The Love Song That Marked A Shift In French-German Relations

Last week marked the 50th anniversary of the Elysee Treaty, ending more than two centuries of hostility between Germany and France. The song "Goettingen," written by a young Jewish French singer at the time, represented a peaceful bridge between the countries. Host Rachel Martin talks to German political scientist Dieter Dettke, who studied in France in the early '60s and remembers hearing the song.

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

As we just heard, Germans are still figuring out how to live with their military history. We're going to take you back now to the 1960s, when one French singer helped Europeans forgive, if not forget, the horrors of the Second World War. And she did it with this song:

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG "GOTTINGEN")

BARBARA: (Singing in French)

MARTIN: Fifty years ago this week, Germany and France signed a historic friendship treaty. But the rift between the countries was still deep. In stepped the singer, who called herself by one name - Barbara. In 1964, just one year after that treaty, she reluctantly accepted an invitation to perform in the German town of Gottingen. Her reluctance was understandable. As a young girl and a Jew, she had been forced into hiding during the Nazi occupation of France. But once she arrived in Gottingen, she was overwhelmed by the audience's enthusiasm. She decided to extend her stay from one night to one week. And then she composed a love song to the city.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG "GOTTINGEN")

BARBARA: (Singing in French)

MARTIN: It includes these words: May the time of blood and hatred never come back, because there are people I love in Gottingen, in Gottingen. The residents of Gottingen were so moved by Barbara's song that they gave her the Medal of Honor and they named a street after her. Barbara recorded her song in both German and French, and it became a hit in both countries. Dieter Dettke is a political scientist at Georgetown University. He was born in Germany during World War II. As a college student in the 1960s, he chose to study in Strasbourg, France.

DIETER DETTKE: It was difficult still, I have to say that. People, in their hearts, I guess on both sides, had hard feelings in many ways. The Germans wanted to be recognized and accepted and the French had suspicions about the Germans.

MARTIN: Dettke says Barbara bridged that divide better than almost anyone could.

DETTKE: It was great to listen to her words and to reflect about this in the context of her own history. She was persecuted by the Nazis, and she was able to overcome this and to recognize, yeah, there is a younger generation in Germany that has different values and that she could open up to and could accept.

MARTIN: I can just imagine some people hearing this thinking: could a song really make that much difference to people? But it did.

DETTKE: Yes. You see, the process of reconciliation between France and Germany and later between Poland and Germany and Russia - let's not forget Russia - and what the Germans had done during the war was so incomprehensible and almost impossible to think this can ever be overcome. And yet, you know, something started. People began to work for this process of reconciliation. And that, I think, is supported by her, in spite of her past, looking to the future and opening something up. You know, we can talk. We don't have to remain silent because of our history. We can open up our hearts and our minds and, you know, do something that we used to do. It was not only war that characterizes Franco-German relationships, it's also a common European culture that ties us together. And this is a perfect expression of this.

MARTIN: Dieter Dettke is a political scientist at Georgetown University.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG "GOTTINGEN")

BARBARA: (Singing in German)

MARTIN: You're listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News.

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