There aren’t many genres of German folk music!

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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.

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.

  1. Volksmusik: Traditional German folk music, often characterized by its simplicity and lyrics that reflect the joys and sorrows of everyday life. It’s usually played with instruments like the accordion, zither, and brass instruments.
    Example: “Muss i denn zum Städtele hinaus”
  2. Schlager: A popular form of music in Germany, Schlager is characterized by catchy melodies and sentimental, often simplistic lyrics. It’s akin to pop music and has a broad appeal across different age groups.
    Example: “Griechischer Wein” by Udo Jürgens Artist: Udo Jürgens
  3. Oompah: Often associated with Bavarian beer gardens and Oktoberfest, Oompah music is played by brass bands and is known for its lively and upbeat rhythm.
    Example: “Ein Prosit der Gemütlichkeit”
  4. Liedermacher: This genre is akin to the singer-songwriter tradition, focusing on poetic, often politically and socially charged lyrics, accompanied by simple melodies.
    Example: “Über den Wolken” Composer: Reinhard Mey
  5. Neue Deutsche Welle (NDW): Translating to “New German Wave,” this genre emerged in the 1980s, bringing a unique German twist to new wave and punk music. It’s characterized by its catchy tunes and often quirky or satirical lyrics.
    Example: “99 Luftballons” Artist: Nena
  6. Alpenrock: A genre that blends traditional Alpine folk music with rock elements, often featuring electric guitars and drums alongside accordions and yodeling.
    Example: “Kufsteinlied” Band: Volksmusik
  7. Krautrock: A more experimental genre that emerged in the 1960s and 70s, combining elements of psychedelic rock, electronic music, and avant-garde composition.
    Example: “Autobahn” Band: Kraftwerk
  8. Deutsche Hip Hop: German hip hop that often incorporates elements of traditional German music and dialects, making it distinct from American hip hop.
    Example: “Ohne mein Team” Artist: Bonez MC & RAF Camora
  9. Mittelalter-Rock: A genre that combines rock or metal music with medieval folk music, often using period instruments and themes.
    Example: “Spielmannsschwur” Artist: Saltatio Mortis
  10. Yodeling: While more commonly associated with Swiss folk music, yodeling is also a part of German folk traditions, particularly in the Alpine regions.
    Example: “Der Jodler” Artist: Franzl Lang

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.

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 Goebbels eventually hired jobless musicians to use modified versions of Swing dances as Nazi propaganda to try and convince these youths to join the ranks of the Nazis.

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 duets or ensembles.

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 its popularity and evolution over the years.

2 Responses
  • Adelheid Meyer
    March 25, 2022

    German folk music, Alpine folk music, is a part of every German’s life, including German diaspora and their offspring, bringing together several generations from children to grandparents and great grandparents. It’s upbeat, lively music for waltzing and polka and traditional dancing. Oftentimes, the audience sings and claps along with the performers or tables link arms and sway to the music in unison. Even tourists find it contagious, possibly because the evening can involve beer drinking. Accordion instruments often feature. German emigrants to Mexico influenced their music with the accordion. Young adults do still go to polka bars on the weekend in Germany and the United States.

  • Cat
    April 11, 2022

    When you say, ‘German Folk’, I think ‘Schlager’ and for that, as above, is in the heart of every native German speaker, be they fond of it or wary of it!!

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