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German Folk Song Archive online

The University of Freiburg’s Zentrum für Populäre Kultur und Musik (Center for Popular Culture and Music) publishes nearly 200,000 historical documents

Freiburg, Jan 18, 2021

German Folk Song Archive online

“Die Gedanken sind frei,” the first song in the collection, is now also available in electronic form. Photo: Michael Fischer

Researchers at the University of Freiburg’s ZPKM or Center for Popular Culture and Music have completed an extensive digitization project. The center has published nearly 200,000 documents from the German Folk Song Archive collection. They can be accessed via the University Library of Freiburg server, FreiDokPlus. “On the one hand, our aim was to secure this unique treasure by putting it on film; on the other hand, we want to make these documents available online to scholars and the public,” explains Dr. Dr. Michael Fischer, Executive Director of the ZPKM.

The German Folk Song Archive was founded in Freiburg in 1914 with the aim of collecting, documenting and researching German-language folk songs. “At that time, the aim was to preserve the historical and contemporary cultural heritage in the field of song - a highly significant undertaking,” says Fischer. Methodologically novel, he says, was the collection’s empirical basis - in the first half of the 20th century, folk songs were collected from all the German linguistic regions. Some examples of the musical and lyrical traditions were stored in decentralized regional archives, while others were sent to the central German Folk Song Archive in Freiburg.

The digitized song records date from 1914 to 1959. “Unfortunately, the German Folk Song Archive did not document the popular songs sung and listened to at the time, only the folk songs,” Fischer notes. The popular and often international music on the records people played privately or at parties - from the foxtrot to rock and roll - was rejected by the researchers at the time. Despite this culturally conservative attitude, from an academic point of view it was revolutionary at the time to focus on people as transmitters of tradition and generators of knowledge. “For the first time in the history of song research, large numbers of ordinary people were asked what they sang and which folk songs they knew.” Within the extensive collection of texts and melodies, the approximately 3,000 songs from the First World War are a first-rate source of cultural history.

Fischer adds that today, it is not only the documented lyrics and melodies that are of interest to researchers, but also the history of the collection itself. It shows how cultural anthropology saw itself in the first half of the 20th century, professionally as well as politically. “The collection, which has now been digitized, is not only an outstanding document of German cultural traditions, but also a testimony to the nationalization of culture,” Fischer says. It is precisely this ambivalence that makes the collection so interesting academically.

Background information:

Now available in electronic form, the song records of the signature group A go back to the collection activity of the German Folk Song Archive, which became part of the university’s new Center for Popular Culture and Music (ZPKM) in 2014. The center continues the academic work of the former archive on a new basis of content and methodology. The German Folk Song Archive collections are protected by the state as a cultural monument of special importance. The individual documents were archived chronologically according to when they were obtained. The respective regions of origin are noted on the documents. The collections are documented under “Zugangsverzeichnis A,” which is also available digitally, but the individual songs are not.

A-1 is a variation of the song “Die Gedanken sind frei” (My thoughts are free), which originated in the Hessian town of Alsheim. Although the number was probably coincidental, the German Folk Song Archive considered it its obligation to focus on the songs of liberal democratic traditions in both scholarship and practice. The ZPKM will likewise make its collections on workers' song culture available online in 2021.


Online publication:
John Meier / Michael Fischer: Deutsches Volksliedarchiv. Liedbelege aus empirischer Sammlungstätigkeit mit Zugangsverzeichnis.


Dr. Dr. Michael Fischer
ZPKM (Center for Popular Culture and Music)
University of Freiburg
Phone: 0761/70503-15


Press photo for download
Photo: Michael Fischer