Today is (was) the 50th anniversary of the Élysée Treaty between France & Germany; between Konrad Adenauer & Charles de Gaulle. It was a formal treaty of reconciliation between two nations which had been at each other’s throats for some centuries. It included high-level arrangements for regular consultations between respective ministers of state; & low-level things like twinning arrangements between hundreds, thousands, of French & German schools & towns.
I was just reminded of this by some brief mention in passing news. It struck a chord somewhere. I was not quite ten years old at the time, but vaguely aware of the world at large, partly through my father who explained things, partly by having acquired from imitation the habit of newspaper reading.
Then suddenly it came back: “Göttingen.”
This was the song of Monique Serf, stage name “Barbara,” a French chanteuse in that tradition of Edith Piaf — with which I also became familiar, through the same father, who taught me francophile idolatry. She was a French Jewess, born 1930; hidden out through the War; a childhood traumatized by more than that. But go listen to the song, in French & then in German — gentle reader will soon find it on YouTube. And while you are there, perhaps audit “Une petite cantate” & several other of her “classics.” (Monique Serf died in 1997.)
It is said that “Göttingen” made all the difference. The treaty was signed by these grand statesmen, but the reconciliation itself — & it was truly a reconciliation — was achieved through the song. Which came from nowhere; which was commissioned by no government department. It entered perfectly into the soul of both peoples; into each in a different, but complementary way.
Of course we have la Seine,
And the bois de Vincennes,
But God the roses are beautiful
In Göttingen, in Göttingen. …
It is worth remembering such anniversaries. It is worth remembering what music can overcome. For that matter I was grateful to be reminded of a singer & songwriter of such enchantment, whose gift was to put everything between the lines. Everything.