Eurovision Song of the Week: Im Wartesaal zum großen Glück (Germany, 1956)

Since there were only seven participating countries in the first Eurovision, each country entered two songs. Accordingly, I’ve decided to feature two songs from 1956 as well! Last week, it was De Vogels van Holland from the Netherlands (Link). Today, I review the West German entry Im Wartesaal zum großen Glück. If this seems like an odd second choice, keep reading . . .

“Es gibt einen Hafen, da fährt kaum ein Schiff . . .”

There is a harbor where hardly any ships come . . . The song opens like a story, and the story is like a dream. A ship comes from a great distance . . . Someone disembarks . . . He comes with gläsender Fracht von der Sternen — cargo made of glass, from the stars. Don’t we all want to be there when a ship like this arrives?

That is why, we learn in the second verse: Man baute am Kai der Vergangenheit/ Einen Saal mit Blick auf das Meer — One builds on the waterfront of the past a room with a view of the sea. This room has Wänden aus Träumen — walls made of dreams; and the walls stand gegen die Wirklichkeit — against reality. It is the Wartesaal or waiting room of the title.

“Im Wartesaal zum großen Glück, da warten viele, viele Leute . . .”

In the waiting room for great happiness wait many, many people . . . If you are waiting for great happiness, how do you think you feel now?

This song is surprisingly emotional. I feel songwriter Walter Andreas Schwarz’s frustration with the people in the Wartesaal, who prefer to live with dreams and wishes than with reality. But I understand the people, too. I’ve definitely been one of them! These days, I try not to be, because I know it’s silly. Only after hearing this song, however, did I see that it is also tragic. There is such a deep sense of tragedy running through this “light” song. Each chorus ends with the words: “Die armen, armen Leute” — the poor, poor people.

The words and music carry Im Wartesaal zum großen Glück equally, but in an unconventional way. During the verses, Schwarz speak-sings the lyrics to occasional chords and flourishes from the piano. The rest of the orchestra is silent. This gives the verses a dream-like quality, which I think is perfect for them . . . But would someone who doesn’t know German also appreciate it? The choruses are more melodic, but Schwarz is still more of a narrator than a singer. I think his style serves the song better than straight singing would. But then again, I understand the story that he is telling.

1956 Voting and Results

As I wrote in the previous post, we have no records of the voting in 1956. We know which song won; all the others must share second place. Yet we also know that Luxembourg, instead of sending two jurors, gave its votes to Switzerland. And it’s reasonable to think this was a huge factor in the Swiss victory. Everything else is just speculation . . . but fun speculation!

For instance, one legend says that a German song had the second-highest number of votes, which is why Germany hosted Eurovision in 1957. Switzerland didn’t want to be the host two years in a row, so putative runner-up Germany got the honor. But even if this is true, how do we know which of the two German entries it was?

Then there is the popular Eurovision tradition of fans crying that their favorites were “robbed.” (I myself may do this later on!) And there have arguably been many songs that should have done better in the contest, but for some reason, did not. At least one YouTube user says that without Switzerland’s extra votes, Im Wartesaal zum großen Glück would have been 1956’s winner (Link to highlighted comment). Again, it’s just speculation — but it’s also why I chose it over Refrain for my second 1956 Eurovision song.

And now that I have, I’m afraid that I must disagree with my fellow fan. Im Wartesaal zum großen Glück is full of feeling and beauty . . . but it is also strange and complex. Refrain, on the other hand, is sweet and graceful from beginning to end. And it sounds like other popular songs from its decade. You don’t have to understand French to know Refrain is a nostalgic love song.

But if you had been a juror in 1956, what would you have thought?

Would you have voted for Im Wartesaal zum großen Glück in Eurovision 1956?

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