For six-and-a-half decades, Germany’s international public broadcaster has been providing the world with news and information. Deutsche Welle’s offerings are more diverse and widely used than ever before.
“Dear listeners in faraway countries” — with these words from German President Theodor Heuss, Deutsche Welle (DW) began broadcasting on May 3, 1953. Germany’s foreign public radio station was charged with providing audiences abroad with a political, economic, and cultural picture of the country.
DW broadcast via shortwave and initially only in German. The first foreign languages were added in 1954. In 1992, DW expanded into television and, shortly thereafter, the internet.
“Of course the days of just shortwave were easier,” says Deutsche Welle Director General Peter Limbourg. “But thanks to the internet, social media, and our network of partners, we now have the chance to reach significantly more people than we used to. We offer a mix of news, background, and think pieces, presented in a modern fashion and oriented around the interests of our diverse and often very young target audiences.”
Limbourg has been DW’s director general for the past four and a half years.[…]
When Deutsche Welle went on the air 65 years ago, the broadcaster opted for a melody from “Fidelio” for its signature tune. Ludwig van Beethoven’s opera is about an act of liberation.
A political prisoner is starved and nearly tortured to death because the prison’s military governor knows that the prisoner could incriminate him. The incarcerated man’s wife masquerades as a young man and, thus camoflaged, makes her way into the dungeon. When the governor attempts to stab the prisoner, the woman jumps between them and pulls out a pistol. At that very moment, trumpets sound out and the Minister, a higher authority, enters the scene. A friend of the prisoner, he recognizes what has been going on and sets the political prisoners free.
At this happy ending of the opera “Fidelio” by Ludwig van Beethoven, Minister Fernando sings the words “Es sucht der Bruder seine Brüder” (The brother seeks his brothers), and continues: “Und kann er helfen, hilft er gern” (And if he can help, he does so gladly.)
The melody to the words is anything but catchy; it is nearly ungainly in fact. Nonetheless, it was chosen as the signature tune when Germany’s international broadcaster began its shortwave radio transmissions on May 3, 1953.
The symbolism in the words
The choice not only had to do with the musical motif, but was also based on the symbolism in the words. Only eight years after World War II’s end, building new friendships and international relationships was no easy task for the new Federal Republic of Germany.
One sought to proceed in a “brotherly” manner with listeners and partners abroad through friendly exchange. Trust was to be built in a fair and impartial sharing of information.
For many years, the melody, played on a celesta keyboard, penetrated the constant ebb and flow of interference noise on the shortwave radio spectrum. It thus made its way to the speakers of shortwave radio sets around the world – often in endless repetitions leading up to the news at the top of the hour.
Click here to download a clip of the DW interval signal recorded on February 22,1982 at 1400 UTC. (Source: IntervalSignal Database)
The broadcaster then had its headquarters in Cologne, and the Beethovenfest classical music festival took place only sporadically in Bonn, 30 kilometers upstream the Rhine.
The move from Cologne to Bonn, and the media partnership with the re-established and much bigger music festival, had to wait until the new millennium. Then it seemed only fitting that Deutsche Welle should once again associate itself with Beethoven.[…]
Many of you likely know I’m fascinated by remote islands and communities–especially the British Overseas Territory of Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha.
If you’ve been an SWL for a few decades you likely also remember the very popular Radio St. Helena day! We’ve posted several articles about it in the past–click here to read through our archives. I really miss that annual listening event.
The other day, while browsing sailing videos on YouTube, I uncovered this excellent little documentary about St. Helena via Deutsche Welle. Enjoy: