Word of the Week: Wintermärchen

Feb 4, 2011

© picture-alliance/ dpa Enlarge image (© picture-alliance/ dpa) Over the course of the year, Germany.info and The Week in Germany will highlight a different "Word of the Week" in the German language that may serve to surprise, delight or just plain perplex native English speakers.


With a third of the US hit by the worst blizzard in decades, it seems almost cynical to talk about  Wintermärchen (winter’s tale). But the German word Wintermärchen is not about the weather. Instead it refers to the satirical verse-epic Deutschland. Ein Wintermärchen (Germany: A Winter’s Tale) written in 1843 by German-Jewish author Heinrich Heine and first published in 1844.

While riding through Germany one winter on his first return trip to the country since migrating to France twelve years earlier, Heine composed his poem. In it he poured out his criticisms of Germany’s nationalism and militarism, which he felt did not lead to freedom. At the same time Heine expressed his love of his German homeland. Deutschland. Ein Wintermärchen is the work of a critic written out of love for his homeland.

© colourbox Enlarge image (© colourbox) Heine’s work was considered the writing of a “betrayer of the Fatherland” in his century and this view was carried through time until the Nazi regime. Deutschland. Ein Wintermärchen is now regarded as perhaps the most moving patriotic poem ever written.

Among German intelectuals the term Wintermärchen has come to describe an ambivalent relationship to the homeland.

Heine’s Wintermärchen most recently served as a model for Söhnke Wortmann’s movie Deutschland. Ein Sommermärchen, which documents the electric atmosphere in Germany  during the soccer world cup in 2006.

© Germany.info

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