After the song was broadcast there was no holding it back.  Marlene
Dietrich also sang it "three long years in North-Africa, Sicily, Italy,
in Alaska, Greenland, Iceland, in England," as she would later relate.
It was sung in military hospitals and broadcast over loudspeakers from
trucks to the German lines.  It showed up again on the German Hit Parade
in 1981 in a potboiler film.  In 1986 it emigrated to Japan.  Schultze
hadn't "considered this possible!"

The composer was already well-known and well-off before the success of
"The Girl under the Lantern", who awaited her lover by the barrack gate.
His 1936 opera "Schwarzer Peter" ["Black Pete"] was a sensational
success.  With Elisabeth Schwarzkopf and Rudolf Schock in their opera
debut, it ran like a victory-train throughout Germany and was performed
at over 100 theaters.

Schultze wrote subsequent operettas, musicals and songs, among them
"The Girls from Immenhof" and "Captain Bay-Bay" with Hans Albers.  In
conjunction with his birthday Atlantis Verlag will bring out a book about
his memories under the title, "Mit Dir, Lili Marleen" ["With You, Lili
Marleen"].  Five years ago Schultze canceled the celebration of his 80th
birthday because of a golf match -- this time it should be different!

 [translated by Robbie Rhodes]

 * * *

Among the many anthologies of Marlene Dietrich songs is this production:

 Der Mythos des "Blauen Engel"   [ The Myth of the "Blue Angel" ]

 - Ich bin von Kopf bis Fuss auf Liebe eingestellt
                                    [I'm falling in love, head to toes]
 - Allein in einer grossen Stadt    [Alone in a big city]
 - Mein blondes Bab                 [My blonde baby]
 - Johnny, wenn Du Geburtstag has   [Johnny, when you have your birthday]
 - Lili Marleen
 - Die Antwort weiss ganz allein der Wind  [The answer lies in the wind]
 - Paff, der Zauberdrachen          [Puff, the magic dragon]
 - Ich weiss nicht, zu wem gehoere  [I don't know to whom it belongs]
 - Fuer alles kommt die Zeit        [The time comes for everything]
 - Peter
 - Lola
 - Kisses Sweeter Than Wine
 - Wenn die Soldaten                [When the soldiers]
 - Ich hab' noch einen Koffer in Berlin
                              [I have another suitcase (lover) in Berlin]
 - Das Lied ist aus.                [The song is ended]

* Zyx Music GmbH

(Message sent Sun 13 Jul 1997, 02:17:54 GMT, from time zone GMT-0700.)

Key Words in Subject:  Lilli, Marlene, Saga

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