“If you don’t like the national anthem from the politically correct perspective of all this gender nonsense, then don’t sing it,” the far-right party Alternative for Germany said in a statement on Facebook.
Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman felt the need to reassure the country. “The chancellor is very happy with our nice national anthem as it is,” he said.
Other German politicians have agreed. “Anthems are not written for the moment,” Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, general secretary of Ms. Merkel’s party and seen as her likely heir, said in a statement. “I wouldn’t want our anthem to be changed just so it fits in with the zeitgeist.”
The anthem has a difficult history, she added, and has to be put in context. It was originally written in 1841 to help unite Germany’s states, but its opening verse, which included the line “Deutschland, Deutschland über alles” (“Germany, Germany, above all else”), gained sinister connotations under the Nazis and stopped being sung after World War II.
The anthem was again adopted for the united Germany after the Berlin Wall fell. “Our national anthem is a piece of history itself,” Ms. Kramp-Karrenbauer said.
Ms. Rose-Möhring’s feelings about the controversy are unknown — the Family Ministry said she would not comment — but those who have succeeded in changing anthems before said it could take years, even decades, to achieve the change if she decides to push her suggestion.
“I’m not surprised by the big discussion it’s caused, and I’m not surprised the politicians said no — I only succeeded the second time,” said Maria Rauch-Kallat, a former Austrian politician who led efforts to get her country’s anthem changed, with the result that Austrians now sing about their “great daughters” as well as their “great sons.”
Nancy Ruth, a former Canadian senator who spearheaded the campaign to make “O Canada” gender-neutral, said she felt all anthems that excluded women should be changed.
“What’s my reaction to this?” she asked, before answering her own question using an expletive and expressing frustration about the debate. “Oh, grow up,” she added, addressing those against change. The easiest way to realize the power of a word like “fatherland” was to ask men if they would be happy singing about their motherland instead, she said.
Changing an anthem requires a long campaign, she added: “It takes until you have a leader, with a majority, who truly wants equality among the sexes.” Canadian feminists started calling for “O Canada” to be made gender neutral in 1980 and it took Justin Trudeau’s election in 2015 for them to succeed.
Angela Merkel was not in a position to offer such leadership given her recent electoral struggles, the former lawmaker said. She recommended that Ms. Rose-Möhring start singing her own words and hope others follow.
Not all efforts to change Europe’s anthems involve gender. Last month, the pop singer Marta Sánchez prompted debate in Spain by singing lyrics to her country’s wordless anthem (“I come home to my beloved homeland, where my heart was born,” she began). The country’s anthem has been wordless since it was first played at in an official occasion in 1770. Words were used during the dictatorship of Gen. Francisco Franco, but not officially adopted, and any new ones could prompt concern from, say, Catalans and Basques.
Bosnia’s anthem is also wordless, to keep a lid on potential conflicts. Some Bosnians are calling for lyrics to be added, but ethnic splits mean agreement on a set of official words looks impossible, with some Bosnian Serbs not wanting to give the country a more effective symbol.
Swiss campaigners are arguably undertaking the most comprehensive effort to change a national anthem. In 2013, they held a contest to find new words to their God and weather-obsessed anthem, the “Swiss Psalm.” They have since been trying to cajole people into singing them. Last year, a Christian group ran a postcard campaign against the new words.
Lukas Niederberger, director of the Swiss Society for Public Good, the organization behind the contest, said the idea of changing Germany’s anthem seemed sensible. “I think for a modern society, the central text of the culture should be politically correct,” he said.
Change shouldn’t be hard, he added. “It’s not like they’re saying change the whole text, just adapting a few words. It’s really no big deal.”