April 14, 1938 – We Enjoyed Singing at Our College in Fort Wayne

This article was written in German by Gotthilf Birkmann for the 14 April 1938 edition of the Giddings Deutsches Volksblatt. It also appeared on page 285 in Worthy of Double Honor, the Rev. G. Birkmann, D. D. where it was translated by the author Ray Martens.

The complete renderings of the songs in German and their English translations were not part of the original article and are presented here by the Wendish Research Exchange for your listening enjoyment. By clicking on the titles to the song one can hear the melodies and sing the songs.


We Enjoyed Singing at our College in Fort Wayne

Certainly, it has always been so that happy hearts enjoy singing, and, because young people for the most part are happy, they enjoy singing, both as children and as teenagers. That is what we lads did at college when we had free time and were together, perhaps waiting for the bell for mealtime to ring. We spent that time singing, with one of the older brothers striking up “My Old Kentucky Home,” or maybe “Susanna, don’t you cry for me.” After he sang a verse, we would all join in the chorus, enjoying ourselves and shortening the time of the wait for supper. On the occasion of the German victory in their war with the French in 1870, Die Wacht am Rhein [Those who Guard the Rhine] was often heard in our rooms:

1. Es braust ein Ruf wie Donnerhall,
wie Schwertgeklirr und Wogenprall:
Zum Rhein, zum Rhein, zum deutschen Rhein,
wer will des Stromes Hüter sein?

2. Lieb Vaterland, magst ruhig sein,
lieb Vaterland, magst ruhig sein,
Fest steht und treu die Wacht, die Wacht am Rhein!
Fest steht und treu die Wacht, die Wacht am Rhein!

3. Durch Hunderttausend zuckt es schnell,
und aller Augen blitzen hell;
der Deutsche, bieder, fromm und stark,
beschützt die heil’ge Landesmark.

4. Er blickt hinauf in Himmelsau’n,
wo Heldenväter niederschau’n,
und schwört mit stolzer Kampfeslust:
Du Rhein bleibst deutsch wie meine Brust!

5. Solang ein Tropfen Blut noch glüht,
noch eine Faust den Degen zieht,
und noch ein Arm die Büchse spannt,
betritt kein Feind hier deinen Strand!

6. Und ob mein Herz im Tode bricht,
wirst du doch drum ein Welscher nicht.
Reich, wie an Wasser deine Flut,
ist Deutschland ja an Heldenblut!

7. Der Schwur erschallt, die Woge rinnt
die Fahnen flattern hoch im Wind:
Am Rhein, am Rhein, am deutschen Rhein
wir alle wollen Hüter sein.

8. So führe uns, du bist bewährt;
In Gottvertrau’n greif’ zu dem Schwert!
Hoch Wilhelm! Nieder mit der Brut!
Und tilg’ die Schmach mit Feindesblut!

1. The cry resounds like thunder’s peal,
Like crashing waves and clang of steel:
The Rhine, the Rhine, our German Rhine,
Who will defend our stream, divine?

2. Dear fatherland, no fear be thine,
dear fatherland, no fear be thine,
Firm and True stands the Watch, the Watch at the Rhine!
Firm and True stands the Watch, the Watch at the Rhine!

3. They stand, a hundred thousand strong,
Quick to avenge their country’s wrong,
With filial love their bosoms swell
They shall guard the sacred landmark well.

4. He casts his eyes to heaven’s blue,
From where past heroes hold the view,
And swears pugnaciously the oath,
You Rhine and I, stay German, both.

5. While still remains one breath of life,
While still one fist can draw a knife,
One gun still fired with one hand,
No foe will stand on this Rhine sand.

6. Should my heart not survive this stand,
You’ll never fall in foreign hand,
Much, as your waters without end,
Have we our heroes’ blood to spend.

7. The oath resounds, on rolls the wave,
The banners fly high, proud, and brave,
The Rhine, the Rhine, the German Rhine
We all shall stand to hold the line!

8. So lead us with your tried command,
With trust in God, take sword in hand,
Hail Wilhelm! Down with all that brood!
Repay our shame with the foes blood!

We also took part in a procession through the city of Fort Wayne after the battle which the Germans fought at Sedan in France, an occasion on which our Director Saxer delivered to an assembly of Germans in the city an address in which he expressed the feelings of his hearers. (Fort Wayne was a significantly German city, as were Milwaukee and other larger cities. Germans everywhere celebrated the victory of their fatherland, and English-Americans had nothing against that, as far as I know.)

We college students also had regular singing periods in which we all took part, whether we could sing or only thought we could. Professor Achenbach directed us as we sang many folk songs, along with chorales and hymns, typically German, but also customary American songs, such as the National Anthem. Achenbach, like all our other teachers, came from Germany and had a distinct preference for the beautiful German songs. We students too were from German congregations, churches, schools, and families, and, to a greater or lesser degree, had already all learned and sung German songs at home. The word is that much instruction in music and singing also goes on now in America among English-speaking people. One hears many children’s choirs and other musical groups singing on the radio. But it is reported that in our old fatherland people always took great pleasure in singing, with people in the villages gathering outdoors in the evening to associate with each other and to sing their folk songs. (Earlier, I am sure, more church music would have resounded in the village streets on such quiet evenings.)

In Fort Wayne we also enjoyed the pleasure of singing, among others, “Wer hat dich, du schöner Wald, aufgebaut so hochda droben?

1. Wer hat dich, du schöner Wald,
aufgebaut so hochda droben?
Wohl, dem Meister will loben,
solang noch mein Stimm’ erschallt,
wohl, den Meister will ich loben,
solang noch mein Stimm’ erschallt.
Lebe wohl, lebe wohl, lebe wohl,
lebe wohl, lebe wohl, lebe wohl
du schöner Wald!


2. Lebe wohl, lebe wohl, du schöner Wald!

 Tief die Welt verworren schallt;

oben einsam Rehe grasen,
und wir ziehen fort und blasen,
daß es tausendfach verhallt,
und wir ziehen fort und blasen,
daß es tausendfach verhallt.
Lebe wohl, …

3. Was wir still gelobt im Wald,
wollen’s draußen ehrlich halten,
ewig bleiben treu die Alten,
bis das leetzte Lied verhallt,
ewig bleiben treu die Alten,
bis das letzte Lied verhallt.
Lebe wohl, …
Schirm dich Gott,
schirm dich Gott,
du schöner Wald!

[which translates, “Who built you so tall up there, you beautiful forest?”, although, if the song exists in English, that surely would not be its title]

or “Drunten im Unterland”:

1. Drunten im Unterland
Da ist´s halt fein.
Schlehen im Oberland,
Trauben im Unterland,
Drunten im Unterland
Möcht’i wohl sein.

2. Drunten im Neckartal,
Da ist´s halt gut.
Ist mer´s da oben ´rum
Manchmal a no so dumm,
Han i doch alleweil
Drunten gut´s Blut.

3. Kalt ist’s im Oberland,
Drunten ist’s warm.
Oben sind d’Leut’ so reich,
D’Herzen sind gar net weich,
B’sehnt mi net freundlich an,
werdet net warm.

4. Aber da unten ‘rum,
Da sind d’Leut arm,
Aber so froh und frei
Und in der Liebe treu,
Drum sind im Unterland
D’Herzen so warm.

[simply a ditty, which says, “Down in the lowlands people eat what is very fancy. Sloes (i.e., astringent little berries on a blackthorn, used, among other things, as a flavoring for gin) in the highlands, grapes in the lowlands. Down in the lowlands people eat what is very fancy”]

We also sang the song which Germans sing when they are really happy, “Die Lorelei:

1. Ich weiß nicht, was soll es bedeuten, 
Daß ich so traurig bin; 
Ein Märchen aus alten Zeiten, 
Das kommt mir nicht aus dem Sinn. 

2. Die Luft ist kühl, und es dunkelt, 
Und ruhig fließt der Rhein; 
Der Gipfel des Berges funkelt 
In Abendsonnenschein. 

3. Die schönste Jungfrau sitzet 
Dort oben wunderbar, 
Ihr goldenes Geschmeide blitzet, 
Sie kämmt ihr goldenes Haar. 

4. Sie kämmt es mit goldenem Kamme 
Und singt ein Lied dabei; 
Das hat eine wundersame, 
Gewaltige Melodei. 

5. Den Schiffer im kleinen Schiffe 
Ergreift es mit wildem Weh; 
Er schaut nicht die Felsenriffe, 
Er schaut nur hinauf in die Höh’. 

6. Ich glaube, die Wellen verschlingen 
Am Ende Schiffer und Kahn; 
Und das hat mit ihrem Singen 
Die Lorelei getan.

1. I know not if there is a reason
Why I am so sad at heart.
A legend of bygone ages
Haunts me and will not depart.

2. The air is cool under nightfall.
The calm Rhine courses its way.
The peak of the mountain is sparkling
With evening’s final ray.

3. The fairest of maidens is sitting
So marvelous up there.
Her golden jewels are shining,
She’s combing her golden hair.

4. She combs with a comb also golden,
And sings a song as well
Whose melody binds a wondrous
And overpowering spell.

5. In his little boat, the boatman
Is seized with a savage woe,
He’d rather look up at the mountain
Than down at the rocks below.

6. I think that the waves will devour
The boatman and boat as one;
And this by her song’s sheer power
Fair Lorelei has done.

Of course, we also practiced more serious and more difficult songs, such as Mary’s Magnificat:

” My soul doth magnify the Lord.
And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior.
Because He hath regarded the humility of His slave:
For behold from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.
Because He that is mighty hath done great things to me; and holy is His name.
And His mercy is from generation unto generations, to them that fear Him.
He hath shewed might in His arm: He hath scattered the proud in the conceit of their heart.
He hath put down the mighty from their seat, and hath exalted the humble.
He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich He hath sent empty away.
He hath received Israel His servant, being mindful of His mercy:
As He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his seed forever.
Glory be the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit,
As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, forever and ever, Amen.”

We divided into two choirs to sing this, one singing the first line, the other the second, and so on in succession. We sang this every morning for a time in our morning devotions.

After Achenbach’s departure, Teacher Leeser from St. Paul’s school became our instructor in the art of singing. He was trouble, demanding of us first that we be quiet, then silent. I was not quite sure of the difference, but I did know this much: we had to obey. Yet another music teacher in college was Teacher Ungemach, from the same congregation. He was musically trained, and he handed.us some rather difficult music to practice, music which was not as pleasant to the ear nor as cheerful sounding as the folk songs which we had with Achenbach. Because we found such pleasure in singing, I was a member of a rather special small choir in my last year. Our leader was a student named Bartens, who had just recently come from Germany. He was a fine director with both a bent and a talent for music and singing. We had a piano in the chapel to accompany us during the singing periods during which we practiced our songs, the notes for which I wrote in a book which I still have. We sang in four parts “A Mighty Fortress” and the Latin “Te, Deum, Laudamus” (We praise you, O God) among other church songs. Also “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament displays his name.” We had assemblies for men’s choir, for which our Bartens chose the songs.

We performed in a country church, six miles east of the college, to which we could go without invitation. We would walk there on Saturday afternoons. We were put up by a farmer who took us all in, but we had to spend the night upstairs under the roof [attic?]. There was a bed there which could accommodate no more than three, the rest sleeping on the floor. Yet, we rested well, received a breakfast the next morning, and then went to church. I do not recall the name of the pastor, but what is stamped indelibly in memory is that he preached unusually long, not knowing when to stop. Then we made the congregation happy with our singing – at least, I hope so ­ and afterwards were invited to dinner and to spend the afternoon with some young people with whom we had good relations. At night we marched the six miles back to the college. We did not expect a fee, and got none. No one would have even thought of such a thing at the time. We students were just happy to make such an excursion.

The time came that our dear Teacher Achenbach received a call into the pastoral ministry and wanted to accept it. Upon his departure, we wanted to show our respect and love for him with a farewell song. At night, quite late, we went to his house and sang, “God has disclosed that one must part with what he loves most,” and on through the rest of that lovely song. The professor might have thought that this certainly was a peculiar choice for a farewell song, as though he were the most loved of anything we had. I do not believe that he came out after we sang to thank us, but he could not doubt our good intentions.