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The Sound of World War II: “Lili Marlene,” sung by Marlene Dietrich. [video]

This is one of the most famous pop songs in world history. It was the single biggest song during the entirety of World War II, and amazingly, despite being sung in German, was popular among Allied troops as well as Germans.

You’ve probably heard it before. “Lili Marlene” pops up regularly in movies set during World War II. Even if you aren’t familiar with the matchless husky tones and sensual Teutonism of the singer, Marlene Dietrich, you might be familiar with the comic send-up of her done by Madeline Kahn in the 1974 Mel Brooks classic Blazing Saddles. Dietrich was an actress who fled Germany in the early 1930s. She was not the original singer of the song, but that her version, which I believe was recorded in 1939, became the definitive one, especially among the German public, was one of the great ironies of pop culture during the Second World War.

To add to the irony, the song–a love ballad inspired by a wartime romance–was written in 1915, during World War I, a conflict Germany also lost.

I love this song, and I think it’s very evocative of the whole era. Attentive readers of my serial The Armored Satchel, which takes place in Nazi-held Europe in 1944, may note that “Lili Marlene” makes an appearance in the story. It’s in Chapter 2, in the flashback scene; Max hears it played on a phonograph record while in the Caen hotel room with Baedecker.

By the way, here are the lyrics, first in German, then in English. I am told the English lyrics are not a literal translation (my own German is too rusty to be able to tell one way or the other!)

German:

Vor der Kaserne,
Vor dem großen Tor,
Stand eine Laterne,
Und steht sie noch davor,
So woll’n wir uns da wieder seh’n,
Bei der Laterne wollen wir steh’n,
Wie einst, Lili Marleen.

Unsere beiden Schatten,
Sah’n wie einer aus,
Daß wir so lieb uns hatten,
Das sah man gleich daraus.
Und alle Leute soll’n es seh’n,
Wenn wir bei der Laterne steh’n,
Wie einst, Lili Marleen.

Schon rief der Posten:
Sie blasen Zapfenstreich,
Es kann drei Tage kosten!
Kamerad, ich komm’ ja gleich.
Da sagten wir Aufwiederseh’n.
Wie gerne wollt’ ich mit dir geh’n,
Mit dir, Lili Marleen!

Deine Schritte kennt sie,
Deinen zieren Gang.
Alle Abend brennt sie,
Doch mich vergaß sie lang.
Und sollte mir ein Leid gescheh’n,
Wer wird bei der Laterne steh’n,
Mit dir, Lili Marleen!

Aus dem stillen Raume,
Aus der Erde Grund,
Hebt mich wie im Traume
Dein verliebter Mund.
Wenn sich die späten Nebel dreh’n,
Werd’ ich bei der Laterne steh’n
Wie einst, Lili Marleen!

English:

Outside the barracks, by the corner light
I’ll always stand and wait for you at night
We will create a world for two
I’ll wait for you the whole night through
For you, Lili Marlene
For you, Lili Marlene

Bugler, tonight, don’t play the call to arms
I want another evening with her charms
Then we will say good-bye and part
I’ll always keep you in my heart
With me, Lili Marlene
With me, Lili Marlene

Give me a rose to show how much you care
Tied to the stem, a lock of golden hair
Surely, tomorrow, you’ll feel blue
But then will come a love that’s new
For you, Lili Marlene
For you, Lili Marlene

When we are marching in the mud and cold
And when my pack seems more than I can hold
My love for you renews my might
I’m warm again, my pack is light
It’s you, Lili Marlene
It’s you, Lili Marlene

My love for you renews my might
I’m warm again, my pack is light
It’s you, Lili Marlene
It’s you, Lili Marlene.

listen

2 comments on “The Sound of World War II: “Lili Marlene,” sung by Marlene Dietrich. [video]

  1. Mick Shipton
    November 6, 2013

    Hi Sean – you’ll find the history of this song here:

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/music/3561946/The-story-behind-the-song-Lili-Marlene.html

    You may then need to re-write much of your post including correctly crediting the ‘definitive version’ to Lale Andersen.

    The correct English translation as well as the Lale Andersen version can be found here:

    http://lyricstranslate.com/en/lili-marleen-lili-marlene.html-0

    Mick Shipton

  2. Pingback: My 10 favorite articles of 2013 (Part I): Max, Mel and the Witches. | www.seanmunger.com

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