Context matters, as usual

When Heinrich Hoffmann von Fallersleben wrote Deutschland über alles, he certainly did not mean that Germany should be above France, Russia or any other country. Back in 1841, there was no unified German state, only a linguistic and cultural entity loosely called Germany. Hoffmann urges those who identified as Germans to pledge allegiance to Germany as a whole, not to their immediate potentates, like the princes of Weimar or Anhalt-Zerbst, and to place Germany’s interests and concerns above those of its constituent principalities. (The island of Helgoland, where Hoffman then lived in exile, remained under British rule until 1890.)

Within thirty years of the poem’s publication Germany would be united by Prussia’s sword and under Prussian hegemony. The unification did not bring the “freedom” that Hoffmann, a liberal democrat, praised in the song.

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