Eurovision Song of the Week: Heute in Jerusalem (Austria, 1979)

It was interesting to listen to songs in Germanic languages . . . but for this week, I think I’ll stay with songs in German itself. Since we featured an entry from Germany last week (Link), let’s try an entry from Austria now. I’ve chosen Heute in Jerusalem by Christina Simon, from Eurovision 1979.

First Impressions

I have thought for a long time that one performance isn’t enough to let you judge a song. And by the 1970s, Eurovision agreed with me and made “previews” (what we might now call “music videos”) mandatory. This probably was not necessary, because there was still no televote. I’m sure jury members heard the songs in advance anyway. But one performance also isn’t enough to let you enjoy a song. Here is the preview of Heute in Jerusalem from British TV.

As we can see, the preview could also add a strategic visual element to a Eurovision entry. These days, ESC performances have more elaborate staging and more freedom to tailor the staging to the song. If you want a mountain, an LED screen will give you a mountain! But back in 1979, when all performers had to sing on a “level stage,” only a preview could create such a spectacle around a song.

For Heute in Jerusalem, the spectacle comes straight from Römersteinbruch St Margarethen, one of the oldest stone quarries in the world. (Source) Its cliffs are so high that you can see the whole region of Burgenland from some of them. So they fit the “Kühle hoher Luft” (“coolness of the high air”) from the song! But they’re hardly the most beautiful peaks in Austria, are they? At first, my best guess was that they were chosen because they looked a little like Jerusalem’s rocky landscape. After more research, I learned that Römersteinbruch St. Margarethen was also a growing cultural attraction in the 1970s, with art and fossil displays, Passion plays, and even opera! So it promoted both the Austrian entry and Austria itself.

Further Consideration

So how does the live performance compare to the preview? Let’s watch a clip from the
broadcast and see . . .

Christina Simon is wearing the same dress! I expected her to lift her arms at some point, as she did in the preview, but she just stands still here. And that’s not the only reason the song feels boring.

Yet if you remember the 1970s, boring is the last thing Heute in Jerusalem should be! Forget Römersteinbruch St. Margarethen for a minute; the actual political and historical backdrop was truly dramatic. Back then, Europe was still struggling to emerge from the shadows of World War II — and still divided by the Cold War. But Israel at least was thriving. And it became a symbol of hard-won peace and new hope. The lyrics refect the sense of wonder that Europeans must have felt toward it:

Erhebet Euch, tut ab den Schlaf
In dieser Zeit der bitteren Früchte
Übt, Freunde, Eure Wachsamkeit
Dem Weinen und der Angst zu wehren

Seht, aus der Kühle hoher Luft
Da fallen hundert Monde
Als Zeichen für den Neubeginn
Als Sinn wider den Widersinn

Und heute in Jerusalem
Endlich in Jerusalem
Atem holen und besinnen
Und heute in Jerusalem
Friede für Jerusalem (Source)

The text is very simple . . . and airy. It tells us to wake up and see a new world, today in Jerusalem. Only one part is really interesting: “Seht, aus der Kühle hoher Luft/ Da fallen hundert Monde” — See, out of the cool, high air, hundreds of moons are falling. Before I looked up the lyrics, I had thought that what was falling were “hunderte Wunder” (hundreds of miracles). That admittedly made more sense than  “hunderte Monde”  or hundreds of moons. It’s such odd imagery that I checked another source, just to be sure! And I still have no idea what it means!

As for the music, I like the jazz arrangement, which sounds modern even today. The music does much to ground an airy song in reality.

Lost (and Found) in Translation

There is an English version, entitled simply Jerusalem. Please join me in hearing it for the first time . . .

What did you think? The first thing I missed were the hundreds of moons! The closest that we get to that here is the abstract “space and time” and Christina Simon calling the world “our planet.” Here are the rest of the lyrics . . .

It came along just like this song
Just right in time to save our planet
No reason why the world should cry
Why fears and tears should never die

Far, far away and yet so close
Where space and time surrender
That magic here we’ve got within
Reveals the beauty of this dream

I’m singing of Jerusalem
My heart is ringing out this pain
Start to leave and long for peace
I’m singing of Jerusalem
Singing of Jerusalem

Far, far away and yet so close
Where space and time surrender
Before this world comes to an end
We watch and seek the Promised Land (Source)

I also miss the repeition of “Jerusalem,” but the phrase “the Promised Land” is a very nice touch. In the 1970s, Israel must have doubled as a “promised land” for everyone who wanted world peace.

In general, though, the English lyrics are airier and less substantial than the German original. (“The magic we’ve got within” is especially bad.) Not having to translate the words made me appreciate the melody, arrangement, and singing much more. But even in English, it’s still a slightly boring song!

Don’t let me influence your own opinion, though! If there were a televote back then, would you have supported Heute in Jerusalem?

Would you have voted for Heute in Jerusalem in Eurovision 1979?

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