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  • cover of Lili Marlene book
  • cover of Lili Marlene book
  • Author Germanist Rosa Sala Rose


    Graduate in German Philology and Doctor in Romanic Philology. After devoting herself to to the editing of German classic literature (Goethe, Thomas Mann), she is currently an independent scholar. She has published several books about Nazism, her spec

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  • Female soldier and Lli Marlene
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  • dissident Marlene Dietrich
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  • Biografías, diarios y hechos reales
  • Ensayos
  • Historia
  • Lili Marlene
  • Marlene Dietrich
  • World War II
  • Eastern front
  • propaganda
  • Nazism
  • Third Reich
  • popular music
  • Barbie
  • Lale Andersen

Lili Marlene: The Biography of a Song

Lili Marlene: The Biography of a Song


John Steinbeck wrote that Lili Marlene could have been "the only contribution to the world by the Nazis". Really? Actually, not even the almighty German propaganda was able to hold the sudden popularity of this song under control. Lili Marlene is not a song about fighting and victory, like other wartime compositions: it's a song about love and death. This book tells the story of the German soldier that wrote the original lyrics during World War I, of the Nazi composer that provided the melody and of the German singer who made the song famous despite being in love with a Jew. Lili Marlene was broadcasted just before 10 o'clock each night by Radio Belgrad, a military station. It gave hope to the distraught and persecuted of all Europe: even at the threshold of the gas chambers arrived its melancholy tune. Lili Marlene travelled across all the frontiers and hostilities: English and American soldiers sung it or listened to it with tears in their eyes when Marlene Dietrich did. This book tries to shed some light on the mistery of how Lili Marlene, the most famous German song of all time, was able to retain its innocence despite the horror of war.


Texto de Muestra

The identity of Lili Marleen The real identity of that Lili Marleen who years later would captivate the soldiers of the Wehrmacht as well as English Tommies and American GIs raised many doubts from the very moment in which, turned into a song, she became famous. From the first, Hans Leip, the only one who might have known the truth, tried to counter such doubts by disclosing the autobiographical episode we’ve recounted above—the story of Betty-Lili and of Marleen, the nurse—first in interviews and private conversations, and then in 1979 with the publication of an autobiography in which a detailed account appears. This curiosity about the identity of the inspirer of the song is understandable. After all, one of the special features of Lili Marleen is that it is work with a name of its own; and not only a Christian name—think of Laura by Frank Sinatra or Roxanne by The Police—but also a surname, and in that there resides another of its strange ambiguities: Lili Marleen depicts an abstract, idealized femininity, but at the same time possesses a specific personality that promises to be historic, unique and non-transferable, as is any creature destined to exist through a name of its own. Hundreds of versions and parodies of this song were made: pronazi, antinazi, humorous, trivial, and dramatic. Its lyrics were transformed, abused, replaced and adulterated to inconceivable extremes: in almost every instance the only thing that survived of the original poem was the name Leip had given to his mystery woman. Hence, the entire song is materialized in these two words, words which, as if by magic, lend it consistency and make it unmistakable. Lili Marlene: a short name, euphonic and lyrical, but also very precise. A name that hints at a real existence. Given the enormous success of the song, for many people the search for the real Lili Marlene became an obsession. In April 1969 a daily paper in Burlington (North Carolina) announced that “A retired newspaperman in West Germany has taken to the hobby of tracking down all the women who claim to be the original Lili Marlene. So far, he lists 243. However, the real Lili Marlene, he says, was not one but two girl friends of the poet Hans Leip. One named Lili, the other Marlene.” Around 250 women presented themselves to the convocation organized by the German magazine Erika in 1942: under the sensationalist headline “Erika has found Lili and Marleen” the magazine even published the photo of two candidates, but Hans Leip did not confirm the identity of either. According to the Serbian composer Mirko Silic, Hans Leip himself was the person who, a few years after the war, placed an announcement in a number of Berlin newspapers asking the real Lili (Betty) and Marleen to come forward. “‘Do you know what happened?’ Mr. Silic asked. ‘Hans got 2,280 replies from Lili and over 6,000 answers from Marleen’.” As would become habitual in the course of the history of the song, the versions differ, exaggerations spring up everywhere, and the figures get inflated and move around. Whoever the “real” Lili Marleen may have been, lovers of the song have always tended to identify her with the singer who personified her. And to begin with that identity was reserved, without a doubt, for the German artist Lale Andersen, the first performer of the song and the one whose voice made it famous. With her more than anyone else Lili Marleen revealed its tremendous all-consuming power. The virtual being with an imaginary name that Leip had given life to literally usurped the personality of its singer, becoming embodied in her to the point that during the war her fans, soldiers in the main, requested her to sign autographs with a “Yours affectionately, Lili Marleen,” omitting her real name as an artist. And when servicemen wrote to her from the front (it sufficed for them to put “Lili Marleen, Berlin” or simply “Lili” on the envelope for letters to reach their destination), it wasn’t to her that they recounted their woes but to the fictitious creature she embodied. What must Lale Andersen have felt when she received letters like this from the front? “Dear Lili Marleen, I’m 24, I’ve been fighting in Russia for a couple of months. I’d heard your song many times before they sent me to the front. Yesterday my best mate was killed. Before dying he asked me to sing Lili Marleen to him one last time.” When she walked out on stage neither could Lale Andersen shake off that unreal other woman who absorbed and supplanted her: it was not she who sang but Lili Marleen. It didn’t matter where she performed or where she appeared, wherever she went she was identified with the mysterious, ethereal woman of the lamplight. When in 1950 a London journalist addressed her as “Lili,” Lale Andersen replied: “Please—not to call me zat. Ja? Everybody, zey do it!” Her subsequent attempts to make renewed contact with the cabaret repertoire of the 1920s and 30s, and thus not to sing that song, were always spectacularly unsuccessful: the public demanded it of her. Lili Marleen was, as the singer would resignedly admit, her Schicksalslied, the song that marked her destiny. To lose her identity and see the remainder of her extensive repertoire consigned to oblivion thanks to a “simple love song” was not easy for a woman with the dauntless artistic ambition of Lale Andersen; on the other hand she was also grimly aware that, the same as Leip, it was her alter ego Lili Marleen and not her talent that had finally brought her the fame she had sought for so long. It was a symbiotic, albeit bitter, alliance. Lale Andersen had been possessed by a character, by a historyless being. A mere name to which, as in supernatural possession, she was only lending her body and her voice. But also a name without whose hold the real woman would have been destined to be irremediably forgotten. As Rainer Werner Fassbinder managed to suggest so well in his film Lili Marleen, there was something of the Faustian pact about this possession. Somewhat later on, the propaganda war—which brought the contestants face to face in almost as implacably a way as in the real war, and which had Lili Marlene as a fundamental piece of weaponry—would give rise to a new figure of identification who would end up winning the contest, to the extent that even today, although more especially in North America, she is chiefly associated with the song: Marlene Dietrich. The incorporation of Lili Marlene into the repertoire of songs she prepared to entertain the American troops was supremely symbolic. After all, for many Germans, Dietrich—an Americanized German woman—was the consummate traitor. From her American home base she had resisted the tempting offers made to her by the Third Reich to return to her fatherland and she ended up adopting the nationality of her host country. Along with her, Lili Marlene also made it to the enemy front and ceased being German, turning into an international asset. For all that, Dietrich’s charm and talent had managed to assert themselves long before the song was associated with her voice. In contrast to her colleague Lale, it wasn’t Lili Marleen who possessed Dietrich, but Dietrich Lili Marleen. In a book written during the war itself, Berlin Hotel ’43, the exiled Jewish novelist Vicki Baum fictionalized this identification in a premonitory: in a Berlin flattened by bombs Tilli, a prostitute, gives her new suitor, a young pilot on leave, the chance to listen to “degenerate,” and thus forbidden, music. Tilli decides to play him the famous song that immortalized Marlene Dietrich as cabaret artist Lola-Lola in Josef von Sternberg’s classic film The Blue Angel (1930). ‘“Say, what’s that?” Otto asks, his nerves on edge. “That’s Marlene”’ is Tilli’s reply. But the aviator doesn’t concur, and whistles a few bars from Lili Marlene, the only “Marlene” he knows. Tilli clears up the misunderstanding, and the young man asks, “Who’s Marlene Dietrich?” Tilli stopped the victrola abruptly and stood there for a moment, her back turned to the boy, her shoulders hunched up. They were all so much younger than she, all these boys who blew into town and grabbed a bit of fun, and landed on her studio couch half drunk and went off again. Like this one—he hadn’t even heard of Marlene Dietrich. It made him a whole generation younger than herself. By having her character speak of a “generation” Vicki Baum is thinking of the youngsters educated during the cultural revolution abruptly imposed by Nazi indoctrination. Tilli realizes that the big idols of the Weimar Republic she’d grown up with, idols like the Marlene Dietrich who’d become internationally famous in her role as Lola-Lola, had been deleted at a stroke by the new regime and forgotten with unwonted speed. Hitler’s desire for cultural regeneration had been successful in making the names that only a decade before were still on everyone’s lips taboo. Now, for this generation provided with new references, the name “Marlene” no longer led to Lola but to Lili: to a ditty of love and death whose sentimental air and slight poignancy would have given it little possibility of prospering in the Weimar Republic. A war had been necessary to pluck it from the anonymity it was moldering in since Hans Leip wrote his poem in 1915. In 1974, in an article on Lili Marleen, an American newspaper warned that the spelling used in English—Lili Marlene—deliberately differed from the original German name. “Why?” it asked. “Because the English copyists identified it with Marlene Dietrich, none other.” This ingenuous—and false—assertion forms part of the legend that Dietrich herself nurtured with relish. Also in 1974—two years after Lale Andersen had died—she said, “As far as I know, I’m now the only artist who’s going to sing this song in all the world; after all, it turns out it’s about my name.” A curious photo taken after the war shows the two rivals—Lale Andersen and Marlene Dietrich—sporting a splendid smile: on the one hand the German woman who bent to the rules of the Nazi regime and, on the other, the German woman who spiritedly rejected it from her new American home. The happy, accessible German next to the sophisticated, glamorous and untouchable German. Oddly enough, on this occasion poetic justice has been wise: if Marlene was Marleen, Lale might easily have been Lili.

  • Ibuku / Leer-e
  • Idioma English
  • Traducción:
  • 220 páginas
  • Formato
  • ISBN 9788415767619

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