German Folksong: Auf du Junger Wandersmann / Get Up, Young Wanderer

Link to audio recording of song: Auf du Junger Wandersmann

Background on German Folksongs:

Q. Do you know how old these songs are?

A. No, and I think that’s part of folklore—you don’t really know where it comes from, it wasn’t written by anyone in particular. My mother must have taught me some, and at school, I imagine I learned some.

Q. When would people sing folksongs?

A. While we were walking places in a group, we would sing. And singing while walking, you know, is kind of fun. You can walk to the beat, and it gives you something to do. And I remember that they were calling on me because I used to know all the words. And I was the littlest one on the group, I was only five years old, but I used to know all the words, so whenever they didn’t remember the words, the older kids would call me, “Eva, what are the words again?” so I would come running and tell them the words, and it made me feel good, it made me feel important because here are these older kids, and I have to tell them the words. Those are some of my earliest memories.

Songs were often sung while working. If you had some menial work to do, and you’d get bored doing that, you would sing. For example, when spinning—women used to do a lot of spinning—they would sing, just to amuse themselves. Or when they were ironing; my mother used to tell me, “this is an ironing song,” because they had to do a lot of ironing, and it’s boring work. And my mother and I would sing when we did the dishes because that, too, was boring, menial work. She would do the dishes, and I would dry them, and we would sing together. And we would harmonize. You sing when you work or you walk, and you don’t use any machines, because machines make noise and then there’s no room for singing…so it’s kind of part of the preindustrial age.

Q. People don’t sing as much as they used to?

A. We sing in certain contexts, like at school in choir, but just while doing stuff, not very much anymore. It’s really sad—it’s kind of a dying tradition.

Q. Do you know if German folksongs are very different from other folksongs?

A. Well, you will see that most German songs are in the major key, which sets them apart from eastern European folk music, which is usually minor.

Informant’s Explanation: “This is a song about the journeymen, the craftspeople that used to walk. Once they finished their apprenticeship—there was a very tough system for craftspeople. They would have three years of apprenticeship, and you start that when you’re young. So you would have three years of apprenticeship, and then pass some kind of exam, and then you became a journeyman. And the journeymen journeyed throughout Europe. So they would come, and walk from town to town, and come into a town, and find a master craftsman in that town and ask them, “Do you need someone?” And they would work for this guy for a while, and then they would journey on. So, this is how they broadened their horizons and learned more about their trade. It’s a great system, really—they got to see the world. And there are songs that these people would sing as they walked from town to town.

“The story is about a young man who goes and carries his belongings on his back and says, ‘Sometimes it’s painful and it’s tiring, but it’s worth it, I’m getting to see the world, I’m in Innsbruck now’—Innsbruck is a town in Austria—’and they have good wine there. And anyone who hasn’t been out in the world, I couldn’t recognize as a journeyman or as a master; you have to go out into the world.’”

Analysis: This song’s rhythmic pattern, in which shorter notes lead into longer notes, gives it a strong beat which certainly makes it well-suited for walking. In terms of tone, the song feels confident and almost heroic. Thus, the melody fits the song’s subject well; we can feel the speaker’s sense of adventurousness and excitement at travelling to new and exotic places.

German lyrics can be found online on numerous websites, including these ones: